|COMMERCE AND ITS REGULATION|
|Subject:||Protecting the supply of necessaries|
|Original source:||1. Public Record Office, Exchequer Plea Roll E 13/26 m.75; 2. Bristol Record Office, MS. 04720 (Mayor's register); 3. Bristol Record Office, MS. 04719 (Great Red Book), ff.22-23; 4. Northamptonshire Record Office, Northampton borough records, Liber Custumarum, ff. 110b-113b|
|Transcription in:||1. Michael Prestwich, York Civic Ordinances, Borthwick Papers No. 49 (1976), 10-12. 2. Lucy Toulmin Smith, ed. The Maire of Bristowe Is Kalendar, Camden Society, new series, vol.5 (1872), 82-84. 3. E.W.W. Veale, ed. The Great Red Book of Bristol, Bristol Record Society, vol.4 (1933), 138-42. 4. Christopher Markham, ed. The Records of the Borough of Northampton, (Northampton, 1898), vol.1, 373-78.|
|Original language:||1. Latin (trans. Prestwich); 2.-4.Middle English|
|Location:||York, Bristol, Northampton|
|Date:||14th to 15th centuries|
[1. Enforcement at York of the Assizes of Bread, Ale and Wine, 1301]
Brewers and ale-wives
[2. Excerpts from the mayor of Bristol's manual, late 15th century]
It has been the custom for the mayor of Bristol, soon after Michaelmas, to have summoned before him in the guildhall or council chamber all the bakers of Bristol, to enquire into what stock they have of wheat and, following that, [according to] what assize they shall bake. And to assist and advise them in purchasing from and bargaining with the badgers, (who transport wheat into town, using barges and other means, by land and by water), so as to keep the market [prices] down and ensure that the bakers do not lack supplies, especially around the Christmas festival or at times when many outsiders come to the town. The mayor is on several occasions to supervise the weighing of bread, at such intervals as he thinks necessary and required, at his discretion, or when a complaint is made to him on that matter. The bakers are not to increase their assizes beyond 6d. at any given time, as per the statute etc. Any baker who breaches the assize is to be punished according to the laws of the town, as are set out later in this book.
Similarly, it has been the custom from the mayor, soon after Michaelmas, to have summoned before him in the council chamber all the brewers of Bristol. If it is the case that malt is scarce and expensive, then he is to discuss with the brewery owners a sensible provision for reforming the situation and bringing the price of malt down. Whatever price the mayor then sets upon malt, no brewer is to infringe it, upon penalty of 40s. payable to the chamber of the town. On the mornings of the days of the week for shifting [ale], especially Wednesdays and Saturdays, it has been the mayor's custom to walk to the brewers' houses, to supervise the serving of ale to the poor people of the town and see that they have proper measures; his ale-tester is to accompany him, to taste the ale and determine that it is good, fit for drinking, and wholesome, and adhering to the assize, upon pain of punishment otherwise according to the laws of the town, as are set out later in this book.
It has also been the custom for the mayor, during this quarter, to pay particular attention to overseeing the sale of [fire]wood brought to the Back and to the Key, and to using his judgement in setting prices for the same. No wood is to be sold there until the mayor has set a price for it, nor is any to be delivered there before or after certain hours of the day specified by the mayor. All large timbers, called Berkeley wood, are to be offloaded at the Key on the far side of the tower there, while all small timbers are to be offloaded at the Back. With the proviso that wood-sellers not leave the Back bare and empty of wood, nor allow the haulers to haul it all away, but that they leave sufficient quantities at the Back from spring to spring to serve the poor people's need of pennyworths and halfpennyworths in the cold seasons; upon penalty of punishment, both of the wood-sellers and the haulers,at the discretion of the mayor.
Also, that colliers of all kinds who bring coal, whether large or small, to town to sell should bring sacks of accurate measure complying with the standard. Regarding which, it is the custom for the mayor during this quarter to order that the standard measures be put on display at various locations in town such as the High Cross, the corner of the bridge, and Stallage Cross so that every [private] sack can be compared and proven to hold a carnok, and two sacks to hold a quarter, regardless of the price; upon penalty of the burning of [inaccurate] sacks and a portion of the coal, with the other portion to be distributed to poor residents of the almshouses.
[3. Proclamations, Bristol, mid-fifteenth century]
The mayor, the sheriff, and the common council of the town of Bristol have ordained that every baker of the town should make good-quality bread from good dough and of proper weight, and that they should sell 4 loaves for a penny and 2 loaves for a penny, and penny white bread and penny wheat bread, and no other kind, upon penalty of confiscation of any bread made contrarily.
