Keywords: medieval Berwick commerce merchant guild regulations market offences assizes slander fraud assault forestalling punishments fish cloth wine butchers coopers rivers pasture waste disposal undesirables expulsion citizenship privileges ports frontier towns
Subject: Regulation of aspects of trade and commerce
Original source: Berwick-upon-Tweed Record Office, Guild register
Transcription in: W.D. MacRay, "The Manuscripts of the Corporation of Berwick-upon-Tweed," Historical Manuscripts Commission. Report on Manuscripts in Various Collections, vol.I (1901), 5-10.
Original language: Middle English
Location: Berwick-upon-Tweed
Date: 1505


Regulations made at the gild meeting at the friary within the town of Berwick [...] October 1505 by the mayor, alderman, dean, and the 12 men

Memorandum that it has been firmly established and ordered, by the agreement of the 12 men, [regarding] all those persons belonging to the gild who behave offensively or improperly towards the mayor, alderman, dean, any other of the 12 men, or any executive officer of Berwick, whether in word or in deed, that such person or persons shall pay for the first offence 6s.8d. And for the second offence committed, the same person is to forfeit 13s.4d. Should the said person wilfully commit such an offence on a third occasion, then he is to be expelled from the gild, losing his freedom forever, without hope of redemption. Moreover, the offending individual is to be subject to punishment at the discretion of the mayor, alderman, dean, and 12 men, unless he is forgiven by the mayor, alderman and the 12 affeerors.

Item, that none of the forfeits or penalties that are lost or forfeited through infringements of the ordinances, statutes, or by-laws made by the mayor, alderman, dean, and the 12 affeerors of the gild, are to be pardoned or forgiven; rather, they are to be levied in their entirety to the use of the gild without any remission.

Item, moreover, if any of the gild brethren speaks ill or behaves badly against another, contrary to what is right or is good manners, the brother so slandered or wronged should complain to the mayor or alderman. If the person speaking or behaving badly is found by the mayor, alderman and the 12 men to have offended against his brother, he is to forfeit and pay on each occasion, without any redemption, 3s.4d, and the aggrieved brother is to receive such compensation from the other as is considered reasonable by the mayor, alderman and the 12 men who are brethren of the gild.

Item, that no-one who is a freeman of the town of Berwick shall lease any [stretch of] the Tweed river – not from one side nor the other – from Horncliffe to "Wawthene Dowme", except to another freeman of Berwick. Whoever does otherwise is to forfeit 20s. to the gild; the [stretch of] water is to completely taken away from he who leased it to the non-freeman, and is to be leased to someone else who is a freeman of Berwick.

Item, no freeman whatsoever of the town of Berwick is to go, or send his servant or any other person, to buy salmon from any other man between sundown and sunrise. Such purchases are to take place only at the times prescribed by custom and usage, and by the ancient ordinances of the gild.

Item, that no man is to encourage or persuade any man's son or servant to steal his father's or master's salmon, neither by day nor by night. He that so offends is to forfeit 6s.8d and, beyond that punishment, is to compensate a complainant offended against, according to the discretion and recommendation of the mayor, alderman, and 12 men of the gild. Furthermore, whoever buys [the salmon] is to state the truth regarding where and from whom he bought the salmon, without any deceit or concealment; for, if he names one person yet bought it of another, the buyer is to forfeit to the gild on every such occasion 6s.8d and is to forfeit and lose the salmon so purchased, one half going to the gild and the other half to whoever informs on the offender.

Item, that no freeman of Berwick buy, or cause to be bought, any salted salmon – not at Tweedmouth nor at any other location. Whoever informs on any freeman offending in that regard may have one half of the salmon in question, for his labour, and the other half goes to the gild, without any redemption.

Item, that no man, unless a freeman of Berwick, may ship any salt salmon, wool, skins or hides, nor any other merchandize, upon penalty of forfeiting the same to the gild, if such is found and seized.

Also, that no freeman of Berwick deliver or send any money to any out[side agent] of any kind other than his son or his bona fide servant, for the purpose of buying any salmon that is to be salted. Whoever informs on any freeman offending thus shall receive one half of the salmon for his labour, and the other half is to go to the gild. Furthermore, a fine of 6s.8d [is to be imposed on the offender].

Item, that no man within the town of Berwick, whether a soldier or any other kind of man, unless his is a freeman of the same, may buy or sell as a freeman with any foreign merchants or anyone else, except to victual or provision his household. Whoever does the contrary, or buys more [than his household needs], is to forfeit all to the gild without any redemption. With the exception of my lord the Captain of Berwick, or his deputy then in office, who buy to provision or victual the castle.

Item, that no clothier bringing cloth here to sell, nor any other man bringing any other merchandize (such as pedlars or others) shall set up a bench or stay overnight in the town, but is to display [his wares] on market days; and, that done, is to pack up his wares again and leave town without displaying them more than once. Upon penalty of forfeiting his cloth or wares to the gild.

