|DEFENCE AND SECURITY|
|Subject:||Costs related to maintenance of defences|
|Original source:||1. Devon Record Office, Exeter City Archives, Misc. Roll 6 ; 2. Norfolk Record Office, King's Lynn archives KL/C39/31 m.1-2. 3. York City Archives, YC/F: C. 3:1 m.2|
|Transcription in:||1. Margery Rowe and John Draisey, eds. The Receivers Accounts of the City of Exeter, 1304-1353, Devon and Cornwall Record Society, new series, vol.32 (1989), 93-107 (passim). 2. Dorothy M. Owen, ed. The Making of King's Lynn: A Documentary Survey, British Academy Records of Social and Economic History, new series, vol.9 (1984), 326-28. 3. R.B. Dobson, ed. York City Chamberlains' Account Rolls 1396-1500, Surtees Society, vol.192 (1978), 78-79.|
|Original language:||Latin (translation of item 1 by Rowe and Draisey)|
|Location:||Exeter, King's Lynn, York|
|Date:||Late 14th and 15th centuries|
[1. Excerpts from Exeter murage accounts, 1341/42]
[ 2. Lynn chamberlains account for work on the defences, 1371]
[ 3. Extract from York chamberlains account, 1453/54]
Records of expenditure on wall construction and repair can throw some light on how some initiatives were organized and managed.
Murage is documented primarily through two classes of record. One was the authorizations to collect; these sometimes incorporated justifications for the grant and/or specification of what merchandize was subject to the toll. The lists of murage tolls at Northampton (1301), at Kidwelly (1280) and at Oswestry (1283) provide fairly typical examples of the sums that could be imposed on different kinds of goods.
Considering the large number of authorizations granted, the second class of record accounts of revenues and their expenditure are disappointingly scarce. Perhaps some were scooped up during royal audits and lost in later centuries. The Crown was determined that murage proceeds be used for walling and investigated complaints of maladministration of murage.
A small number of murage records have survived from work on the walls at Great Yarmouth. They are mainly in the form of receipt rolls, but some record expenditures; these date to the 1330s and 1340s, during what appears to have been a phase of steady activity on wall construction (the main work continuing perhaps to the close of the fourteenth century), and from the 1440s until murage collection ceased in the post-medieval period. The earliest known murage grant was a six-year grant in 1261, but it was not renewed, for it had not been long into the grant period before there were complaints that tolls were being collected but no work on walling undertaken; it seems that the local authorities may have been allowed to continue to collect the tolls but, if they could not show having spent the money as intended, required to pay the lump sum of £27.6s.8d to the Exchequer each year as a kind of reimbursement. In 1279 a commission was appointed to audit Yarmouth murage accounts (if such there were), perhaps partly the result of uncertainty as to whether any work was being undertaken, combined with the recent threat, in the Statute of Westminster (1275), of punishment of any town that levied murage contrary to the terms of royal licence. Yarmouth obtained a new murage grant in 1285, and was discharged of the annual sum due the Exchequer on the grounds that the townsmen had convinced the king that more than this sum had been spent on the walls.
A further setback was experienced in 1287, when floods damaged the walls already built. It is generally assumed that this period marks the beginning of a serious effort to raise walls, but perhaps it could not be sustained, since no further grant was obtained until 1321; grants continued with regularity through much of the remainder of the century and halfway into the next; by 1369, the completed stretches were in need of repair and an additional grant for that purpose was obtained. The completed circuit was over a mile in length.
During the 1340s there were four muragers, described in the records as "collectors and custodians of murage"; since several of the known holders were drawn from the ruling class of the time, it may be doubted that they undertook collection in person, but were more probably supervisors of the work and treasurers of the fund; they had call on the services of the town clerk and sergeants, to whom they paid 12d. a week each as wages. The sergeants appear to have been involved in the actual collecting, at least in the port, probably taking turns on duty between time spent on other tasks for the town. There is no indication collecting took place at other locations most commercial traffic coming to Yarmouth by water and the lists of permitted tolls specify that they be levied from cargo ships using the port.
