Keywords: medieval Berwick commerce merchant guild regulations market offences butchers brewers middlemen porters mills meat ale fish wool skins livestock scot and lot alien merchants custumals Scotland urban origins wik frontier towns war property rental cellars
Subject: Local customs governing commerce
Original source: uncertain
Transcription in: David Houard, ed. Traites sur les Coutumes Anglo-Normandes. Rouen, 1776, vol.2, 475-81, 483-87.
Original language: Latin
Location: Berwick-upon-Tweed
Date: Second half of thirteenth century


Statutes of the gild

Chapter 19: Concerning hand-mills

No-one should be so bold as to grind wheat, maslin, or rye, in hand-mills, except when forced to it by troubled times, or through failure of the mills to perform the task. And should anyone use a hand-mill in such circumstances, he ought to give one-thirteenth of the flour as multure. If anyone dares to contravene this our prohibition the hand-mills are to be permanently confiscated. And one's malt should be ground at the mill, for the fee of one-twenty-fourth of the flour.

[Ordinance concerning shoemakers and tanners]

Chapter 20: Concerning the purchase of wool, hides, and pells

No-one may buy wool, hides, or woolfells for purposes of resale, nor cut cloth [to retail] , unless a brother of our gild, or an outsider merchant performing his occupation. Nor may he have lot nor cavel with any of our brothers.

Chapter 21: No gildsman shall give his money to a foreign merchant

If any brother of the gild makes our coin available to any foreign merchant to do business with, and thereby takes a certain amount of profit in the market from a sack of wool, a last of hides, woolfells or other wares, he is to be fined forty shillings the first time, the second, and the third. If he is convicted of the same a fourth time, he is to lose his gild [membership] . In the same fashion, a brother of the gild is to be punished if he accepts money from a foreign merchant for purposes of trading.

Chapter 22: Concerning the purchase of wares arriving in ships

No-one may buy herring or any fish brought to the town by ship before the ship has docked and the oars are banked. Nor any other wares, such as grain, beans, or salt. If anyone is convicted of this he shall give a tun of wine to the gild as a penalty, or be exiled from the town for a year and a day.

Also, if anyone buys herring, salt, grain, beans, or fish, or any similar types of wares [from ships] , he is not to deny a share, at the market price at which he buys, to his neighbours who wish to buy for personal consumption; that is, enough for sustenance of their households. Failing which, he shall be condemned to forfeit a tun of wine.

Similarly, anyone who buys [a share] more than he needs for his consumption and sells [the surplus] is to undergo the same punishment, because he requested and obtained a share on the grounds that, he said, he needed to buy that amount for his food.

Also, that the [original] purchaser is to be left with [no less than?] a one-quarter share, which he is to pay for on board when he receives the goods.

Also, if anyone has bought herring or any other wares and has given God's penny or any silver as earnest money, he shall pay the merchant from whom he purchased the goods the market price agreed on [at the time of the sale] . If he does not do so, and is convicted thereof, he shall give a tun of wine as penalty, without any remission from the gild, or be exiled from the town for a year and a day.

Chapter 23: Concerning defective wares

Should it happen that a buyer buys any wares of which the top layer is good and what is beneath is of poor quality, he should be awarded compensation after examination [of the wares] and consideration by reputable men assigned to that [duty] .

Chapter 24: Concerning the price of mutton

We decree that henceforth no butcher may sell within the borough of Berwick, between Easter and Whitsun, a carcass of mutton for more than sixteen pence, from Whitsun to St. James' Day [25 July] for more than twelve pence, from St. James' Day to Michaelmas for more than ten pence, and from Michaelmas to Easter for more than eight pence. If anyone is convicted of breaking this assize he shall give eight shillings as penalty.

Chapter 25: Concerning butchers who are merchants

Also, it is decreed that no butcher, while he wishes to exercise that occupation, may buy wool or hides, unless he is prepared to abstain from slaughtering and not to lay a hand on any animal.

Chapter 26: Concerning brewsters

It is decreed that no woman may sell a gallon of ale, between Easter and Michaelmas, for more than twopence, and from Michaelmas to Easter for more than a penny. And at the advice of the community their names are to be registered without any delay.

Chapter 27: Concerning brokers

We decree that brokers are to be chosen by the community of the town; they shall give one tun of wine to the town at Michaelmas, without any delay, and at the advice of the community their names are to be registered.

Chapter 28: Concerning regraters

No regrater may buy fish, hay, oats, cheese, butter, or anything brought to the town for sale, before the ringing of the bell in the bell-tower of Berefrid. Should any dare to act in contravention of this prohibition, anything they have bought will be confiscated and distributed to the poor at the discretion of the bailiffs.

Chapter 29: Concerning forestallers of the market

We decree that no-one may buy wares brought to the town for sale before they reach the communal market of the town. If anyone is convicted of this he is to lose whatever he has bought and it is to be turned over to the use of our gild.