Item, that no cattle or other livestock of the countryside are to be allowed to graze in, or enter, the fields or pastures belonging to the town of Berwick – neither sheep or any other animals. If any such cattle are found there, they are to be forfeit to the gild. The mayor is to see that this is policed from Sunday to Sunday, in the best interests of the town.

Item, that the mayor and chamberlains are to arrange for and supervise the setting up of a beacon on Holde mane wall, and see that it is maintained, to assist the safe entrance of ships into the haven. Furthermore, that the mayor not allow any gatherers of bait on the wall, so that damage or nuisance be caused to the haven; those who gather bait there are to be punished at the mayor's discretion.

Item, that the mayor is to order and instruct his bailiffs and other officers that they shall honestly and diligently see to it that every week the assize of bread and ale is carried out according to the law and ancient custom. Similarly, the mayor is to order and instruct the meat-pricers that no butcher of the town of Berwick is to break or cut and meat to sell, unless the pricers are present at the breaking or cutting; the meat-pricers are to set a reasonable price and value of the same for the benefit of the community, always bearing in mind that the butchers have free pasturage and grazing without any cost [to them]. If any butchers breaks or cuts any meat to sell and [without] arranging for one of the meat-pricers to view it, the butcher that does so is to forfeit to the gild 12d. upon every occurrence, without any redemption.

Item, that the mayor is to convene his court at any time when good cause requires it, such as when there is need to remedy or correct such offences that cause nuisance or discomfort to the king's subjects and any other outsiders. For example, dunghills in the streets and highways, or at the town gates or walls (whether inside or out); which dung and muck the mayor is to find the means, by consent of the town, to have removed and taken away. Whoever is found guilty of dumping dung or muck, other than at the places designated by the mayor, is to forfeit and pay to the gild 12d. at every occurrence.

Item, the mayor is, through his court, to order and oversee the expulsion from the town of all kinds of vagabonds, harlots, or brothel-keepers disposed to no good; likewise all beggars and idle people, both men and women, except those who are aged or of good character, who may remain and reside within the town.

Item, that the mayor, three times a year at the three chief court sessions, is to order and arrange for all the weights and measures within the town to be brought into court before him. All such weights and measures found to be defective – lacking in weight or capacity – are to be broken; and other, accurate weights and measures are to be produced and delivered to those who had the inaccurate weights and measures. Those found in possession of such false weights and measures are to pay and forfeit to the gild 12d. every time it is so found.

Item, that no London merchants are to pack salmon in London barrels, unless those barrels are presented before the mayor and chamberlains and are measured by them. If they are found to match up to the correct size, they are to be sealed and to pass [into use]; all others that are inaccurate are to be forfeited to the gild.

Item, that no master or crewman of a ship or other vessel not take into his ship or vessel the salmon of any man, except a freeman who has made his oath before the mayor and chamberlains and who is the rightful owner of the salmon. Any master or crewman knowingly doing the contrary is to forfeit 20s. to the gild.

Item, that all sons of a freeman, excepting his eldest son, shall pay to be made free 6s. to the chamberlain and to the alderman what is due him, along with all other customary and traditional charges. Also, any man who is not free who marries a freeman's daughter is to pay 5s. along with the other charges mentioned.

Item, if any of the gild brethren commits an offence against a fellow member, either going to or coming from the gild [meeting] – that is, if one of them should strike the other with his hand – at each occurrence he is to forfeit to the gild 6s.8d. Also, if any brother draws his knife or any other weapon and hurts or draws blood from his brother through violence, he is to forfeit and pay to the gild 20s. Moreover, he is to compensate the wronged party, at the discretion of the mayor, alderman, and the 12 men. Similarly, he who offends in any of the ways indicated above is to be punished for 40 days or more, at the discretion of the mayor, alderman, and the 12 men of the gild.

Item, that as often as the alderman and dean summon their brethren of the gild together, for reasonable cause, to discuss and deal with matters pertaining to the gild, then the bell is to be rung: the first time, short; the second time, long; the third time, long. Any brother who fails to come to the place designated by the alderman by the last ring of the bell is to pay and forfeit to the gild 12s., without any redemption.

Item, that all fines and amercements [imposed] within this town are to be put to the use and profit of our gild, excepting the king's tolls or what pertains to the king's bailiffs.

Item, any freeman who hands over money or gold to any outsider, or to any of his neighbours or servants who are not freemen, for the purpose of buying fresh salmon, and under that subterfuge the freeman then salts it, he so doing is to forfeit the salmon to the gild as well as 6s.8d in cash, without any redemption. Also he is to be imprisoned at the will of the mayor and alderman, according to the discretion of the 12 men. He who is identified as and proved to be the buying agent is to be prosecuted and imprisoned as though a deceitful criminal.