The records of expenses show the muragers:
In 1336/37 £40.11s.7½d was spent on the walls, while the following year saw £38.3s.7d paid out. Work during 1342/43 incurred £73.3s.9½d in expenses; in 1343/44, expenditures totalled £70.19s.4¼d, and during the twelvemonth thereafter, costs added up to £88.17s.11½d. Although the revenue sub-totals on the rolls of receipts for August 1342 to August 1343 are not all perfectly legible, they indicate that murage income was somewhat over £60. A shortfall is indicated, and records of revenues for other years (although the periods covered do not correspond precisely to those covered by expenditure records) suggest that this was usually the case. We know that modest amounts were also received from bequests by civic-minded citizens, there may have been resort to local taxation as at other towns, and Yarmouth cited its defensive costs in efforts to obtain reductions in its fee farm and national taxes, but we do not know for certain whether other sources were also tapped or if deficits were run into subsequent accounting years.
A few examples of what appear to be Hereford's murage accounts survive from the second half of the thirteenth century. They list revenues from tolls collected at each of the town gates (which, judging from a few months of receipts in 1270, added up to an average of about 4s. a week) and expenditures that included repairs and strengthening of walls and gates, and wages of sentinels (insidiatores) stationed at the gates though whether these were gatekeepers, toll-collectors or both is not clear.
Exeter's walls were, in the Middle Ages, founded on the rectangular rampart circuit put up by the Romans; hence, the principal gates into the city were at the four cardinal points, controlling the main east-west and north-south roads crossing the city (although the medieval street plan did not correspond quite to the Roman grid). At the close of the Middle Ages, a more modest gateway, the Watergate, was added; this was to give access between the quayside and intramural area for goods being imported or exported via a new canal dug to extend the Exe from the city's satellite port at Topsham. The Roman fortifications, probably refurbished in the Saxon period, were strong enough to give residents the confidence to make Exeter a regional centre of resistance to the Norman invaders; either the defences or the resolve of the citizens proved, however, insufficient to withstand a prolonged siege by Norman forces in 1068. The Conqueror ordered a castle built in the northern corner of the walled circuit, to keep the citizens subdued.
Maintenance of the Roman defences gave way in the thirteenth century to a major upgrade, indicated by grants of sums of money from national taxations in 1215 and 1218, and royal instructions in the same period for the city authorities to clear away obstructions from the walls and ditch. Authority to collect murage was given in 1224, for a three-year period, and several further grants (for longer periods) were obtained later in that century. There was a hiatus after 1310, perhaps prompted by an audit of the murage accounts following complaints to the king that revenues were not being applied to the intended purpose. Not until 1338 was murage granted (or sought) once more; a shorter sequence of commissions followed, and another short grant in 1369, although by that period the authorities were apparently collecting murage as a matter of course, licence or no licence for murage accounts have survived from most years between 1341 and 1372, and the second half of the century saw a high level of activity on the fortifications. In 1377, prompted by fears of an imminent French invasion, the king authorized the mayor to levy local taxation to support repairs to the gates, walls, and ditch; this was renewed the following year. A tax roll has survived from the first commission, listing 420 householders as taxpayers. Most of the population lived in an area defined by the walled circuit, about a mile and a half in length, beyond which lay the odd small suburb but mostly open fields.
Besides work maintaining and strengthening the city gates, particularly in the late fourteenth century and into the fifteenth, work was focused, it has been suggested [Hilary Turner, Town Defences in England and Wales, London: 1971, 196], on the southern and eastern sides of the circuit; the other sides benefiting from some protection from topographical features.
A special officer (called a receiver) was appointed to manage Exeter's murage funds. His account of 1341/42 was presumably written by the clerk for whom the receiver sought approval, in the account, of 10s. in wages. The sparsity of evidence from the main city financial accounts regarding murage revenues and expenditures suggests that murage was often separately accounted for at earlier and later periods; a few such accounts have survived from the period between 1298 and 1410. The royal investigation early in the fourteenth century must have encouraged such a practice; although the petition for an enquiry itself assumes the existence of such accounts, part of the cause for complaint might have been a deficiency in accounting. It may be no coincidence that around this period we begin to hear of an annual inspection of the walls, already a practice by 1322. Each newly-elected mayor was, within days of his election, to make a perambulation, accompanied by other officers, members of the city council, and (perhaps informally) by interested citizens, to see where repairs were needed and identify any encroachments that might jeopardise the integrity of the defences. What began as an administrative duty became over the course of time a civic ritual, with the Guildhall as setting-off point for the uniformed officials, and the parade punctuated (by the post-medieval period) by charitable hand-outs to the needy and to prisoners in the gaols around the route, schoolboy speeches, and a meal in the gaoler's house. The city authorities did not rely exclusively on these perambulations; between their occurrences, the leet court could hear presentments of defects, or private citizens might report problems. While the perambulation doubtless formed the basis for planning major work on the defences for that year, minor repairs that became necessary during the year could be initiated by the receivers.
