TOLLS AND CUSTOMS Florilegium Urbanum

Keywords: medieval Northampton tolls maladministration lawsuits eyre livestock fairs fee farm murage transportation routes
Subject: Complaints about tolls taken by the Northampton authorities
Original source: Public Record Office, Eyre roll JI/1/635 mm.14, 58
Transcription in: Christopher Markham, ed. The Records of the Borough of Northampton, (Northampton, 1898), vol.1, 61-63.
Original language: Latin (translation by Markham; I have introduced more punctuation)
Location: Northampton
Date: 1329


Pleas of the Crown holden at Northampton before Geoffrey le Scrop, Lambert de Packingham, John de Cambridge, Thomas de Luthe, and Thomas de Radeclive, the Justices itinerant of our Lord the King there, on the Monday next after the Feast of All Saints in the 3rd year of the reign of King Edward the Third after the Conquest. [Monday 5th Nov 1330]

The Jury present that John Hochecote, Henry de Helidon, Adam de Cotesbroke, Henry Roger, and Pentecost le Deystere, the Bailiffs of the Town of Northampton, take by extortion from all persons coming to the Town of Northampton to sell straw, trusses of straw to cover the Kingsbroth against Fair times, as well within fair times as without. And that the said John, Henry, Adam, Henry, and Pentecost take unjust Tolls at all times of the year from all persons buying or selling cattle; whereas nothing used to be taken out of fair time, and then from dealers only and not from those who bought cattle for stock. And they took from Thomas de Skalford, who sold one ox, a penny; likewise from the purchaser thereof they took toll. To the great oppression of the people.

Therefore let the Sheriff be commanded that he do cause them to come etc. Afterwards came the aforesaid John de Hochecote and Adam de Cotesbroke and could not deny the aforesaid trespasses presented against them, and made fine with the Lord the King for all trespasses against them presented, each of them at half a mark etc. as appeareth amongst the presentments of the township of Northampton etc. Afterwards came the aforesaid Henry, Henry, and Pentecost and made fine for all trespasses etc. as appeareth amongst the presentments of Northampton.

[ .... ]

Concerning new customs etc. The Jury present that Henry Roger and other Bailiffs of the Town of Northampton have newly levied a certain new custom in the Town of Slipton, which is fifteen miles distant from the aforesaid Town of Northampton. Namely of taking from every cart laden with wool, wax, and other merchandizes or goods whatsoever there passing, one penny; and from every horse load, one farthing. To great oppression of the people etc. They know not by what warrant etc. Afterwards came the aforesaid Bailiffs and many others of the Commonalty of the said Town and they say that the custom whereof mention is made in the presentment is a toll pertaining to the Farm of the King's Town of Northampton, and that the Lord the King Henry, great grandfather of the Lord the now King, during the time whilst the Town of Northampton was in his hands, was seised of such like toll to be there taken and likewise the said Bailiffs from the time when they took the aforesaid Town at farm. And they say that they receive the aforesaid Tolls at Slipton, which pertain to the aforesaid Farm, from carts and laden horses which ought to pass with their merchandizes through the Town of Northampton, for which they ought to take Toll in the Town of Northampton, and not otherwise; and they pray that these things may be enquired of by the County. And one William de Tichmerch saith for the King's people that the aforesaid Bailiffs receive there, by their servants thereunto deputed, the aforesaid new custom from all carts and laden horses, as well of the neighbours there passing towards Leicester or Rothwell, or elsewhere to the north parts, and likewise to those passing there towards the south with their corn and other things whatsoever, as of those passing there with merchandizes. And this he offers to prove etc. Therefore let a Jury thereupon come. And the Jury say upon their oath that the aforesaid Henry, Roger, and other the Bailiffs of the town of Northampton have during their times, by their servants taken the aforesaid customs from the carts and laden horses as well of the neighbours as of strangers there passing with their goods and merchandizes at the will of the said servants. Therefore the said Henry is in mercy. And it is commanded to the said Bailiffs that they do in no wise take the aforesaid customs from the neighbours or others there passing, but only from those who avoid the aforesaid Town of Northampton to evade the custom or toll of right due, by reason of the liberty of the aforesaid town, on peril that shall ensue thereon.


These cases suggest that the Northampton authorities were overstepping the mark in the application of their right to collect tolls. The complaint in the first case is that tolls associated originally with the fair had been extended into the rest of the year, and were being taken from both parties to a transaction, a form of double-dipping. A third complaint made at the eyre (not transcribed by Markham) was that during a stay of the king's young sons at Northampton castle, in 1306-07, the town bailiffs had made special prises (requisitions) to supply the princes' household but, after their departure, had continued with those prises. The eyre justices ordered that the prises stop, and that the taking of trusses be restricted to fair time.

In the latter case, the reference made to Henry III as the source of the right to collect the tolls in question may point to the grants of murage and pavage made by the king at different occasions. Although these were of short-term duration, perhaps they had encouraged the authorities in an indefinite but unwarranted continuation. Possibly the first case may stem from such a problem, since the 1252 grant included the right to levy a halfpenny per horseload of straw and the same amount on the sale of horses and cattle.

Slipton was a small village northeast of Northampton. It would seem rather far afield for the Northampton authorities to be levying toll, although those at Nottingham, for example, had toll collection jurisdiction well beyond the town proper. The defence offered by the town bailiffs, and the finding of the court, indicates that the Northampton initiative at Slipton was a pre-emptive toll collection on goods that, if following the main road, ought to travel through Northampton, but whose owners might try to circumvent toll collection by deviating from the main route. Slipton lay near the road from Northampton to Peterborough. However, it also lay near the route from Cambridge to Leicester, which would not have passed through Northampton and it seems that overzealous collectors were not discriminating in the targets for toll collection. The complaint also distinguishes between the passage of long-distance mercantile goods and the produce being taken to market by local growers, noting that the toll-collectors failed or neglected to make the distinction themselves.

Although in the first case the finding was that unwarranted tolls had been levied, in the latter the toll itself was not questioned, only the undiscriminating application of it to local commerce not impinging on Northampton – an application probably reflecting an unwarranted extension of an older practice. While we can hardly imagine tolls were popular with traders, they were accepted as a cost of doing business and doubtless factored into prices. Objections were voiced only when this cost was higher than expected, due to what was perceived as extortionate demands by individual toll-collctors, or corporate attempts to impose new and possibly unauthorized tolls or to target particular groups inequitably.



"5th Nov 1330"
Sic. It should be 6 November 1329.

This was the jury representing Spelhoe hundred.

This should be Kyngesbothe, as per the notes on this record made by Sutherland (The Eyre of Northamptonshire, 3-4 Edward III, Selden Society, vol.97, 1983, 244); this may have been the booth where tolls were collected. According to contemporary law reporters' accounts of the eyre, the straw being imported into Northampton was for the purpose of providing a covering for the streets.

"new customs"
The possibly unwarranted introduction of new levies was one of the articles normally enquired into by the eyre.

This was the jury representing Huxloe hundred.

"William de Tichmerch"
Titchmarsh was just three miles east of Slipton, and so it may well be that William was one of the aggrieved parties from whom toll had been taken, or perhaps the local reeve.

A village a few miles west of Slipton.

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Created: August 18, 2001. Last update: November 4, 2013 © Stephen Alsford, 2001-2013