Chapter 30: Concerning those who purchase wool and hides

No married woman may buy wool in the street, nor may any burgess use more than one servant for buying wool and hides. If anyone unreasonably buys wool or hides outside of the established place in town, the said wool or hides will be confiscated for the use of the gild, and the [offending] man or his servant will be fined eight shillings, and their goods subject to seizure for the fine.

Chapter 36: Concerning glovers and skinners

It is decreed that no skinner or glover, nor any other burgess, may take wool off any pells between Whitsun and Michaelmas, but may sell pells as they are, as best they can. If any glover or skinner is convicted of so doing he shall give a tun of wine to the gild.

Chapter 37: Concerning participation of gildsmen in a sale of herring

No matter which burgess buys herring, any of his neighbours who are present at the sale of those herring shall have some for the same price he negotiated, without any fraud. If anyone who is not present at the purchase of those herring wishes to have his share, he shall pay the purchaser [an additional] twelve pence as profit. Anyone convicted of doing the contrary shall give a tun of wine to the gild (which means to the brethren of the gild).

Chapter 38: Concerning the carriage of wine

Also, it is decreed that each burgess shall pay full carriage for each tun of wine that he places in [his?] tavern or puts in or takes out of a ship. For transferring a tun from one cellar to another he shall pay twopence halfpenny (that is, one penny to the town and a penny halfpenny for porterage). And for a tun [put] into his cart, he shall pay a penny for porterage.

Chapter 39: Concerning brewsters buying oats

No woman may buy in the marketplace more than a chaldron of oats for making malt to sell, or for brewing in her home-based tavern. If she buys more she will forfeit whatever she has bought, of which one-third will go to the wardens [of the market?] and two-thirds to the bailiffs.

Chapter 40: Concerning the time for purchasing livestock

Between Martinmas and Christmas no butcher may go out of the town to intercept livestock en route to the town to be sold. Nor on any day within that period to buy livestock in the marketplace before midday meal-time. Nor is he fraudulently to buy livestock to keep to himself until after the midday meal. If anyone does the contrary, he is to give up his occupation for a year and a day.

Chapter 41: Concerning the sale of tanned hides

No outsider bringing tanned leather to sell may sell it from any [private] house, but only from the communal marketplace, and then only on the appointed market day. Even though they may be cut up into pieces, the seller must nonetheless pay toll on them.

Chapter 42: Concerning mill-stones

No-one may have more than two pairs of mill-stones. Whoever has more shall have his mill-stones confiscated for a year and a day.

Chapter 43: Concerning lot and cavil

No brother of our gild may have lot nor cavil with anyone in [sale quantities] less than half a quarter of woolfells, half a dicker of hides, or two stones of wool.

Chapter 44: Concerning the time and place for buying merchandize carried in ships

No-one may buy any kind of grain, beans, peas, salt, coal, or other merchandize coming to the town by sea unless it is in front of the side of the ship; that is, at the Bray. Nor may he carry away from the ship the said purchased goods before sunrise; but only between sunrise and sunset may it be transported, without exception. If anyone acts contrary to this he shall give his brethren a tun of wine.

Chapter 45: Concerning amercements of foreign merchants

Also, all amercements taken from outsider merchants ought to belong to the brethren of the gild and the burgesses of the town, except those that belong to the king.

Chapter 46: Outsiders may not buy or sell except on market day

No burgess, nor brother of our gild who resides outside [the town] , should dare to buy or sell within our town any wares reserved to the gild, except on market day. And that no-one who resides outside may buy any victuals brought to our town by ship. If any man is convicted of doing the contrary he shall give a tun of wine to our gild.


The statutes of the merchant gild of Berwick represent in effect a local custumal in the not uncommon form of a core of customs which were written down at some point in time, and subsequently expanded by the addition of later ordinances; such expansions tended to take place as later copies were made from an original (which is usually lost). In the case of Berwick, however, they do not represent a comprehensive set of rules by which the town was administered, but are found as a component of, or appendix to, a larger collection that begins with the Leges et consuetudines quatuor burgorum, self-attributed to the reign of King David I (1124-1153), who is considered the principal creator of royal burghs, inspired by the town-founding initiatives of the Normans in England. This attribution, however, may have been a typical effort to accord the authority of more antiquity than is actually warranted; the earliest surviving text of the Leges Burgorum dates to around 1270.

The four Scottish towns to which these laws initially applied were Edinburgh, Roxburgh, Stirling, and Berwick, important royal burghs and market centres. Like the Cinque Ports in England, this group of Four Burghs had by the late thirteenth century a common administrative mechanism, combining characteristics of a court and a parliament, that dealt with the king as an entity, enacted laws binding on all members, acted as a court of appeal from burgh courts, and adjudicated disputes between burghs. The Leges Burgorum deal with burghs' relationship with the king, his officials, and royal justice, with disputes involving burgesses and outsiders, and with aspects of town life common to all burghs (e.g. fair administration); they were probably enacted by various authorities: the king, Scotland's parliament, and the Court of the Four Burghs, while some may have been absorbed from local customs of member burghs. Each burgh had its own customs, beyond the common laws, governing certain aspects of local administration and commerce. The set of Berwick customs, perhaps partly because the earliest reduced to writing, was influential in the development of by-laws in other Scottish towns. In 1369, as Berwick and Roxburgh – both towns on the River Tweed, which in 1018 Malcolm II had declared the border between his realm an England – changed hands back and forth during the wars between the two countries, they were replaced in the association by Lanark and Linlithgow.

