Greatie Market has recently found a new home with land next to Virgil Street becoming a car park. However it has arrived there 180 years too late for a family who lived there and made a healthy profit from coining before being transported.
Markets back then were a good place for the fencing of stolen goods and passing of counterfeit coins. There were profits to be made for those involved in the process of making them, but the punishments were also severe as Edward Arnett and his sister Isabella found out in 1837.
The Royal Mint were aware that there was a sophisticated coining operation going on in Liverpool, with as many as £10,000 worth of counterfeit money entering circulation each year. That was equivalent to around half a million pounds today. In the summer of 1836 inspectors came to the town and started looking at where thieves who stole metal items were taking their goods, which led them to the home of a respectable looking family in Virgil Street.
The sting that unearthed the plot was carried out on 12th August 1836 when an undercover police officer knocked on the door of 62 Virgil Street saying he was a court clerk and had some papers for a Mr Johnson. Before Elizabeth Arnett could answer the office rushed in accompanied by a colleague who was disguised as a passer by. They then opened a window in two let two other officers through and the arrest of all three family members was secured quickly, with Elizabeth’s husband Edward apprehended in the yard and his sister Isabella in the hallway.
A search of the elegantly furnished house found a box in the bedroom containing a number of half sovereigns and shillings in near perfect condition that were ready for circulation. In another bedroom was an iron moulder which was red hot, black moulding earth, furnace tongs, moulds, files, pressing equipment and more coins which included sixpences and half crowns. The kitchen contained polishing equipment, silver colouring, small wire brushes and more files.
When officers asked who lived there Edward admitted that it was just him, his wife and sister. Isabella admitted the whole scam, lamenting the fact that they had not stayed living in Hull where their garden was a quarter of a mile long and they would have seen any strangers approaching in plenty of time. All she had to say about the scam was that no poor men were getting hurt and her brother was an industrious worker who started at 6am every day.
James Henry Powell, an inspector from Her Majesty’s Mint looked at the seized coins and confirmed they were all counterfeit. The only real ones were what were found on the person of the three family members. He also explained that the coins were in various stages of production and the materials found were used in the coin making process.
The trial took place at the Lancaster Lent Assizes the following April. Edward was convicted on the basis of his sister’s earlier admissions and him having tried to escape whilst wearing a shirt with his sleeves rolled up. Isabella’s defence counsel made an impassioned plea that although she was fully aware of what was happened, there was no direct evidence she had actually made any counterfeit coins. The jury though found her guilty but did acquit Elizabeth.
The brother and sister were both sentenced to transportation for life, although not together. Edward was sent to Van Diemens Land (now Tasmania) and Isabella to New South Wales.