Item, that every cooper within the town of Berwick shall possess his own [branding-]iron bearing his own mark, so that one cooper's barrel can be marked and distinguished from another's. With the intent that should any be faulty, whether in materials or workmanship, the merchant or other person who suffers loss or damage therefrom may complain to the mayor and alderman and they, at their discretion, may oblige the cooper to compensate the party suffering loss or damage as should rightfully be.

Item, that no man who is a freeman of our gild within this town of Berwick is to lend his cockle boat or net on Sunday to his friends or relations as a favour, upon penalty of forfeiting the same to the gild. The lender is to pay 6s.8d to the church, without any redemption.

Item, that all the sea-cockles arriving by sea are to be landed on this side of the Tweed river, upon penalty of imprisonment of the fishermen and, furthermore, 6d. to be forfeited to the gild on each occasion they do otherwise, without any forgiveness.

Item, that each of the fishermen is to keep his fish separate in his own room and at his landing, as mentioned above; every fisherman to be accountable for the "anner" [annual rent?] for his room [...]

Item, that no freeman of our gild is to forestall the market, by buying wool or hides en route for the market at the gates or in the streets or any other places in the town, but only at the market cross. Buying and selling may take place there between 9 o'clock before noon to 12 o'clock. Any person or persons who buy to the contrary are to forfeit and lose the wool, skin or hides, and are also to pay 6s.8d to the gild; moreover, they are to be punished at the will of the alderman, dean, and the 12 affeerors.

Item, that no man who is mayor, alderman, one of the 12 affeerors [or] 4 bailiffs of the town is to bake or brew for retail purposes during their term in office. Under penalty for each occurrence of 6s.8d to be paid to the gild; and, moreover, punishment at the pleasure of the alderman, dean, and 12 affeerors.

Item, that no man having Malmsey to sell here is to retail it for more than 16d. a gallon, and Romney for 12d. a gallon, and every red Claret wine which has been bought for less than £5 is to be sold for 8d., and if bought for less than £3 is to be sold for 6d. a gallon. Whoever does contrary to this is to forfeit, at every occurrence, 6s.8d.

Item, that no person or persons shall bring salmon in at St. Mary gate, Briggate, or the Water gate, without stating the truth under oath about who is the rightful owner of the same, and from whom they bought it; and, having done so, may pass. If it has been wrongfully purchased from an unknown owner, the salmon so bought is to be taken to the alderman or his deputy, and forfeited to the gild. Whoever brings it, or sold it, is to be punished at the will of the alderman, dean, and the 12 affeerors.


These regulations, formulated or (more likely) compiled at the close of the Middle Ages provide an interesting comparison and contrast to the set compiled in the thirteenth century, perhaps incorporating some longer-standing customs. There is no indication the two collections are directly related. Although certain underlying issues are addressed in each, such as forestalling, on the whole the collections seem complementary, and it may be that the later set represents, in effect, additions to the earlier or, in some cases (such as the fees for admission to citizenship) perhaps amendments. The earlier tends to deal with general principles while the later with more specific problems that would have arisen subsequently and needed to be addressed through legislation.

The town of Berwick was in a precarious situation. Close to the modern border between England and Scotland, it was over the period of several generations in the Middle Ages a frontier town in a no-man's land contested between the English and Scottish powers. Although it is thought that it was originally a Saxon settlement within the Northumbrian kingdom, it fell under King Malcolm's claim over all the Tweed, made after winning the battle of Carham (1016 or 1018), and thereafter the region was in dispute, changing hands numerous times during the Middle Ages. It was named by David I (1124-53) as one of four "royal boroughs" he designated, acting as a regional administrative centre; prior to David's reign it was one of only two Scottish settlements clearly identifiable as boroughs with commercial monopolies. Its good harbourage contributed to making it one of the leading ports of the realm, being the closest point in Scotland to Europe.

As one focus of the hostilities between England and Scotland, Berwick was subject to a number of sieges, and the type of damage to life and property that ensued, particularly when the town fell into enemy hands (and perhaps especially after Edward I's capture of the town, after fierce fighting, in 1296). Despite this it often proved able to bounce back quickly, and at times its economy was thriving, judging from its role as a port for international imports and exports. Although much of that trade was based on the produce of its extensive agricultural hinterland, Berwick had from the thirteenth century been famous for its salmon, which feature so heavily in the above regulations. The king tried to foster Berwick's trade by giving advantages, such as under Edward I a monopoly on exports (an experiment that proved unpopular), or under his successors a reduced rate of customs payable. Its prosperity was greatest during the thirteenth century, when the town was probably the wealthiest in Scotland, despite having a population of only two or three thousand – the number of freemen within that population being considerably fewer. The community had been bolstered by a colony of Fleming merchants, who contributed to the development of trade until their extinction during the siege of 1296.

