Visiting the Royal Mint at Llantrisant

Croeso I Cymru  Welcome to Wales

This week Bill and I went on a coach trip to the royal  mint at Llantrisant which is near Cardiff in Wales.  I have been a coin collector for a number of years and was keen to learn a little more about how they were made.  The visitor experience centre was opened in 2016 and cost nine million pounds so we were hoping for an interesting visit.

History of the Mint

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The first British coin

Coins have been minted in England for over a thousand years. The earliest coin found with a London mark has the head of King Alfred.  From about 1100 A.D. coins were minted inside the tower of London and  until 1970 coins were still minted in London at a site close to the tower.  However the government decided to introduce decimalisation. In 1971,  pounds, shillings and pence were replaced by 100 new pence to the pound  and  a larger site was needed to produce the new currency.

The site chosen was  in  South Wales. It may not have been a coincidence that James Callaghan the chancellor of the exchequer was M.P. for the nearby city of Cardiff. The new mint at LLantrisant was opened 50 years ago in 1968  and over 200 million coins were struck in preparation for D day.  At the time I was at university at Bangor in North Wales and I remember the excitement of getting the new coins. Predictably people were less impressed when they found that prices tended to go up.

Visiting the mint

Gromit covered with new pence.
Still on the Gromit trail. This one has been covered with new pence.

The royal mint is on a 35 acre site and is the largest in Western Europe.  It has an interesting visitor centre which is open every day from 9.30 A.M. to 17.30 P.M.  Tickets cost  a rather hefty  £13.50 for adults and £11.00 for children and  a family ticket for two adults and two children costs £40.00.  Concessions and group rates are also available.  There is free parking and a small café.  It is four miles from junction 34 of the M4.  For more details click here:  The Royal mint visitor experience

Part of the energy used is generated by a wind turbine painted to resemble a daffodil, the Welsh national flower and named Delilah in honour of Sir Tom Jones who was born nearby.

Our visit

After a security check we saw a short film which introduced the new range of coins for this year.  New coins depict Paddington bear and James Cook as well as a series of 10p pieces with letters of the alphabet. There will also be a commemorative coin with “New Pence” like the original decimal coins.

In the next room our guide showed us a display of tools used to mint the coins. She  also pointed out  some of the details we should  look out for when examining our change. For example the two pound coins have an appropriate slogan round the edge. The London underground £2.00 has “Mind the gap”.

Next we glimpsed a little bit of the production process. I was a bit disappointed to learn that no British coins will be struck this week. Demand has dropped considerably with the increased use of debit and credit cards. However the mint produces currency for about 60 other countries and we were able to watch Egyptian pounds being minted. Our party were  suprised to learn that coins are packed in cardboard boxes ready for transport.  For obvious reasons we were not allowed to take photographs of the production area.  You will also never see a lorry with Royal Mint on the side.

After the factory tour we had time to explore the exhibition area.  The mint also produces medals. All the medals for the 2012 London Olympics were made at the mint and copies were on display. There was also a cabinet devoted to the most famous master of the mint Sir Isaac Newton.

The mint has a small shop where you can purchase collector coins and other souvenirs including the largest chocolate money I have ever seen.

Our visit took about two hours including coffee and  rather tasty Welsh cakes in the café.

A famous car

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The Penny lane mini.

In 1967 the Beatles released the single Penny Lane/Strawberry Fields forever. Two minis were covered with old pennies to promote the record and this one has been carefully stored and preserved for 50 years.

Christmas lunch at Avon Valley Railway Station

20181211_111011This year our French group decided to have Christmas lunch at Bitton railway Station.

This railway was part of my childhood.  I remember sitting in boring lessons at school and watching trains pass along the line. The Avon valley railway line which was part of the Midland rail network ran from Bristol to Bath and connected up with the Somerset and Dorset railway known affectionally as the S and D or slow and dirty. It took people on day trips to the seaside, to places like Bournemouth and Weymouth.

However in 1960’s the government decided that the car was the future and closed a lot of branch lines including ours. For many years the tracks and stations were allowed to decay. However we were fortunate our line between Bristol and Bath was turned into a cycle track by Sustrans. The thirteen mile path is very popular with both cyclists and walkers and also provides an important wildlife corridor.

A group of volunteers bought Bitton railway station which dates from the 1860’s and decided to reopen part of the track. They now run trains over a three mile stretch including crossing the river Avon. The volunteers host special events such as Santa Specials, Thomas the Tank Engine days, murder mysteries and Grandparents days.  If you want a present for the man in your life they can even learn to drive a steam train.

The Railway Buffet

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The volunteers  also reopened the station buffet and use two converted 1950’s railway carriages  named Margaret and Rose to serve meals. Our U3A French group decided that it would make an unusual venue for our Christmas meal.

We enjoyed a very good  lunch with all the trimmings in Rose and we were even able to order a glass of wine  If you are visiting the area at other times of the year you can get a good range of reasonably priced snacks and drinks.  You can also enjoy a full English breakfast followed by a walk along the river towards Bath.  For locals it is a popular place to take visitors. For the more energetic the cycle track leads to the former Green Park Station in Bath which now houses a number of stalls where you can buy snacks or crafts. The station has free car parking.

On a personal note I am pleased to report that 2018 was a very good year for me. As well as starting this blog, Bill and I celebrated our ruby wedding after surviving 40 years of married life, our youngest son Christopher married his school friend Lorna and our second son Martin and his wife Kirsty presented us with our first grand daughter. I wonder what 2019 will bring.