Tuesday, April 24, 2012

An 18th Century Lottery

I have no idea what a lottery ticket would look like in the 18th century. Perhaps it was a token with a number on it or even a ball with its twi to go into the hat.
I was prompted by these thoughts on learning today that Browne Willis, Squire of Whaddon Hall, antiquarian, MP and general benefactor to the community used a lottery to raise funds for the rebuilding of St Mary Magdelen in Stony Stratford.
As many of you know, the great fire of 1742 destroyed much of the east side of the town and with it the church of St Mary Magdelen, which had been standing since about 1290. Almost nothing but the stone shell of the building survived the blaze and with the more pressing issue of rebuilding much of the town, the church became a secondary priority. The church was in effect abandoned and the stones reused in various walls and building projects around Stony Stratford. However the tower was saved and it still stands today.
This was due to the generosity of Browne Willis who put up the money to repair and restore the tower, and, according to Dr Lipscomb, writing in the 19th century "gave a lottery-ticket towards the re-building of it; which ticket produced a prize."
This not altogether clear how this might work. Possibly Browne Willis offered the single ticket and people bought their stake in the lottery. By some process, perhaps putting balls into a hat with, let us say, 100 black balls and one red one, the hat was passed round until the lucky one drew the red ball. He was then given the ticket to be redeemed for the un-named prize.
Curious, but no doubt effective.

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