Coining the Coin-Tree: Contextualising a contemporary British custom

  • Ceri Houlbrook

Student thesis: Phd


This thesis, by Ceri Houlbrook, has been submitted to the University of Manchester in 2014 for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in the Faculty of Humanities. It is entitled 'Coining the Coin-Tree: Contextualising a contemporary British custom', and it offers an archaeological and ethnographic examination of the coin-tree custom, which is essentially what its name suggests: the practice of inserting coins into trees. These trees are often in the form of logs or stumps, and they are commonly located beside well-traversed footpaths in rural/semi-rural areas. The custom can be traced back to the 1860s in Scotland, but has experienced a late 20th/early 21st-century renaissance, with clusters of coin-trees emerging across England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland, and the Republic of Ireland. No previous academic attempt has been made to either catalogue these structures or contextualise the practice; it is the aim of this thesis, therefore, to do both. Proffering a catalogue of 197 individual coin-trees distributed across 34 sites (detailed in the appendices), this thesis draws on a wide range of resources in order to elucidate the custom: literary works, both historical and contemporary; the empirical data of the coin-trees themselves; and the ethnographic material of over 200 participant interviews. The history of the custom is traced, including a consideration of why it has experienced a recent resurgence - particularly at a time popularly conceived of as a 'secular age'. The questions of how and why people participate are examined in detail, revealing a mutability to the 'meaning' of the custom, and a consideration of the future and heritage of the coin-tree structures themselves is also offered. The thesis closes with a suppositional vignette: what would an archaeologist find if she uncovered a coin-tree site in the future? How would she interpret the remains? And what does this reveal about archaeological methodologies, ritual interpretations, and the relationship between folklore and material culture?
Date of Award31 Dec 2014
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorTimothy Insoll (Supervisor) & Petra Tjitske Kalshoven (Supervisor)


  • Contemporary custom
  • Coin-tree
  • Folklore archaeology

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