Murage was collected, the account reveals, by a pair of collectors operating at the east and south gates, which were the busiest and correspondingly the more impressive of the gates (the south gate controlling the road to Topsham), and by individual collectors at the west and north gates. The revenues from murage collected at three of the gates were farmed out for 4s. a week, but the collector at North Gate (used by fewer traders and so less lucrative to prospective entrepreneurs) rendered his own account to the city authorities for monies. At Topsham the customs collector(s) undertook also to collect murage for the city a matter of convenience. Expenditures on public works not restricted to the city walls were directed by the mayor, presumably after consultation with the council.
The income available for application to public works amounted to £31.19s.4d; but this included arrears still owing from the previous year's account, and some of the murage proceeds due from collectors at Topsham (merchandise arriving by sea) and at the city gates (goods brought by land) may also not have been actual cash in hand; the revenues also included a few shillings in private donations intended for work on the road at Bolehill, and money from the sale of rock at a city quarry.
Expenditures on Exeter's walls during the 1341/42 accounting year were divided up into weekly groups of which a few examples are given in the translation above with a total for each week's expenses. Work was undertaken during a total of 40 weeks out of the entire period, the gaps likely being due to festive seasons the Christmas and Easter periods, for instance, being absent. The accountants calculated a grand total of £28.2s.6½d in expenses that they asked to be "allowed" by the auditors (although my own hasty addition of the weekly sub-totals arrives at a grand total of £30.5s.5¼). Two schedules attached to the main account detailed the costs of repairs to various of the city conduits, the road at Bolehill, the West Gate, and one of the wall towers.
We find much the same items recurring in the weekly expenses: purchase and/or transport of raw materials; labour of quarrymen, masons and their workmen; refreshment for these workers; and repair or replacement of tools and equipment. It is not evident from these routine items whether the work in hand involved actual rebuilding of parts of the walls, or simply repairing, shoring up, strengthening, or heightening the Roman fortifications. Much of the larger and better-coursed stones in the surviving sections of wall are considered to be Roman in origin; however, there are stretches considered to be essentially of medieval construction, while towers were built in the Middle Ages to improve defensive capability between the gates.
The work on the walls seems to have provided fairly regular employment for a number of Exeter's craftsmen, as well as labourers likely drawn from the lower ranks of the population living at or near the poverty line (references to men with horses do not necessarily mean that the men owned the horses). Masons were put to work in two contexts: at the quarry, where they presumably shaped some of the stones, and at the walls where the stones were mortared into place; their weekly wage ranged between 12d and 17d. based perhaps on their known abilities and the type of work they were to perform, but also fluctuating according to the number of feast-days in a week (reducing the amount of time work could be performed).
The above excerpts from the murage account give a sense of the kinds of expenses incurred on wall construction and maintenance. Some work on the defences, however, was paid for through the office of the city's chief financial officer (also known as a receiver). For example, mending locks or purchase of new ones for the various gates (or, rather, the doors within them for pedestrian passage) were fairly frequent items of expenditure, in 1344 repairs to the planking of the bridges at the South and East Gates consumed 4s.11d, while in 1351/52 spikes were added to the North and South Gates. Such aspects of work on the defences, mostly minor upgrades or repairs limited to the gates and the facilities within them, were evidently considered not strictly within the scope of the construction process for which murage was permitted, although that position was not consistently maintained. It may also have been that murage revenues were not equal to meeting all needs, particularly after the impact of the Black Death on commerce and with the growing number of grants of exemption from murage; in 1360/61 £7.9s.7d was collected. and in 1370 £6.4s., while 1369 had seen only the meagre sum of 16s.11d as income, although 80s. had been spent on lobbyists to go to London seeking a renewal of the murage grant, and work on the East Gate had cost 27s.4d. The community tax of 1377 offered a return to earlier resourcing levels, producing £28.8s.9d, which was spent much as in past murage accounts, with particular attention to the East Gate.