The Leges Burgorum and Berwick statutes survive in a number of Latin manuscripts, in several versions. That used by Houard was taken from a digest of early Scottish laws compiled by lawyer Sir John Skene and printed in 1609 under the title Regiam majestatem: Scotiae veteres leges et constitutiones. His transcription, and consequently that in Houard, have been much criticized as inaccurate, notably by another lawyer, and legal historian, Cosmo Innes [Ancient Laws and Customs of the Burghs of Scotland, Edinburgh, 1868, vol.1, p.xxi]. The transcription found in Innes (who credits much of it to an earlier work by Thomas Thomson), was subsequently considered superior by writers such as Gross, who echoed the criticism of Skene/Houard and copied Innes' edition into his The Gild Merchant [vol.1, pp.227-40], Bateson, who included extracts in Borough Customs and John Scott, who published a transcript of a Middle English version of the statutes [Berwick-upon-Tweed: The History of the Town and Guild, London, 1888, pp.465-69].

The criticisms of the Skene edition may not be entirely just. Certainly there are some misreadings and probably also some omissions from his source, but it might equally be argued that Innes does not always seem to have understood his source quite as well as Skene. However, it is clear from comparing the two editions that they have been made from different and variant medieval versions, written by different scribes who had differing ideas about correct terminology; rather than one of the two being a rewrite of the other, they were more probably based on a third and older version drafted towards the close of the thirteenth century. The version used by Innes appears to me to be a slightly later copy, embodying amendments and some re-ordering of chapters; although the reverse might be true. In the Innes edition most chapter titles begin either with the term ordinatio or constitutio. Assuming that the titles of either edition are not supplied by the editor (which does not seem to me the case), the considerable differences between the titles in each edition suggests that both were based on an earlier source that lacked chapter titles. The Innes edition has some additional details and chapters either not in Skene's source, or omitted from his transcription; chapters 24 to 26 are not in Innes, perhaps because no longer enforced or superseded by other provisions. After making allowance for such variations, we are left with mostly minor differences between the two versions, just as easily explicable to scribal differences between medieval copies as to transcription errors. Closer comparative study of the two editions would be needed to see if my impressions are valid. For my English translation of selected chapters (those relating to commerce), I have used Houard, in the belief it is based on the oldest surviving version, but have cross-checked it against the Innes edition.

For the date of compilation of the first custumal we must rely on a preamble to the Innes edition indicating that the laws were enacted by mayor Robert Bernham, Simon Maunsel, and other probi homines of the town at a congregation of the gildsmen. Bernham was, according to Scott, mayor in 1238 and 1249, while Maunsel was a prominent townsman in the first half of the thirteenth century (see note below). The preamble does not appear in the Skene edition, though information from it (with names misread) is included in a postscript to the statutes along with a set of dates suggesting the custumal to have been compiled 1283/84, which misled some later writers. That set was drawn from the later chapters, several of which are dated. However, the great majority of the chapters were most probably compiled at the period indicated in the preamble, which, together with the tenor of some of the chapters, suggests that tension between the gildsmen and other burgesses may have prompted an accord on local regulations; possibly the presence of both Scottish and English settlers was also a factor in division and discord within the community. The final few statutes were enacted between 1281 and 1294, and either inserted into an existing manuscript or point to a period when a new, expanded copy was drafted. This of course does not preclude some of the 'statutes' having been in effect as customs in the early thirteenth century or even the twelfth. The Middle English version in Scott appears to date to ca.1500 and incorporates a greater number of alterations, mainly in the area of penalties for infringement, but with some chapters dropped and new ones added; it looks as if based on the later Latin version (Innes), and it misreads or misunderstands some of the Latin terms.

The early history of any settlement at the site of Berwick remains obscure, but in the Late Anglo-Saxon period it would have been part of Northumbria; Malcolm's effort to extend his Scottish realm southwards produced a victory in 1018 that gave him the Tweed and presumably whatever may have existed at the site of Berwick. That this included harbourage, even if only a good stretch of foreshore, is suggested by the expedition of eleven ships that King Duncan fitted out in the vicinity in 1030. The first clear reference to a settlement of Berwick comes ca. 1097, when King Edgar's short-lived grant of it to the Bishop of Durham describes it as a "noble village" [Scott, op.cit. p.5]. Berwick's northerly position – strategic and defensible – made it for an extended period the object of contesting forces of England and Scotland, while its situation on the northern bank and close to the mouth of the River Tweed, facing the North Sea, gave it a second frontier dimension. An ancient route, possibly Roman, ran nearby, and a ford crossed the river at Berwick. By the time David embarked on his programme of fostering urbanization, Berwick was already a significant player in Scotland's economy.

