PHYSICAL FABRIC Florilegium Urbanum

Keywords: medieval Norwich quays construction contracts masons civic works
Subject: Contract to rebuild the city quay
Original source: Norfolk Record Office, Norwich records, St. Clements' parish deeds
Transcription in: William Hudson and John Cottingham Tingey, eds. The Records of the City of Norwich, vol.2 (Norwich: Jarrold, 1910), 389-91.
Original language: Middle English
Location: Norwich
Date: 1432


This indenture is made between Thomas Wetherby, supervisor of community goods in the city of Norwich, Thomas Balle and Nicholas Stanhowe, city treasurers, on the one part and John Marwe freemason, citizen of Norwich, on the other part. It witnesses that John is to [re]build, or have built, the new common quay of Norwich which lies in the parish of St. Clement, Conesford in Norwich; the which extends in length from the property of John Drewe as far as the community building beside the common lane in that parish. John Marwe is to provide all labour, materials, and all everything else required for the quay. He is to prepare the length of the ground with [a foundation of] piles and planks made of English heart-of-oak or poplar of a suitable thickness for this kind of structure. On which he shall place a quay of freestone ashlars of a suitable width and height according to how the freestone is worked. This quay is to be, at ground level on the planking, 5 quarters wide by the king's standard, and at the upper course of the stone 4 quarters wide by the same standard. Each ashlar of the uppermost course of the quay shall weigh at least the equivalent of a pipe of wine. John Marwe is at his own expense to fill what lies behind the quay with marl and gravel, compact it, and level it, as well as to remove the timbers of the [old] quay. The [construction of the] quay and all that relates to the same is to be undertaken by John Marwe and completed by 1 May next, at the latest, without any further delay. For a satisfactory job of building this quay according to the above terms, Thomas, Thomas and Nicholas will pay, or have paid, to John Marwe £53.6s.8d; that is, [instalments of] £13.6s.8d on 1 August, 1 November, 2 February, and 1 May. John Marwe shall, with the help of the crane, remove from the river and bring to land all materials that are part of the [old] quay, and may freely have the same, without paying anything to the community of the keeper of the quay. Thomas, Thomas and Nicholas will provide John Marwe and his workmen with a building to work out of during this period. They will provide John Marwe with cloth sufficient for a gown befitting his status at Christmas next. If John Marwe on his part abides by all the terms of this agreement related to the quay, then a bond in £66.13s.4d which he and Richard Reyner freemason of Thornage have put up to Thomas, Thomas and Nicholas (payable at 29 September next) will be considered void; otherwise it will be taken as binding. In testimony to each and every one of these stipulations, the parties indicated above have applied their seals to the other part of the indenture. Drawn up at Norwich on 10 July 1432.


The quay that is the subject of this contract must have been what was known as the Old Common Staith, located near the church of St. Clement's Conesford; it was one of a pair of public wharves established along the more southerly stretch of the Wensum, forming Norwich's south-eastern boundary; the other being the New Common Staith, constructed a little further south in 1379, at which date the city authorities tried to legislate a prohibition on vessels loading or unloading at other locations. Property on which to establish these communal facilities had been acquired earlier. Further upstream, closer to the city centre but on a stretch of river by then less navigable, the Conesford quay, which was next to Fye Bridge, had longer been in the hands of the community and was an earlier site for the city port. But by the fifteenth century it was run down and used primarily by fishing-boats, although the presence of a crane and one or more community buildings there suggest continued use by other vessels.

The refurbishment of the quay was simply one part of a much longer-term programme, underway since the 1370s, to bring local commerce under closer supervision and control of the city authorities, and to take a cut of that commerce through various fees, tolls, and licences. In 1430, for example, the supervisor and treasurers had contracted with two for the building or renovation of four water-mills in city hands.



"Thomas Wetherby"
The office of supervisor – surveyor of public works – was evidently of some importance, since Wetherby had already risen to the office of mayor (1427/28). The year following his term as supervisor he was elected mayor again, only to become the focus for political conflict in the city.

A quarter of a yard according to Salzman.

"equivalent of a pipe of wine"
Half a ton according to Salzman.

A soil deposit, usually clay, that contains a lime carbonate; used today for making cement.

main menu

Created: August 27, 2004. Last update: September 6, 2014 © Stephen Alsford, 2004-2014