A later generation may have felt all this expenditure worthwhile, when in 1497 the forces of pretender Perkin Warbeck approached the city. The authorities there had enough warning to be able to make some arrangements: moving cannon into position on the gates, buying a large quantity of gunpowder, buying lead and having it made into pellets as ammunition for the guns, hiring gunners, and provisioning the gates with beer and wine (for the defenders) and candles (for the night-watch). The city having declined to surrender to the rebels, they assaulted its East Gate and North Gate and set the wooden gates on fire; attempts were also made to scale the walls. But the fortifications were in good repair and could be held by the well-armed defenders, who were also able to raise banks against the burning gates and dig new ditches behind them. After two days of futile assaults and many casualties, the attackers withdrew.
By contrast with the departmentalized accounting at Exeter, work on the defences at Lynn was reported through the main financial accounts of the borough chamberlains.
Also unlike Exeter, Lynn did not have the benefit of Roman defences, for it only began to develop into an urban settlement from the late twelfth century. Nonetheless, it seems the planning that went into the layout of the town did not ignore defensive needs, which were met initially by a ditch and bank, with round wooden towers (bretasks) at strategic (i.e. land and water access) points, and possibly some kind of early gateway (known as Gannock Gate) on the road leading towards the original town centre. It is generally assumed that two of the bretasks were eventually made redundant by the sturdier East Gate, situated across the road leading out to the Bishop of Norwich's manor of Gaywood and beyond that to Norwich, and the South Gate, dividing the borough from the village of South Lynn and protecting the road coming from Cambridgeshire; those two gates, along with another, known as the North Gate or Dowshill Gate, were staffed by gatekeepers from the reign of Edward III on.
The defensive line protected the eastern side of the town (see map), stretching between the rivers Gay and Nar, on the northern and southern sides, and relying similarly on the River Ouse for protection on the west. In the southern half of the town the defensive line made use of an existing sea-bank, to which a ditch was added; no stone wall was erected along that part. In the northern half, the line of the sea-wall may have been used as a defence in the early thirteenth century but, when it was decided to rebuild in stone, a line further west was chosen; this could have had something to do with expansion of the settled area in the New Land, beyond the Bishop's Bridge, and an attempt by the borough authorities to assert jurisdiction over part of a suburb which more probably belonged to the manor of Gaywood. A consequence of choosing this line of defence was that it enclosed a large area of marsh and meadows east of the area where settlement had built up. Within that bounded area, other watercourses, natural (known as fleets) and artificial, serving primarily internal transportation and industrial needs, must have been felt to offer additional obstacles to hostile forces; this canal system of "watergates" was elaborated during the course of the Late Middle Ages.
When a stone wall was put up, it ran along only part of the eastern perimeter, starting from one bank of Purfleet, across from the sea bank, and continuing perhaps as far as the site of the East Gate which, had been preceded by a drawbridge to control access into the New Land. The East Gate and the South Gate were built at the same time as the stone wall; the latter still stands, but as rebuilt in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. It seems likely this fortification programme was underway in the second half of the thirteenth century, since an attack on the town in 1266, by the baronial forces opposed to Henry III, was quickly followed by a grant of murage, and a few years later the king ordered action taken against residents who harmed the wall by building against it; a further murage grant came in 1294, renewed in 1300, but this sequence was halted by a royal audit prompted by complaints of maladministration. For most of the fourteenth century, apart from a brief murage grant (3 years) in 1339, the burgesses had to rely on their own resources to keep the defences in repair: in 1338 borough authorities had been authorized to levy a tax on residents to support defensive costs. The power to do so was confirmed in 1376. In 1385 we hear of the election of collectors of a £200 tax for defence purposes, to be assessed on moveable goods and rents, and the following year saw a further levy of £100 "for the provision of guns, springalds, and other defensive equipment, as to be decided for the defence of the town" [Holcombe Ingleby, ed. The Red Register of King's Lynn, vol.2 (1922), 27], although public consultation was required on how best to apportion the burden among residents. The difficulty in raising money to keep the defences in a fit state may also explain why the stone wall was not extended along the full line of the older earthwork enclosure.
The late thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries, when Lynn's defences took new form, were a period of growing prosperity locally, as regional and international commerce was stimulated by improved access to water transportation; Lynn's merchants, prominent in borough government, had increasing wealth and property to protect, and stronger defences must have seemed more desirable. It was also a period of growing self-confidence, with local authorities prepared to engage with the town's seigneurs in a struggle for control of authority and revenue sources (including toll collection), as well as taking on greater responsibilities in the context of national administration; the need for better control of access points into the town must have been an added incentive for an improved enclosure. At the same time the expanding ambitions and sphere of activity of local self-government and perhaps particularly complex, expensive, and long-term capital projects such as wall construction necessitated improved fiscal administration.
