|COMMERCE AND ITS REGULATION|
|Subject:||Regulation of the sale of wine|
|Original source:||York City Archives, Memorandum Book A/Y, ff.5, 15|
|Transcription in:||Maud Sellers, ed. York Memorandum Book, part I (1376-1419). Surtees Society, vol.120 (1911), 13-14, 39-40.|
[1. Ordinance made in the time of mayor John de Gysburne, 10 February 1371]
That same day it was agreed and assented to that if any vintner or other wine-seller who belongs to the franchise is convicted of selling wine to others to take outside the franchise (such as to the abbey of St. Mary's, or the churchyard of St. Peter, or to St. Leonard's, or to the castle, or any of the aforesaid places) to sell by retail contrary to [the terms of] the assize and at a higher price than taverners sell it within this city, thus infringing the privileges of the city and its assize, he shall lose his franchise and forfeit to the use of the community the value of the wine that he has sold by pipe. Every outsider wine-merchant is to pay, for each horseload of Rhenish wine brought to the city and put up for sale, 2s. to the use of the community.
[2. Ordinance made in a later mayoralty of John de Gysburne, 19 March 1380]
As a result of the great outcry by and scandal to the good people and commons, both those of the franchise and outsiders, caused by the retailing of wine in the city privately to individuals instead of in public during the day, it is ordained and determined by the assent of the whole community concerning any wine whatsoever that is henceforth sold in such a manner by retail, or privately to individuals instead of in public, that the tun or pipe of wine whichever it is thus sold shall be forfeited to the community. Or the value of the tun or pipe [shall be forfeited], if the wine has all been sold. If it has not all been sold, whatever remains is not to be sold except in public or through a tavern.
Because wine was the common drink, consumed daily, amongst those who could afford it, the wine trade became an increasingly important component of English commerce following the Conquest; it was the most heavily imported item from abroad, and ships were classed according to their tonnage that is, the number of wine tuns they could carry. As a consumable with a relatively long lifespan, it was in some ways almost like a secondary currency, and fines for certain offences (often trade-related or misdemeanours) might be levied in the form of a pipe or cask of wine or, less commonly, ale. But since almost no wine was produced in England, much of the trade was initially in the hands of outsiders, even after the expansion of the English king's French dominions especially in Poitou and Anjou at first, and later, after the loss of northern Aquitaine, Gascony gave better access to wine producers. Initially, the Rhineland was the principal source of wine, but Gascon wines came to account for 90 of the trade during the fourteenth century; Rhenish wines, however, continued in that century to find a market in northern England, as illustrated by the purchases of Durham abbey, which bought much of its wine at, or from the merchants of, Newcastle and (to a lesser extent) York and Hull, or from local vendors who probably also dealt mainly in imports through Newcastle; though in the fifteenth century the Durham accounts repeatedly talk of purchases of Gascon wine.
The trend towards consumption of Gascony vintage was countered by the fact that the trade was subject to the vagaries of the Hundred Years War between England and France (with its Scottish ally). Before the war roughly 75,000 to 100,000 tuns of wine were shipped from Gascony's ports, the greater part to England. Afterwards, the wine supply was less reliable. Parts of the wine market of south-west France were closed off, at times when in French hands, to English merchants, though those of other countries were still able to take wine to England. Periods of truce were marked by heavy buying. Destruction of vineyards by the enemy, targeting of mercantile shipping for attack, and increased costs through provision of protection for wine and wool fleets, taken in conjunction with effects of plague, and the disincentive to foreign merchants of customs imposed on their imports of wine, brought about the result that English merchants became dominant in the trade from Bordeaux by the late fourteenth century, but that this trade had shrunk considerably.