"The favoured interpretation of the name Berwick is that it derives from the Anglian 'berewic' or barley farm; an out-lying estate farm or grange" [John Marlow and Alan Williams, Berwick-upon-Tweed, Northumberland Extensive Urban Survey report, 2009, p.11]. This assumes, however, that Berwick began life as a subsidiary site (perhaps even a proto-urban foundation) to some more prominent settlement, such as a manor; no such settlement has been convincingly identified, and this approach fails to explain Berwick's rise to importance. I am more inclined – considering the coastal location, and given other applications of the prefix 'ber' in the town such as Bardyk, a name applied to an ancient town ditch, and Berfreyt (see notes) – to favour a simpler interpretation that wick here refers to a waterside area where trading took place and ber (less certainly) to a burgh or burh, so that 'Berwick' was the town, or perhaps place of refuge, with a port. It is quite conceivable the town emerged out of a coalescence of separate sites, which might include one or more foci of upslope settlement and a riverside trading area and/or fishing village. At the time of the first reliable mention of Berwick (1097) it seems of some consequence. Other sources, of slightly earlier or slightly later dates, but of a literary character, suggest at least that Berwick was around this period an attractor of trade and had sufficient defences to allow it to act as a refuge. It was also a military base for raids into Northumberland.

These things, taken together, suggest that Berwick was not by the opening of the twelfth century, if ever, any mere outlying farm. Indeed, it was one of the first settlements designated a royal burgh – possibly before David's time – and given associated privileges which provided additional stimulus to the development of commerce; laws of William the Lion (1165-1214) recognized the right of Scottish merchants to associate in gilds, with each gild's members having the right to buy and sell freely (presumably meaning toll-free) within their own burgh, and requiring producers of raw materials and foreign merchants to deal only with those merchants. Berwick also had a castle, was the principal town of a shire, and the most prosperous of Scotland's ports, with good sea links to Norway, the Baltic and above all Flanders, and the fertile hinterland of Tweeddale from which to draw trade products.

David's urbanization initiatives included sponsoring the establishment of religious orders there (which became heavily active in production of wool for export to Flanders) and encouraging Fleming and English immigrants; it has been observed that some of the Leges Burgorum look as if modelled after customs of Newcastle-upon-Tyne and perhaps a few other English towns which had been exposed to the Breteuil customs. The experience of such immigrants in urban contexts must have been thought valuable in a Scotland relatively slow in urbanizing; when the burgh of St. Andrews was founded (ca.1140), its plan was laid out and local government set up by one Mainard the Fleming, a burgess of Berwick. Flemish merchants had a base in Berwick by the late thirteenth century: the Red Hall, which local tradition locates in Woolmarket and other evidence (1314) places in Bridge Street; while in 1334 we hear also of a White Hall, which appears to have served the same purpose for merchants of Cologne. Both halls were close to the port; Bridge Street served the port, and the existence of a number of warehouses along it illustrates the importance of the port facilities to the local economy. Even Italian merchants were by no means unknown in Berwick. The gild statutes show that Berwick had a strong organization, through civic and merchant gild institutions that do not appear young in the mid-thirteenth century.

Despite this, it was not well enough defended to be able to shrug off the assaults experienced as England and Scotland warred for control of the border region. After his attempted invasion of Northumberland failed, William I of Scotland ceded control of Berwick's castle and presumably also the town – which had shortly before suffered its first recorded devastation at English hands – to Henry II of England, though Richard I sold it back to raise money for his Crusade effort. During John's reign, his rebellious barons received support from Alexander II of Scotland, and in retaliation John led an army north which assaulted, captured, and sacked Berwick. The reign of Henry III of England was a period of relative peace between the two kingdoms, and it was in this period that Berwick seems to have achieved its peak of prosperity. Wool, sheepskins, and hides had a prominent role in its export trade; fish (notably salmon) and grain were other exported items. According to one chronicler, who seems to have had a close connection with Berwick and was possibly a friar resident there (so we must allow for hyperbole), in the latter half of the thirteenth century, prior to Edward I's devastating assault, Berwick was

"the principal seaport and town of the kingdom .... so populous and busy that it might well be called a second Alexandria, its wealth being the sea and the waters its defence.... the citizens, having become very powerful and devoted to God, used to spend liberally in charity ... and allotted a certain yearly sum of money from the common chest for the honourable celebration of every festival of the blessed Francis, and further for the provision of clothing for the poor friars dwelling in their city ... performing devout service to the saint who began life as a trader, expecting that even in the present [life] greater profits from trading would be the result of their costly piety.".
[Herbert Maxwell, trans., The Chronicle of Lanercost 1272-1346, Glasgow, 1913, pp.131, 155]

