Paying on the Nail.


On the night of 5th September, 1594, a mysterious event happened in Bristol. Instead of a crop circle appearing in a cornfield, giant black nails appeared in Corn Street outside the many banks located there. Rumours were rife as to the reason for their sudden appearance but unfortunately the source of these rumours couldn’t be nailed down, unlike the pavement in Corn Street. The most popular suggestions were these:
They were a message delivered by aliens – this was plausible because it was in the days before Royal Mail established a monopoly.

A giant Indian guru was about to visit Bristol and there wasn’t a bed of nails big enough at The Dragonora.
It was the first street art statement by Bristol artist Banksy who’d used the pavement as his canvas instead of adorning vertical walls in the city because back in 1594 he was so young he’d only just mastered crawling.
The speculation ceased a week later when Old Queen Bess announced that they were chopping blocks to relieve those guilty of financial misdemeanours of their heads. The first four men executed on the nails were, along with details of their fiscal crimes:

Norbert Tremblet the landlord of The Old Fox Inn in Redcliffe. To keep his guests entertained he’d had a trampoline erected in the beer garden. Unfortunately, egged on by the landlord, some visitors from Prague tried it out and Tremblet was promptly arrested as the source of all those bouncing Czechs.
Peter McDreggs who ran a dry cleaning business in Hotwells. He accidentally left some change in the pocket of a customer’s submitted trousers which then underwent the cleaning process. He was successfully prosecuted for money laundering.

Horace Pepper of St. Werburghs. He’d engaged in a fencing duel in 1593 with a love rival from Swansea called Dai Jones, during which his extravagant doublet had sustained several irreparable slashes. When Pepper fell upon hard times the following year he was asked by the man who delivered his firewood to settle his debt by giving him the doublet. Pepper refused for sentimental reasons and thus became the first man in history – as he was led to the chopping block – to be penalised for refusing to pay by Dai wrecked doublet.
Aaron Arrowsmith an optician based in Patchway who met his maker as a result of including small print in his charts.

To enhance the deterrent effect the financial institutions kept the heads of those decapitated on the nails and produced them sporadically to warn customers of the likely outcome of any financial deviancy. These collection of heads, with gapping mouths and bulging eyes frozen upon their faces in that moment of shock can still be viewed behind the counters of those same banks today. One just needs to venture within and ask if they have an account that pays more than 0.5% per annum in interest.

Due to the large volume of executions conducted in Corn Street a saying came into common usage called ‘Paying on the Nail’ as financial miscreants paid the ultimate penalty there. As the nails became associated with money, merchants and bankers started to use them as tables outside the banks upon which they conducted business. This was called ‘Nailing A Deal’. If the deal was concluded not long after a beheading the cash was called ‘Blood Money’.

Taken from The History of Bristol According to Jonty Morgan available on Kindle from and



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