We hear nothing of muragers at Lynn and the only reason we have to be confident murage accounts existed is because of the royal audit (which may be partly responsible for the blind spot in borough archives). However, some items of work on the defences are addressed in the chamberlains' accounts. A good series of these has survived from 1319 onwards, covering the greater part of the fourteenth century, while a handful of tallage rolls between 1292 and 1319 may indicate an earlier form of borough account, for they evolved to list not only income from local taxation but also expenditures; the chamberlains, an office in existence by 1295, were involved in the administration of this revenue, although a reference in 1300 suggests their own accounts were being compiled by that date.
The earliest detailed account of expenditures is from the tallage roll for 1297/98. It makes passing reference to murage revenues, as well as to the carriage of stone for making a sluice; sluices could be considered part of the defences, for they allowed the ditches be kept filled with water and even in flooding unoccupied parts of the town). From the earliest chamberlains account (1319/20) we learn that Lynn already owned a springald, 3d. being paid to transport it to the guildhall; other items dealt with repairs to gates and a bretask. Many of the accounts thereafter include some item or other related to the defences, but without giving any indication of anything other than minor repairs. In 133/34 5s. was paid for making a "great crossbow". 1336/37 saw £61.4s.7d spent on improvements to walls and ditches. In 1338/39 (following the taxation authorized by the king) £90.6s.9½d was spent on the defences, including the manufacture of 14 springalds (at just over 25s. apiece) along with an unspecified number of bolts. It was at this time that a gates were installed across the Dowshill Bridge, although it is doubtful they were housed in a stone gateway; repair of the nearby bretask suggests it continued to be relied on for defence. Work of that year, part of the final phase of the active period of fortification, also included the construction of mud walls and brick arches; the former perhaps represented a heightening of the earthen bank, or maybe filled a gap between the stone wall and the East Gate, while the latter refers to an arcade on the interior of the rubble-built wall, with an arrow-loop in each arch.
By mid-century maintenance of ditches, gates, and bridges had become established as a regular sub-section of the accounts, but there is no indication of work on the walls themselves. The 1350s and '60s appear to have been a period of relative neglect of the defences, with annual expenditure often not more than one or two pounds, although in 1357/58 £7.13s.5d was spent on the South Gate, and there is some indication of economizing in the number of gatekeepers. The reason for the lull may have been the all too frequent diversion of a large proportion of the borough budget into outfitting ships for naval service.
The work documented in 1371 represents a revival of concerns about the defensibility of the town, at a period when French ships were mounting raids on various English ports, although limited resources probably restricted efforts to restoring rather than upgrading defences. In 1370, in response to a royal commission (February) to the borough authorities to survey and clean up the town ditches, financing that effort by a levy on residents, an extraordinary property tax was imposed, although it apparently was unproductive (for reasons not explained). Also during the 1369/70 fiscal year £8.17s.9d was spent on the North Gate, and one of the more prominent citizens, Geoffrey de Tolbooth, was despatched to Norwich to take counsel with the vice-admiral of the northern fleet, Hugh Fastolf, and to London with a large sum of money to be loaned the king; he represented Lynn in a parliament of 1371 and in November 1372 he would be commissioned to assemble carpenters to work on a barge being made at Lynn for the king. At some point in 1370/71, the borough authorities held an array of arms. These things may be taken as indicators of growing tensions. Under the circumstance, why Lynn was unable or unwilling to pursue a new grant of murage is hard to explain (Yarmouth, for instance, had received a 10-year grant in 1369). Perhaps part of the problem regarding why the southern stretch of the defences was not converted from earthen bank to stone wall was because most of it skirted South Lynn; there had been disagreement as to whether the borough or the countryside was responsible for maintaining the South Gate, and the same could have applied to the southern wall. Not until 1386, in the context of another scare, did the borough accept responsibility for defending South Lynn.
