Photos of Britain

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BRITAIN magazine

Castles you can spend the night in

From dungeons and haunted turrets, to four-poster beds and glorious spas, a stay in a British castle is a magical and mysterious experience

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Downton

BRITAIN’s top 10… film and TV locations

Country homes and rugged landscapes make the perfect settings for our favourite TV series and films. From Downton Abbey to Game of Thrones, marvel at the wonder of Britain on the silver screen…

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The Tudor kings and queens of England

The subject of countless books and films, the Tudors are the most iconic royal house whose reign saw the Reformation, defeat of the Spanish Armada and the execution of Anne Boleyn

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BRITAIN magazine

BRITAIN’s top 10 walks in Wales

This September Carmarthenshire, the Garden of Wales, hosts a month-long walking festival. Here are our top 10 walks in this part of Wales…

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BRITAIN meets the man behind the Royal Mint

We caught up with the man in charge of the Royal Mint to find out more about the history and the heritage of our coins

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After a feature in the latest issue of the magazine about The Wonderful Company of Goldsmiths as part of our series on London’s guilds, we were longing to find out a bit more about the Royal Mint who work with Goldsmiths for the annual Trial of the Pyx. We met up with Adam Lawrence, the CEO of the Royal Mint, to learn about the history of this great British institution. 

Where did the Royal Mint begin?

“There have been mints in London since around 650. We can trace our history back about 1,100 years. In 1279, we moved to the Tower of London. There’s still a street within the tower called Mint Street which the Royal Mint occupied for about 500 years. We got kicked out when the military needed more space and moved up to Tower Hill for space where we were for about 200 years before we moved to Llantrisant in 1968 ahead of decimalisation.”

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How would you describe the Royal Mint to someone who doesn’t know what you do?

“Our role is to make the coins available in the right place at the right time to make the economy work. We’re there as a supporting role for the economy.”

Who decides what goes on to the coins in the UK?

“Ultimately the Queen signs everything off but there is a body called the Royal Mint Advisory Committee which advises in the first instance on what should be considered to go on the currency. The committee is a community of the great and the good: historians, artists and people from all different sorts of backgrounds.They help to decide if something is an appropriate choice for a coin and they play a role in the design process to make sure it is represented in the right way as well.”

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What goes on the Royal Mint’s commemorative coins?

“You will find quite a few anniversaries on coins and that’s because we look forward and work out what is appropriate to be put on a coin. There are some things that are obvious like the 800-year Magna Carta anniversary next year which is something that is really important for the country.

Also as the Royal Mint, we represent the royal family and we’ve been making coins for every monarch for the last 1100 years. Prince George is going to be a monarch, admittedly in a couple of generations down the line but ultimately at some point his effigy is going to end up on our coins. Royal events are very popular but they’re also very significant for the country as well. If you look at things like the Diamond Jubilee a couple of years ago, it wasn’t just a celebration of 60 years on the throne, it was much bigger than that. It was the nation coming together and we play an integral role in those celebrations too.”

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Are all the coins you make recorded?

“We keep copies of everything. Our museum has got at least one of everything we’ve ever made. It is without a doubt the definitive history of the Royal Mint. They also have the drawings, the artists concepts, the trial pieces and the ones didn’t get into circulation.”

What happens to make a coin not enter into circulation?

“One of the famous British coins we’ve made for was King Edward VIII who then abdicated the throne. His coinage was never released so we’ve got all the trial pieces, and what would have been his coinage, in our collection.”

A commemorative coin for Prince George

A commemorative coin for Prince George

What did the Royal Mint do for the birth of the new Prince?

“One of the best things we’ve done over the past couple of years was when Prince George was born. We thought it was fantastic that we had a new heir to throne but we also thought: ‘what about all the other kids that were born on that day too’. So, we did a promotion where we gave every child that was born on that day a silver penny so that they can be special too. It goes back to the whole history of crossing a baby’s palm with silver for good luck. And we thought there were about 2,000 kids born on that day as well so lets give them their own little bit of good luck too.”

How long does it take to create a coin?