However, the extinction of Scotland's Dunkeld dynasty in 1290 opened the door for Edward I's intervention and assertion of overlordship. When in 1295 John Balliol, whom Edward had chosen for the succession, allied with France, with which England was at war, Edward responded with an invasion. The following year he and his army found at Berwick a populace willing to resist – including the women and the Fleming colony – but little more than ditch and palisade as the town's defences. It was easily stormed, then sacked with considerable loss of life and damage to the fabric, including the burning down of the Red Hall with the defiant Flemings still inside. He then sought to rebuild the town and strengthen its defences, to turn it into a military and administrative base from which to exercise English control over southern Scotland, and to restore its role as a well-governed economic hub, providing incentives for new settlers from England. He invested considerable energy and money into this effort and sent a commission of English townsmen, some with experience in town planning, to assist with the reconstruction. Edward's intentions were frustrated by the town falling into the hands of Wallace's forces in early 1298 (although the castle garrison held out), before much had been accomplished in building new defences; but they would soon be forced to abandon it again to the English.

Berwick would change hands about a dozen times more before being retaken for England on a permanent basis in 1482. But, despite the introduction of English townsmen in hopes of bringing Berwick trading practices more in line with those of England, both through Edward I's commission of advisors in 1296 and in 1333 through Edward III's appointment of a Newcastle merchant as Berwick's mayor for an extended term, it seems the thirteenth-century statutes remained, with a few updates, a foundation stone of local administration throughout the Late Middle Ages, under both Scottish and English rule. At least one effort to introduce economic reforms came to nothing.

The bloody sack of the town in 1296 has been characterized by some historians as the end of the road for Berwick's status as a prosperous, commerce-based town; but this was not the case, and at first Berwick was able to maintain its role as a port for international trade. However, living under an almost constant threat of attack, the burdensome costs of maintaining the town in a state of defence, the risks to life and confiscations of property when there was a change of regime, the damage to infrastructure and cost of rebuilding homes, the depopulation consequent to assaults, and the harm done to Berwick's relationship with its hinterland, along with other factors, gradually took their toll, impeding the realization of economic potential promised by Berwick's earlier history.

The extent and character of commercial activity in Berwick is not well understood, for little documentary evidence generated by burgh or gild has survived from the medieval period. But some indication is given by a survey of the urban properties undertaken in 1297 following the English recapture of the town; only a portion of this survives, but the section for Hidegate (modern Silver Street), given below, shows a number of shops or workshops, as well as spaces that were at least partly below street level and may have been used as workshops, storerooms, or taverns. Among the past or future holders of these properties were goldsmiths, clothiers, and a spicer, as well as an abbey which evidently held several investment properties here, rented out perhaps to artisans and/or retailers. Of course we cannot be certain that the owners carried on their trades in these locations, but it is not unlikely; some of the properties incorporated multiple shops or storerooms, probably rented out to other traders.

The street of Hidegate, on the north side, beginning at the west end and heading south

First, the burgage of a certain nun of St. Bothans, with a cellar, a shop, and a solar, rented out for two marks per year.

Item, the burgage formerly of Robert de Dunbarre, with five cellars and solars erected at the front, rented out for 8 marks per year.

Item, the burgage formerly of Thomas de Scremerstone, with a cellar and solar, rented out for 15s. per year.

Item, the burgage formerly of John le Orfevre, with four shops and one small house, rented out for 20s. per year

Item, the burgage formerly of Michael le Espicer, with two cellars and a solar, rented out for twenty shillings per year. [this was now rented to a goldsmith]

Item, the burgage formerly of Adam de Donbarre, with a cellar and solar facing Hidegate, [rented out] for 40s., and a cellar and solar facing Ravenesdene, rented out for 40s. per annum.

The south side of Hidegate, beginning at the east end and heading west

Item, a ruinous burgage formely of Alice de Monachis, with cellar and solar facing Hidegate and a cellar and solar facing the Ness, rented out for [...] per annum.

Item, the burgage formerly of Alexander le Tayllure, with a cellar and solar at the front, rented out for sixty shillings.

Item, an empty plot with a stone wall, which formerly belonged to John David tailor, with cellar and solar on the south side, measuring fifty-six feet from east to west, beyond the chapel on the east side of the burgage, rented out for half a mark per year.

Item, the burgage formerly of Martin del Briggate, with two shops and a solar, rented out for twenty shillings a year.

Item the burgage formerly of the abbot of Jedworth, with two shops, rented out for half a mark per year.

Item the burgage formerly of the same abbot, with three cellars and solars facing Hidegate and three solars and cellars facing the Ness, rented out for half a mark per year.

The Roundele

First, a circular plot called la Roundele, formerly of the abbot of Jedworth, which has on it ten solars and nine solars, rented out for twenty marks per year.



Mixed grains, particularly wheat with rye).

A customary fee paid to the miller for his services.

