Origins and early growth |
Development of local government
Buildings and fortifications | ECONOMY | Summary/Recap | Information sources
Map of Maldon at the close of the Middle Ages
Maldon bailiffs and chamberlains
Appendix: borough custumal
Since Maldon's residents owned very little agricultural land at the time of Domesday, it does not seem that most townsmen earned a living from farming. Although by 1412 we find that the town itself held over 180 acres of fields, leased to a dozen individuals, apart from any property owned by townsmen personally, there is little evidence that any townsmen were involved in large-scale farming to supply mercantile ventures; it was the town's butchers who most commonly owned livestock. The apparent increase in lands may have had something to do with the acquisition of wasteland from the borough lords.
It seems likely from Maldon's location that some townsmen would have engaged in fishing for herring off the coast, and a number of residents owned boats. Mussels and (as with Colchester) oysters were available in the estuary, and saltpans extracted salt from the sea-water. It was where the Blackwater began to widen into the estuary that Maldon's harbour facilities were established, at a detached suburb called the Hythe; by at least 1365 a crane had been set up there to help with the loading and unloading of cargoes, and by the 1480s a community warehouse had been built by the town quay. Maldon's obligation to provide a ship for service to the king in time of war also reflects maritime occupations; this obligation is mentioned in Domesday, in the royal charter of 1171 to the town, and as late as 1336 we find the townsmen being asked to furnish a ship (although they negotiated to pay a sum of money instead). One or two townsmen are revealed as shipowners over the course of the Late Middle Ages, but much of the commerce passing through Maldon's harbour was carried by ships of other towns (e.g. Colchester, Boston) or other countries.
One use of Maldon's harbour was for exporting wool. We hear of charges of wool-smuggling from there in 1339 and 1359, and in 1339 Italian merchants were shipping wool from Maldon (using Colchester ships) on behalf of the king. The port was being considered in 1351 as a base for transporting goods to Calais, and in 1357 there is reference to a merchant of Zeeland importing salt for sale in Maldon and exporting cheese and butter to his homeland. Cases of debt involving sales of cheese and butter are encountered several times in the town court records; it may be that dairy foods were among the more important local products. In 1439, William Aylewyn, a chandler, obtained royal licence to buy 200 quarts of barley in Norfolk to bring to Maldon. Sea-coal was another import, a few townsmen stockpiling it in the vicinity of the port; only freemen were allowed to sell coal locally. Some other trades, such as brewing or baking, were permitted to non-freemen only if they paid for licences.
One privilege of being a freeman was the right to purchase a share of any cargo brought into the port (see custumal, cap.7). Merchants arriving with a cargo had to negotiate with the bailiffs a fair price at which to sell their goods, make public announcement in the Moothall of what goods they had for sale, and allow a certain amount of time for freemen to decide whether or not they wished to buy a share. Only after the grace period had elapsed could the merchant sell to non-freemen. If a freeman made a deal to buy a share and then failed to pay up, the community as a whole had an obligation to make good the default of its member.
Maldon was involved in the growth of the Essex cloth-making industry in the thirteenth century. To Ipswich's custumal there was appended a list of goods on which local tolls were payable; these included cloths of Coggeshall, Maldon, Colchester and Sudbury, with others of unspecified origin, which were brought through Ipswich's port for shipping overseas. Evidently Maldon had some reputation for its cloth. It served as one of the subsidiaries of Ipswich for the national customs administration. Records of payments of the subsidy and ulnage on cloth show that Maldon was still a modest cloth market at the close of the fourteenth century although on nowhere near the scale of Colchester. The same records sixty years later, however, indicate a considerable decline in the amount of cloth sold there, as the larger centres increasingly dominated the trade.
Maldon was not a particularly prosperous centre, nor a populous one the number of inhabitants probably did not much exceed a thousand at any point in the Middle Ages; the poll tax of 1377 indicates 542 taxpayers in Great Maldon and Little Maldon together. In 1248, in a list of places in Essex, it is described as a villata as opposed to Colchester which is called a burgus. Around the turn of the century, even though the county sheriffs were including it in the lists of boroughs which were to send representatives to parliaments, the king's taxers did not feel Maldon's level of economic activity warranted it being assessed at the higher rate assigned to boroughs. Archaeology has provided additional, though slight, evidence of some decline in Maldon at this period: a sizable hall with courtyard and ancillary structures, built in the eleventh century in the high street, was superseded in the late thirteenth century by a more flimsy habitation.
Pleas of debt involving Maldon tradesmen and outsiders reveal a little more of the character of commerce in which the townsmen were involved. The outsiders were usually men of Essex, Suffolk or London, indicating the limited regional range of the townsmen's business activities. In 1409 we hear of a large debt of £50 claimed from a Lincolnshire man by (partners?) John Burgeys, a Maldon merchant, and John Younge, a London fishmonger. Burgeys, who served as a town bailiff on at least nine occasions, is found purchasing a large quantity of mussels in 1412, was being sued for debt in the same year by a London tailor, the widow of a London draper, and a Colchester man. By 1429 he had accumulated almost £130 in debts owed to fellow townsmen, other Essex men, and several Londoners; among the creditors were two fishmongers, two drapers and two ironmongers. Sales of herring were frequently the subject of cases of debt tried in the town court, and salmon is also occasionally mentioned.
The surnames or stated occupations of townsmen provide further clues. The presence of a cloth-making industry in all its stages is shown by the number of shermen, fullers, dyers, weavers, drapers, and tailors; while the leather-working industry is indicated by the skinners, tanners, cobblers, and glovers, as well as by the fact that borough officialdom included supervisors of these trades. Butchers were quite often in evidence, not least because their unsanitary practices were a matter of concern to the borough authorities. They were restricted to a certain section of the market, where they did not do a satisfactory job of clearing up the blood and entrails of slaughtered animals the street outside the entrance to the Moothall was said in 1417 to be slippery from the blood. On non-market days they sold from the shops at front of their homes, but even here we find cases of them leaving piles of dung in the shop, or letting blood go fetid there.
A royal document of 1338 indicates that Wednesday and Saturday were market days in Maldon (Monday being the usual day when the borough court was in session). Burgesses were forbidden to sell victuals within 5 miles of the town, except in the marketplace. Some merchants however were avoiding the town harbour and the tolls (notably mensurage) collected there, by steering their ships up the Blackwater, where it branched northwards away from Maldon, in order to unload and sell their goods at the manor of Heybridge. The king at first ordered that merchandise be sold only in the borough, but later reversed this after being persuaded by the lord of the manor (the dean and chapter of St. Pauls) of a long-standing right to collect tolls on goods landed at the manor. Heybridge continued to attract away from Maldon some of its commerce; a reflection of this is seen in Adam Mine-Honey, who emigrated from Winchester to Maldon and purchased freeman's status there in 1384, yet in 1413 is found as a resident of Heybridge. The town authorities tried to combat the threat by prohibiting ships from passing by the town port and continuing to Heybridge, or elsewhere, without paying a fine, and presumably the authorities had some means of enforcing this; the town records include several entries from 1460 documenting licences to load or unload goods at Heybridge.
The royal charter to Maldon of 1554 confirmed the right to hold three annual fairs, each of 4 days duration, one in March and two in September. A follow-up document in 1555, expanding the list of rights confirmed or granted, refers only to a Saturday market.
|1||My thanks to Carolyn Fenwick, author of The Poll Taxes of 1377, 1379 & 1381, for this information; it had previously been my understanding that no poll tax information for Maldon had survived.|