“We probably spend 12 to 18 months on creating one coin. That’s a reflection of the amount of effort and skill we put into it. We first have to come up with the idea and then we need to try and understand what we want to get out of it and do some market research. We’ll then put a brief together for an artist or we get the artist to give us some concepts. From getting the artwork to creating the coin, the process could take another 3 or 4 months because we use lots of hand skills. There will be computer generation to move things around later on in the process but initially we make plaster models which our people carve by hand. These designs are done at a large scale and part of the reason for doing it at this kind of scale is that you can get the detail in and then later on when we shrink it down to size, we’ve still got all the detail. The coins are then all hand polished – it’s just a huge amount of work.”

The Royal Mint's Portrait of Britain Commerative Coins

The latest commemorative coins from the Royal Mint

Once it has all been designed, how long does it take to produce a coin?

“Once we get into mass production for circulation coins, we make about 700 a minute. However the commemorative coins are all made individually and by hand. We make very few an hour.”

What is the future for the Royal Mint?

“I think the future is really bright for the Royal Mint. We see all these reports in the press about the death of cash and the death of notes and coins but we’re doing lots of work to ensure they’re still an efficient and effective means of payment. This is the start of our history, not the end of our history.”

The Royal Mint will be opening their first ever visitor centre in 2016 in Llantrisant – check back on our news page soon for more details. 

Read our feature on Goldsmiths in the current issue of BRITAIN magazine. Order your copy here.

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Review: The Bel & The Dragon inn, Churt

The Bel & The Dragon is a gorgeous refurbished inn set in the middle of the Surrey countryside offering a warm welcome and hearty traditional fare

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Tucked away in the heart of the Surrey countryside, this restored 19th-century inn is bursting with character, from the friendly welcome from manager Mike on arrival to the 14 elegant guest rooms. Each one is named after a character from the novels of former Hampshire resident Jane Austen (naturally I was in Darcy) and filled with vintage-style pieces such as the faux dial-up telephone, the Roberts radio-wireless and as many paperbacks as I could ever read – all of which made my Kindle seem completely out of kilter.

Mod-cons did make themselves known in the form of hotel-wide wi-fi, flat-screen TV and room fan but I was more distracted by the sloe gin thoughtfully placed on the chest of drawers which served as a tasty apératif. The beds are super-king size ensuring probably the most comfortable night’s sleep imaginable, while my view looked out over the terrace and gardens where every Wednesday (weather permitting) guests and families can indulge in making their own pizza. Meanwhile en suite bathrooms are modern and elegant featuring under floor heating, (mine didn’t have a bath but family suites do, as well as a comfy sofa for putting your feet up and tearing into Pride and Prejudice).

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Downstairs the bar area is the perfect place to begin an evening with a cocktail – try the Elderbubble, a sweet tonic of Sipsmith vodka, elderflower and lemon juice topped with Laurent-Perrier Champagne. Dinner was in the spacious dining room with its parquet floor and wood panelling and was a feast: Greek pistachios and chilled pea and wild mint soup to begin, followed by the house speciality of roasted suckling pig with crispy crackling and spiced apple chutney. For dessert I had the divine Valrhona chocolate and honeycomb mousse, raspberries and popping candy, while a late-night Espresso Martini (Sipsmith vodka, Musetti espresso and Kahlua) was presented to perfection and the perfect nightcap.

The following morning, after finding the space for a bacon sandwich I explored the sights in and around the Bel & The Dragon. Over the road, the Sculpture Park with 600 pieces of art entices customers while the real treat is at the top of the Devil’s Jumps, the hills located a short walk from the inn, with sweeping vistas of this Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. As the heavens opened I was thankful for the umbrella kindly lent to me by Mike at the Bel & The Dragon and after a good two hours of strolling among verdant woodland I was ready to sink into the cosy armchairs that line the hotel’s lobby and kick back with a coffee and the morning’s newspapers. Who needs a Kindle, indeed.

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For more information visit www.belandthedragon-churt.co.uk

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Dinner fit for a king or queen at the Goring Hotel
Best British experiences
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