"concerning shoemakers and tanners"
This chapter is found only in the Innes edition of the custumal, but is also in the Leges Burgorum. It specifies that shoemakers may not engage in tanning hides other than of animals whose horns and ears are of equal length; and that tanners may not salt hides. The problem of the overlap between different types of leather-workers' spheres of activity later became the subject of national legislation.

An old term with a similar meaning to lot; that is the drawing of lots, or apportioning out (among peers) shares in a commercial bargain, and perhaps by extension a right to share in commercial privileges of an enfranchised community. The word has some history in the Scottish language, but is rarely found in English usage; it has survived with this kind of meaning into modern times in one specific application in New Zealand.

"makes our coin available"
Skene read the text as exhibeat denarios, whereas Innes' reading is accipiat denarios; the latter is more likely, but the gist is much the same in either case, in terms of a partnership intended to deceive by misusing gild privileges. There are other differences between the two versions that indicate separate iterations of the same by-law.

"before the ship has docked"
In other words, forestalling the market. exiled from the town: Expulsion from the community was perhaps the most severe penalty a town government could impose, as it not only deprived the exile of social communion but also in effect removed both the privileges associated with burgess status and easy access to business contacts, both of which were important for earning a living. It was employed only for the worst offences harming the community or for repeat or recalcitrant offenders.

"exiled from the town"
Expulsion from the community was perhaps the most severe penalty a town government could impose, as it not only deprived the exile of social communion but also in effect removed both the privileges associated with burgess status and easy access to business contacts, both of which were important for earning a living. It was employed only for the worst offences harming the community or for repeat or recalcitrant offenders.

"or fish"
The Innes edition has pisas (peas) rather than pisces. Either is plausible. The later English version does not resolve the question, as it provides only a shorter list of sample wares.

"from ships"
Specified in the Innes edition.

"his neighbours"
This should be understood in the sense of those of his fellow gildsmen who are nearby at the time (i.e. when the bargain is struck).

"agreed on"
The Innes addition adds the phrase sine felling vel herlebreking, he identified both terms as meaning breaking the agreement between the parties; herlebreking refers to infringement of the earnest money, delivery of which sealed an oral agreement. The English version uses the phrase lessynge hys arlesse, the term erlest having been used for "earnest". arralis being that Latin adjectival form of 'earnest money'.

"more than twopence"
The fluctuation in ale prices was because barley prices, on which the assize of ale was based, rose during the summer and dropped at Michaelmas when a new harvest replenished supplies.

"give one tun"
That is, as a licence fee. Wine was such a common commodity of trade, less perishable than ale or foodstuffs, that at times it could serve as an unofficial currency. Various borough fees and fines were often payable in wine prior to the fifteenth century.

The English version uses huckster, which is not quite the same as regrator, but it is likely most regrators were female, and were regrating in order to retail at slightly higher price in, or outside of, the marketplace.

"bell-tower of Berefrid"
In 1337 a royal enquiry was underway stemming from a parliamentary petition of the mayor and townsmen requesting restoration to them of the Berfreyt. It was claimed, in the petition and subsequent investigation, that the town authorities had held it since long before the time of King Alexander III (1241-86) – though we may take that with a pinch of salt – having constructed on vacant land acquired from Simon Maunsel a building known as the Berfreyt to hold prisoners; however, control of it and its revenues had been seized by the royal chamberlain or the sheriff of Berwickshire appointed after the English had retaken Berwick (1333), apparently on the grounds the land was contributory to the fee farm. In the chamberlain's account of 1333/34 we hear of a "gaol called the Berfret", being farmed out to a custodian. An account of 1314, relating to repairs of defences, mentions a purchase of timbers for the berefrid. During Alexander's reign Maunsel had bequeathed the town the site of the Tolbooth, the base of local administration, which was on or near the site of the present town hall (eighteenth century). Maunsel is mentioned in 1227 as a deed witness, and as one of the town reeves in an undated Berwick deed of ca.1208-ca.1215. Judging from Speed's map of 1610, the Tolbooth was in the stretch of the High Street, at a crossroads, used as the marketplace, flanked by market crosses symbolizing the king's peace imposed over the market; at one end of the Tolbooth rises a tower, which may represent the Berfreyt. This Tolbooth was, however, the rebuild of the 1360s, whose site was adjacent to that of the earlier building (which had apparently been damaged in 1333, since repairs were covered in the chamberlain's account, and may have suffered again later), so the tower may originally have been more a stand-alone structure. One use of the bell in the tower was to summon gildsmen to assemblies. Boucher [Glossary of Archaic and Provincial Words, 1833] astutely speculated that in 'berfreyt' lay the roots of 'belfrey', though the term does not derive from a connection with bells, but from the Germanic (and Old English) bercfrith meaning a fortification protecting the peace, the first syllable having an etymological association with burh. By the twelfth century the term had come to be applied to a siege tower and in the thirteenth to belfries. The English version of the statutes substitutes for campanae in Berefrido the phrase the bell in the Barfut fryers, though I cannot say whether this is a misunderstanding by the translator or an indication the designated bell for sounding market hours had been changed to one of the friary bell-towers: the Franciscans in particular being described as barefoot, and their friary appears to have been near the town wall end of Marygate, which led to the marketplace.