It may have been the failure of the property tax that forced the unusual resort to Lynn gilds for revenue to support work on the defences; although, as the account's heading indicates, the focus was not exclusively on the defences. The sizable sum of £158.3s.5d was raised by the 50% tax on gild valuables, and the town's merchant gild kicked in another £5 towards repairs to the conduit by the parish church. As the expenditures listed above show, this extreme measure produced the kind of funding needed. In following years expenditure on the defences once more dwindled to nominal levels; had there been any intent to pursue further the initiative of 1371, the community's obligation to construct the barge (mentioned above) consumed much of the authorities' attention and fiscal resources in 1372/73 and, on a diminishing scale, the next few years, supplemented in the opening years of Richard II's reign by the added responsibility to construct a balinger for the king. In 1377, in the context of another invasion scare, just over &$163;114 were spent on the defences, the authorities having received royal approval for a tax levy for that purpose, but this was just another blip in the normal pattern. By the beginning of the fifteenth century, the defences had become lumped in with other communally-owned elements of the urban fabric whose maintenance formed a section within the chamberlains accounts.
York possesses what are arguably Britain's most substantial remains of a medieval mural defence system, incorporating some three dozen towers and all four of its main gateways (one with the rare survival of a barbican), as well as some elements of two castles and defences protecting an abbey adjacent to the city. Although many components underwent sometimes substantial redevelopment during the post-medieval period, and were subject to restoration efforts in the nineteenth century, the protective circuit, 2.5 miles in length (when walls are taken together with the castle and stretches of water that acted as barriers), still gives one of our best impressions of urban defences from medieval England.
Judging from those chamberlains accounts (mostly from the fifteenth century) published to date, maintenance of the defences was not a responsibility of the chamberlains until about 1453. The 1442/43 account, in recording "a loan of 113s.3½d from this city's murage, beyond this year's payments and expenditures, as appear in the murage account" [Dobson, op.cit., 20; my translation]. shows that murage revenues were separately administered. Whether this was by muragers or other officers is not clear. In 1468/69 collection of murage at four of the principal city gates Micklegate (its name meaning the "great gate"), Walmgate, Bootham Bar, and Monk Bar as well as on the Ouse was being farmed out to various individuals, and the same appears true for 1475/76 (when receipts rounded off at £19 exactly) ; but this was not necessarily the case before 1468.
Murage accounts survive from two years in the 1440s and likely exemplify a continuous series over a longer span of time. The chamberlains account for 1445/46 again indicates that, once repairs to the wall that year had been paid for by the murage administrators, the remaining surplus (£18.16s.3d) was transferred to the chamberlains; the murage account of that year confirms the fact. Such transfers had been an annual occurrence since at least 1437. By 1454 the fiction that they were "loans" had been abandoned, and it appears that, while certain payments continued to be recorded in murage accounts, the chamberlains had taken over not only the surplus but also expenditure on maintenance of the defences. By 1476 even reference to transfer had been dropped. The murage surplus in 1454 was £29, well exceeding the costs (as above) that year. The following year costs amounted to £12.16s.2½d, while the murage surplus was £26, again leaving a good bit extra for application to other city needs; so the transfer decision looks to have been financially sound.
The section on wall work in the chamberlain's account of 1454/55 is very similar to that of the previous year, being taken up largely with: the wages of craftsmen and labourers involved in wall repairs, ditch digging and scouring, and palisade erection; the purchase and carriage of building materials, along with a few items of equipment (e.g. a tenpenny barrow) and hardware (e.g. locks for posterns and ropes for the portcullises of Micklegate and Walmgate Bars). The work undertaken, as in 1453/54, was evidently maintenance and repairs, rather than any new construction or major rebuilding. In addition to murage revenues of £29, 18s.7d was raised through donations for repairs to the walls and drawbridge at Skeldergate postern; a collection was made in the churches of parishes in the vicinity of Skeldergate. and several individuals (likely residents of the neighbourhood) also contributed. The section title that year referred only to work on the walls, rather than defence in a broader sense; this may have been a deliberate decision, based on consideration of the purpose of murage; a payment for shipping a gun from Kingston upon Hull was recorded in a different section of the account. In the 1462/63 account the section was titled "Expenditures on the repair of the city walls, gates and their keys, as well as of custody of those gates", and was much briefer, with a correspondingly lower total. Beyond mending keys and extending a chain, work was limited to cleaning, paving, and once more erecting palisades. In 1468/69 the section title referred to walls, gates, and defence, while in 1470/71 there was no such section, although there was one related to the purchase of artillery. We should not make too much of fluctuations in section titles; they were probably adjusted each year to conform to the scope of expenditures.