Wine was shipped into every English port in the fourteenth century, but many were receiving only what sufficed to serve their own needs and those of their hinterlands. Fewer were the ports where a large percentage of wine imported was for inland redistribution; these lay mostly along the southern coast and in eastern England (the latter stretching from Ipswich and Yarmouth as far north as Kingston-upon-Hull and Newcastle-upon-Tyne), with the notable addition of Bristol. London had a large role in the wine trade, through its own port and through those of, in particular, the Cinque Ports and Southampton, the latter's port being able to accommodate the increasingly large (and more economical) cargo ships that appeared in the fifteenth century and were used particularly by Italians. Nonetheless, there were few English merchants who made their fortune based solely on the wine trade, even if they went by the designation of vintner; most dealt in relatively modest annual quantities of wine both by personal import, or by wholesale purchases from other importers and played it safe through commercial diversification and partnership ventures. The provision of England with wine thus relied on a large number of merchants involving themselves to greater or lesser degrees in the wine trade, among other commercial activities; it was a trade involving a large infrastructure of middlemen. Margery James has noted that:
"The process of wholesale distribution to inland markets was a complex and exceedingly varied one, for it attracted every type of merchant and trader and no man was either too great or too small to engage in such a profitable venture. Wine was constantly being bought and then resold or exchanged against other goods... What distinguished the specialist wine dealer was not so much the size of his trade as the regularity with which he engaged in it and the emphasis he placed upon it in relation to his other affairs."
The vintner needed to have expertise, acquired from experience and/or apprenticeship, in judging the quality of wines. The lack of such discernment among many buyers created risks of fraud through the misrepresentation of the quality or value of what was on offer, through the adulteration of good wine with poor, or through the deterioration of wine with age. Hence borough authorities were anxious that newly-arrived wines be checked by dedicated officials prior to being offered for sale, and held in storage until checked; also that sales be conducted in public places where unconversant buyers could call on others for an assessment of quality. Although some vintners occasionally attempted to deceive buyers, and more were willing if opportunity arose to exceed the limits of the strict letter of the law (such as exceeding the assize prices, or in trading with the enemy), this was counterbalanced by the desire to maintain a reputation as a knowledgeable and creditable supplier, and avoid the public humiliations that could come with conviction of selling bad wine. The master vintner, though he might personally travel abroad to sources of supply during the Spring and Autumn sailings of the wine fleet, timed to respond to the wine production seasons, might also rely on partners or factors to do his buying; or he would travel with an assistant who would be left, once the vintner had selected what to buy, to make final arrangements for purchase and shipping. Similarly, vintners would use factors, brokers, and apprentices to help with sales, inland redistribution, and debt collection.
In England, the vintner had to spend part of his time seeking out and acquiring merchandize to take abroad to sell, in order to finance his wine purchases; he thus either had to have the discrimination to buy saleable English products and the knowledge of what would sell at foreign destinations, or he would rely on the local specialty Yarmouth merchants, for example, would export herring, while those of Bristol purchased hides in Ireland (with which they had strong connections), took those to Gascony and brought back wine, some of which they would take to Ireland to continue the cycle. One of the reasons Londoners eventually came to dominate the wine trade was that they were active throughout England, both in terms of buying goods such as grain from London's hinterlands, wool from the Cotswolds and Lincolnshire, fish from the Yarmouth fair, tin from Cornish mines for export to Bordeaux, and in terms of redistribution of imported wine across the country. Although London dealers focused first on the city market and marketplaces in the home counties, by the late fourteenth century they were also supplying some of the taverns in East Anglian towns and communities up the east coast as far as Berwick, since it was cheaper to transport wine containers by water. Bristol and Southampton had a more important role in the distributive trade to western England.