"before they reach"
The Innes edition specifies other places where forestalling was wont to take place: on the bridge across the Tweed, in Briggate (Bridge Street, which led from the bridge and the port towards the marketplace), and outside the town gates.

"married woman"
In other words, it was permitted to spinsters, who supported themselves by spinning wool, to buy wherever they could.

"in the street"
It is tempting to think that in vico may in this case perhaps refer to the wick, meaning the borough marketplace. But since forum is used in the previous chapter, it is safer to opt for the most straightforward translation.

"more than one servant"
The gist of this chapter is to counter mechanisms a burgess might use to be able to buy up quantities of goods larger than he might obtain just through his burgess' share of bargains, with a view to cornering the market.

"the established place"
The Innes edition is a little more specific in stating this to be a designated market. This may mean the street known as Wool Market, which lay just beyond the main marketplace.

"he shall give"
The Innes edition threatens skinners and glovers with having to give up their occupation for a year and a day, and limits the fine of a cask of wine to other burgesses.

"convicted of doing the contrary"
The Innes edition adds a sentence imposing the same forfeit on any buyer who fails to pay the seller of the herring.

"Chapter 38"
The Innes edition and the English version both associate a date of enactment with this chapter, though they give different saint's days; the Innes edition is almost certainly correct in giving 23 April 1281. Chapter 39 is of the same year, and chapter 40 was enacted in October 1283. Chapter 43 is dated to 1284.

"full carriage"
This presumably refers to the (regulated?) fees for porters to transport containers. The Innes edition uses tractagium rather than cariagium. Both editions of the chapter also use the term berevagium, which (unlike Innes) I do not think here is a corruption of beveragium but refers to a fee for bearing goods, so I have translated it as porterage; this is despite the use of potum later in the chapter, which in the context is unlikely to have anything to do with drinking (as Innes thinks), but more probably refers to a cart (pottus or just possibly a storage pit puteus).

"Chapter 39"
The English version states that this ordinance was made in the church of St. Nicholas, which was one of the places used for communal assemblies (the Tolbooth being too small); the church may have been located close to the town walls, as one of the towers was named after that saint.

A non-standardized dry measure of volume, used particularly for bulk goods of low value, notably coal – a coal cauldron still being a vessel in domestic use into the twentieth century. The medieval measure was, however, rather more capacious; in the nineteenth century one estimate for a chaldron used in southern England was that it might contain 36 bushels, although an estimate of the chaldron used in northern England in the fifteenth century was only two-thirds of that.

"or for brewing"
This phrase does not appear in the other Latin version nor the English version. It has the look of an afterthought tagged on somewhat awkwardly at the end of the chapter (I have moved it to earlier in the chapter, for grammatical sense).

The Innes edition specifies that one-third is to go to the bailiffs and the remainder to the gild.

"keep to himself"
The implication here seems to be hoarding, which was often the concern underlying forestalling.

"Chapter 42"
In the Innes edition the chapter heading indicates this rule applied to stones for hand-grinding; the intent was perhaps to stifle competition to millers. The chapter as omitted from the English version.

"Chapter 43"
Omitted from the English version.

"Chapter 44"
The Innes edition states that this chapter was enacted in 1294 by common consent of all the gild brethren, at a meeting in the hall of Trinitarian friars, believed to have established themselves at Berwick by the 1240s, possibly in the hospital of St. Edward located at one end of the bridge across the Tweed. This chapter was omitted from the English version.

"that is, at the Bray"
This phrase is transcribed in English and has the look of a later interpolation. Bray evidently refers to the quayside; although the Scottish "brae" means slope or hillside and could refer to the area descending to the sea, another possible derivation is the Norse term for broad, referring to a strip of land by the water, and Bray may point to the site of a fishing village that could have formed one of the pre-urban nuclei of Berwick.

"before sunrise"
Thus depriving other gildsmen of a chance to share in the bargain.

"without exception"
A possible interpretation of sine requie, which alternatively may mean that there was no pause (e.g. midday break) within the sunrise to sunset period when goods could not be transported.

"Chapter 45", Chapter 46"
Enacted on the same occasion as chapter 44.

"reserved to the gild"
That is, over which gildsmen have a monopoly on selling outside of market days.

"any victuals"
The Innes edition (and the English version) qualify this by allowing purchase of a quantity sufficient for household sustenance; the prohibition applied to purchase for purposes of retailing.