As with Exeter, York's original defences were put up by the Romans. These were only around an area in the north-west sector of what was later the medieval city: initially an earthen rampart topped by timber palisade, with gates and towers added later. They were rebuilt over the following centuries as a stone wall about five feet thick, supported by an earth rampart on the inner side and a ditch on the outer. At least some parts of the wall were still standing during the Anglian period, with some effort to keep them in repair, although we know of at least one gap that was filled by a palisade. After capturing York, the Danes focused their efforts on strengthening the ramparts: heightening some and covering stretches of the Roman wall in the process (while some parts of the Roman wall were abandoned or used for scavenging stone), and probably building extensions down to the banks of the rivers Ouse and Foss; timber palisades once more topped these ramparts.
The Normans were interested, initially, in controlling the city rather than protecting it, and focused their efforts on building castles there, as well as damming the Foss where it joined with the Ouse, with the intent of feeding water into the moat of one of the castles, but with the result of flooding adjacent fields and producing an extensive pond that presented a potential obstacle to any attackers approaching from the east. But after the Normans were securely established, there was further work on heightening the ramparts (to a height of about 25 feet) and enlarging the outer ditch (roughly 50 feet wide and 10 deep). The gateways began to be rebuilt in stone during this period.
The medieval walls, built in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries (from which almost no chamberlains accounts survive), were placed on top of the existing rampart; having this advantage, they were not built to a great height. Two of the medieval gateways Bootham and Micklegate Bars were on, or very near, the site of Roman gates. In this period the York community was becoming more prosperous as commerce flourished, was beginning to obtain a measure of self-government, and a sense of civic identity was growing; at the same time, it was a period of civil wars followed by the war with Scotland. King John had granted the city some timber for its fortifications in 1215, and in 1244 Henry III initiated the rebuilding in stone of the surviving castle at York. All this outlines the context for decisions to erect stone walls around the city, as well as around St. Mary's Abbey and the cathedral Close.
Although the first murage grant was made in 1226, it was only for one year, and there is no evidence of a large reconstruction effort at this time. That probably got underway mid-century, after which a regular series of murage grants occurred covering most of the remainder of the century and up until 1449, when the right to collect murage was granted in perpetuity (although Richard III abolished it on the grounds it was a disincentive to commerce). One indicator of the change underway comes from a land grant document of ca.1250 referring to John de Muro (by the wall) whose father had been named Thomas de Fossato (by the ditch). It was not all smooth sailing: in 1305 the citizens requested the king to be allowed to recover murage funds from mayor Henry Lespicer, after he had been convicted of embezzling £73 from the proceeds. Furthermore, the murage proceeds were proving inadequate for the task. In 1321 the king authorized the city authorities to levy a property tax to support costs associated with the defences.
Nonetheless, by 1315 the walls were apparently complete for the central area of the city and for the Micklegate area north of the Ouse, for a record was drawn up designating the parishes responsible for defending or maintaining particular stretches of wall, gates, and bridges as well as for the Old Baile. The last was still defended only by a palisade, as was the Walmgate sector of the city. In 1327, after the king ordered the city authorities to inspect the defences, and upgrade where necessary, the citizens argued that the Old Baile was inadequately protected and that this was the archbishop's responsibility; at some time in the following decade, the archbishop replaced the palisade with a stone wall. In 1345 the city authorities initiated a similar upgrade to the Walmgate area. The early fourteenth century also saw the gateways strengthened via the addition of turreted upper storeys, portcullises, and barbicans whose outer end was blocked by a further gate.
The fortifications were, by and large, complete by the end of that century, with the later addition of only a couple of towers, to further strengthen defensive capabilities, and an arcaded parapet walk along some of the length. These defences are not known to have been put to any serious test (i.e. extended siege) during the Later Middle Ages; a Scottish army that made it as far south as York in 1319 satisfied itself with setting the suburb of Bootham afire, before withdrawing in search of easier prey (which the mayor and archbishop supplied in the form of a rag-tag pursuit force that was slaughtered a few miles north-west of the city).
"repairs to 2 barrows"
"hauling it across the bridge"
"boll skopes bastes trowes et 1 soo"
"Richard de Swafham"
"ditch at Barkerswall"
"Peter de Rollesby"
"all costs included"
"tower of the Friars Minor"
"enclose various windows"
"continued with regularity"
"During the 1340s"
"treasurers of the fund"
" lists of permitted tolls"
"somewhat over £60"
"not consistently maintained"
"part of the problem"
|Created: December 31, 2007. Last update: December 13, 2010||© Stephen Alsford, 2007-2010|