Merchants dealing in such bulky goods for the overseas trade naturally came to see advantages in owning one or more ships, or shares in ships, which might be kept almost constantly busy during those months when the seas were not too stormy. As a result, wine that would have had its initial sale, by foreign importers, at English ports, might sometimes pass straight through those ports en route to the English importer's home town. However, from the late fourteenth to late fifteenth centuries the adverse impact of war conditions on English shipping led to much greater reliance on foreigners for the carrying trade. Vintners were also likely to retail wine in their home towns, some from the cellars in which they stored their casks, although many seem to have owned or leased one or more taverns, usually run by an employee taverner or sometimes by family members; alternatively, they had partnerships with tavern owners to be their exclusive suppliers of wine an arrangement today referred to as a 'tied house'. In the same way it was common, at least in London, for bakeshops to be tied to cornmongers. Running a tavern could also draw the owner into the wholesale wine trade; taverners were common among importers of wine, although it is not easy to tell which aspect of their business was the original.
Hull, rather than York, was the main centre for the distribution of wine across northern England; from Hull it could reach York, and several other destinations, by water. But York's importance as the effective focus of royal administration in the north, the seat of an archbishopric, the home to a number of religious houses, and a central marketplace within the region, meant that the wine trade was a significant element of the local economy. The large and wealthy monastic houses of northern England relied partly on Hull, and to a lesser extent on York, for some of their wine supplies, but tended to shop around rather than consistently patronize particular suppliers. The presence of the king, or the summoning there of a parliament, could place heavy demands on the local wine supply. pushing up prices; in 1300 Edward I, who had set up court at York for an extended period to supervise the war with Scotland, was so annoyed at this that he had a special assize held to regulate prices and the following year imposed a set of regulations on the wine and other trades.
Although their volume of sales were not on the same scale as those of some southern counterparts, York vintners are, relative to other merchants, the earliest large-scale, long-distance traders documented in that medieval city, and they may have been sufficiently numerous in the thirteenth century to have formed a gild. Some of York's leading merchants are known to have been involved in importing wine, but much of that trade was in the hands of outsiders, and York's vintners were perhaps more middlemen, perhaps retailing some of it, and certainly selling it to local retailers such as taverners. For example, Robert Wrench, who entered the franchise at York in 1365 as a spicer and would later serve as a city bailiff, was accused of selling, during the 1370s and '80s, at excessive prices to a variety of customers, 8 tuns of wine through a retail operation in his own house, 12 tuns of wine through a tavern operated by Stephen de Parys, and 22 tuns sold wholesale by himself or his servants.
The above two ordinances produced, at different times, by the "reforming" mayor John Gisburne reflect the same kinds of concerns about the wine trade as authorities tried to address with regard to other provisions considered essential components of the food supply.
The first ordinance seeks to prevent unregulated competition from traders operating within various of the independent franchises in the city city authorities resenting their impotence to administer the assize of wine in those franchises, and thus control wine prices. The lay residents of the cathedral precinct, or the precincts of the abbey, St. Leonard's hospital, and the castle fee, were not answerable to city courts and could not be forced to respect its commercial regulations. The last part of the ordinance, apparently another form of protectionism, directed against non-local merchants importing wine, was an addition to the original ordinance.
The second ordinance concerns itself with the traditional principle that all goods should be sold in public, to give every member of the community the opportunity to share in the bargain and ensure that goods were not hoarded by profiteering individuals with a view to pushing prices up. Again, the last section of the ordinance is added as an afterthought.
A set of ordinances in 1482 established, or reconfirmed, more stringent requirements for wine-sellers. No resident was to set up a wine shop in York until passing an examination by the searchers of the craft, who were to determine if the candidate had sufficient knowledge of the wine trade, and no merchant vintner who was an outsider was to be permitted to retail wine in the city until he had taken out citizenship, and until his wines had been scrutinized for quality. The authority of the searchers to assure the wholesome quality of any and all wines offered for sale, and report any sellers of bad wine to the mayor, was confirmed, and a fine set for anyone resisting that authority. Vintners were forbidden to use servants, children or women presumably meaning hucksters to sell wine of unsatisfactory quality. All containers of wine were to be marked in a way that identified the seller.
"merchants of Newcastle"
|Created: October 28, 2014.||© Stephen Alsford, 2014|