"waterside area"
It may be noted that North Berwick (so-called to distinguish it from Berwick-upon-Tweed, more usually referred to by the Scots as South Berwick) is another coastal settlement. Located not far from Edinburgh, on the south bank of the Firth of Forth, its name is recorded in 1250 although a harbour there is believed to have been built a century earlier; in 1373 it was made a royal burgh. Between the two Berwicks is the village of Innerwick, more inland, although its parish boundaries stretch to the coast. Between Berwick-upon-Tweed and Bamburgh are a string of Northumberland coastal villages with names like Cheswick, Goswick, Fenwick, and Elwick, while further south near Alnmouth Bay is another cluster of wicks. All this suggests that the use of 'wick' in place-names to denote a waterside settlement was far from unusual in this region. Although settlements with 'wick' in their name vary widely in size and character, the great majority share the characteristics of being situated on coastal or riverine frontiers and, in the few places where serious archaeology has been conducted, show evidence (notably pottery and coins) of international commerce.

"came to nothing"
In1302 Edward's charter to the town granted it liber burgus status, confirmed its merchant gild licensed a twice-weekly market (Mondays and Fridays) and a fair, and he ordered his warden to turn over the reins of borough government to a locally-elected mayor and bailiffs. But this did not go far enough to suit the English townsmen. Ca. 1306 they submitted a draft for a new charter of privileges for royal approval. The draft requested such things as greater self-government, freedom from tolls throughout England, burgess monopolies on sale of Berwickshire wool to outsider merchants, purchase of salt imported by outsiders, and retailing of cloth, prohibition of religious orders from participating in the fulling industry, and no forced prises by the castle garrison. However, the charter granted in March 1307 was much more modest, simply confirming privileges previously held in the time of Alexander III, in return for a fee farm of 500 marks.

"relationship with its hinterland"
C.M. Fraser [Northern Petitions illustrative of life in Berwick ..., Surtees Society, vol.194 (1981), p.9] points out that while the adjacent counties were under English domination Berwick's role in wool export could be maintained, but that as this domination was eroded in the late fourteenth century the amount of wool shipped through Berwick decreased and it became unable to compete with Edinburgh or Newcastle.

"other factors"
For example, in 1307 the townsmen were complaining to the king about a rival market at Tweedmouth, and they petitioned for shortening the period of the town's fair – originally granted (1302) by Edward I for May-June, it had ca.1305 been extended to last through the Easter to Michaelmas period, a ridiculously long duration which was evidently proving unprofitable, and the petitioners wished to revert to the original period. Also, problems between England and Flanders adversely impacted that important component of Berwick's overseas commerce.

"a portion of this"
A Latin transcription of the whole may be found in Joseph Stevenson, Documents illustrative of the History of Scotland, Edinburgh: 1870, vol.2, pp. 152-56; according to Joseph Bain, Calendar of Documents relating to Scotland vol.2, Edinburgh, 1884, p.228, this document is in the Public Record Office in the Exchequer, Queen's Remembrancer group. This survey was used as a working document for renting out properties to new English settlers, whose names have been inserted in the margin of the original document, but are omitted in my translation.

"a certain nun"
Likely the prioress, on behalf of the convent.

"cellar", "solar"
Most solars were upper-storey rooms usually serving as living quarters, so named because higher rooms could be expected to have better access to sunlight than those at lower levels. It was not uncommon for shops to have solars above, perhaps accommodations for the shopkeepers, but solars could also be above other spaces, such as a hall or a cellar. Cellars, or undercrofts, by contrast, although they were perhaps even more common features of urban houses, were not so much family areas; they were mainly used either for storage or sometimes as shops or taverns accessed directly off the street and run by the householder or rented out independent of living quarters – street-accessed cellars were often vaulted, to make them more appealing, architecturally, to customers. Stone-built cellars were desirable components of mercantile houses not only because of their value in preserving perishable goods longer in a cool environment, but also because relatively fireproof (documents may have been stored there) and less susceptible to break-and-enter; examples survive in a number of English towns, since later rebuilding tended not to disturb them so much as it did above-ground features of houses (except, notably, where cellars were re-dug to adapt to changes in street level).

"Ravenesdene, Ness"
The Ness (meaning cape or headland) was a neighbourhood between the town proper (as per its twelfth century extent) and the waterfront. Modern Ness Street essentially continues the route of Silver Street, sloping down towards the shore, while Ravensdowne Street forms a crossroads with Silver Street and Ness Street. Claims made at an inquest of 1302 suggest that the northern part of the Ness may have been common pasture on which, in the time of Alexander III, streets were laid out and the land divided into lots, as a potential area for new settlement, although much remained undeveloped [See Bain, op.cit. vol.2, p.333; Fraser, op.cit., p.45].


"ten solars and nine solars"
Perhaps a clerical or transcription error for ten cellars and nine solars. The nature of the Roundele is unknown. It might have been a ring of shops that provided rental income for the abbey, or perhaps a conglomeration of storage facilities that the abbey and other religious houses of the countryside used to store the large quantities of wool they produced and were exporting, presumably with the services of local merchants as factors.

main menu

Created: October 28, 2014. Last update: June 12, 2016 © Stephen Alsford, 2014-2016