In subsequent centuries its economic importance lessened, although the larger town and county centre of Newcastle-upon-Tyne was at times envious of Berwick's greater success in attracting international trade. By the close of the Middle Ages, fishing was more important to its economy than overseas trade, in part because the latter was increasingly gravitating to a few select larger towns – above all the capitals of London and Edinburgh; in fact it had been the decline of Berwick, due to its frequent denial to the Scots, that had encouraged this transfer to Edinburgh, which in the latter half of the fourteenth century took over the hinterland formerly within Berwick's sphere.

After Edward I had retaken the town, he bolstered the defences that had been unable to keep him out, took steps to encourage resettlement by merchants and artisans, and optimistically established there the apparatus for national government (e.g. exchequer, chancery) ready for the conquest of Scotland he anticipated. Its fortifications strengthened, the town became the frequent muster point for English armies intent on invasion or defence. Despite this, Berwick was re-occupied by the Scots from 1318 to 1333; the English residents who escaped in 1318 found themselves outcasts: their lands in Berwick confiscated by the Scottish king, and the English king angry with them for having let Berwick fall.

One of the last phases in the political seesaw situation took place when Henry VI handed the town over to the Scots in 1459 (in return for support against the Yorkists), but it was recaptured for the last time by Edward IV in 1482. After periods of extended loss, once the English reoccupied the town it became necessary to restore mechanisms of government (such as a mayor), laws compatible with the English national system, and English trading practices. For example, about a decade after Edward I effected his bloody recapture and resettlement of Berwick, the townsmen petitioned that "they are new men come into the town and had and have great need of the King's aid and have several times asked him, for his own benefit and the profit of his town of Berwick as well as of the burgesses inhabitant, to grant them certain kinds of franchises" [C.M. Fraser, ed. Northern Petitions, Surtees Society, vol.194 (1981), 28], and followed up with a draft for a proposed new charter of borough liberties, repeating some of the terms of an existing royal charter (1302) and adding new ones. The proposed liberties included that no non-resident merchant could within Berwickshire buy wool, sheepskins, or hides from anyone other than a burgess; that no ship of any outsider could sell a cargo of salt by small measures, except to a burgess; and that no non-resident merchant could retail cloth (i.e. sell by the yard) in Berwick, only wholesale it.

The long list of ordinances in October 1505 may have been part of the process of re-establishing the English system of government in the town after the change of hands in 1482; many of them are along the lines of customary laws dating from earlier periods in other English or Scottish towns. As with their English counterparts, most Scottish towns were governed by bailiffs, originally the officer of the town's lord; but some communities chose a provost or alderman to lead them. At Berwick we see working together to lead the community a mayor, representing English influence, and an alderman who could be considered to reflect Scottish influence. Although such an officer may simply be attributable to the merchant gild that provided a tool for local government, at least in the area of regulation of commerce, from perhaps as early as the twelfth century, no such officer figures in the local government re-established by Edward I. A 24-member council was visible in 1249, along with the mayor and 4 reeves. The 12 ferynge mene identified in the above ordinances were a different group, associated with the merchant gild.



Pardoning of all or part of a penalty, usually upon payment of a monetary fine.

These were usually men assigned to assess financial payments, such as fines or taxes. This group was evidently the same as the 12 gild councillors, suggesting it may have evolved out of a committee or jury initially responsible for affeering (a task requiring judgement, experience, and knowledge of the community) – a somewhat similar course of development is seen at Maldon.

"Horncliffe to Wawthene Dowme"
Horncliffe was several miles downstream from Berwick, while Wawthene Dowme would have been close to the Tweed's mouth, and may be reflected in the modern street name Ravensdowne.

"Holde mane"
I assume the latter term here refers to "main" (the open sea) and that the wall was to protect the harbour from rough seas; the beacon would prevent ships grounding on the wall.

The term in the original is flyshe prysers. In many, if not most, towns it was the duty of the executive officers (unless there were more specialized officers appointed to the task) to oversee market activities, set prices, and uphold standards of commerce.

"Also, any man who is not free"
This sentence has been struck out at some later time.

"punished for 40 days"
This presumably refers to imprisonment.

"one of the 12 affeerors"
This has been struck out. The town council, some of whose members may well have been inn-keepers, perhaps considered it unreasonable to include them in the prohibition, and indeed such prohibitions elsewhere do normally limit themselves to executive officers. It would arguably have been more of a conflict of interest for them to be judging such an offence committed by one of their number.

A sweet wine of the Madeira type, imported from Portugal, although originally named after a location in Greece.

Another kind of sweet wine.

"St. Mary gate"
A street leading to the marketplace.

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Created: October 28, 2014. © Stephen Alsford, 2014