Also that the bakers are not under any circumstances to make any twopenny bread, neither white nor wheat, unless it is announced otherwise, upon the above penalty.
The bakers are to place their marks upon all bread that they bake, upon the same penalty. They are to adhere to the assize in all regards, or face the consequences.
No baker is to buy any grain within a 6-mile radius of Bristol, upon penalty (for every infringement proven against him) of 6s.8d. If anyone perceives one to have committed such a fault and reports it to the mayor or the sheriff, as often as he does so he shall receive 12d. for his trouble.
No baker is to forestall any grain on its way to the market ward upon penalty of 6s.8d, as often as he does so.
Brewers are to make good-quality, wholesome ale and are to adhere to the assize. They are to sell a gallon of best-quality new ale from the vat for a penny and not otherwise, and 2 gallons of small ale for a penny and not otherwise, the latter ale being half as good as the best ale; upon penalty of 40d. for the first breach, 6s.8d for the second, and 40s. for the third. If any householder, personally or his servants, can prove to the mayor and sheriff (or either of them) that the latter ale is not half as good as the best ale, then the complainant shall have his money refunded and the brewers will pay the penalty specified.
No brewer is to sell any ale in a taproom or by retail unless he has a sign up by his door. Once he has taken in his sign, he is not to retail any more ale, upon penalty of 6s.8d for every occurrence.
In regard to every householder of the town of Bristol who fetches ale from any brewer's house and requires ale by the dozen, they ordain that he have a container of a dozen, a container of half a dozen, and a container of 4 gallons, sealed and equipped with pins, for purposes of testing it. No ale is to be taken away from a brewery except in vessels such as specified above, upon penalty of confiscation of the ale. Every man is, for his own benefit, to have his stands made and sealed between now and November 1; the sealer is to seal their stands without taking any fee.
Every brewer is to have a level place by his doorway, so that every man who fetches ale may if he wishes, upon that level place, determine whether or not he has been issued his full measure. In the event that he has been given less than his measure, he is to require the brewer or his servants to give him his full measure. If he [i.e. the brewer] will not, then the aggrieved party is to call on any person who is nearby to witness that he cannot obtain his full measure; whoever acts as a witness to testify to this shall have 4d. for his trouble.
Every brewer is to fulfill his responsibility in regard to the level place, as indicated above, so that no defects be discovered at the doorway, and the brewers hereafter give no cause for any complaints or grievances, but clearly undertake their obligations.
No brewer is to dole out his ale with anything other than a measure specific to that purpose, of long-standing use, and approved by the mayor and common council, upon penalty of 40s. for every infringement, without any [prospect of] remission.
No tapster is to receive any ale from any brewery until householders and the poor people have been served, upon penalty of 40d. on every occasion, without any remission.
From this time until February 2, no brewer is to provide ale from his facility before five o'clock; and from February 2 onward, only during daylight. Upon penalty of 40d., as above, on every occasion.
No brewer is to forestall any grain on its way to market, upon penalty of 40s. If any such forestalling takes place, whoever comes and reports it to the mayor shall have 12d. for his trouble, so long as he can tell the mayor to what location the grain has been taken.
All kinds of tapsters who sell ale are to have a sign called an ale-stake displayed. They are to sell ale in sealed measures and not in cups (that is, the "thriddendele" for a halfpenny), nor in any other way, upon penalty of 40d. every time that they do the contrary.
No tapster is to receive ale from any brewer into his house unless it is in a stand that is, sealed upon penalty of 40d. and forfeiture of the ale.
No tapsters of this town are to sell any more ale after having taking in their ale-stake or sign, until they set the sign out again, upon penalty on every occasion of 6s.8d.
No tapster or taverner is to have men sitting in their taverns after curfew has been rung at St. Nicholas, upon penalty of 40d. They are to close their doors at that hour, or face the same penalty.
No baker, nor brewer, nor any other kind of victualler is to buy grain in the market before 12 o'clock, upon penalty of its confiscation. Nor are they, or any other person, to buy grain coming to market until it is unloaded in the marketplace, upon the same penalty as above every time that they do the contrary.
No man is to store grain in a house between one market day and another, in order to sell it at a higher price, upon penalty of confiscation of the grain. Anyone who receives such grain is to be fined 6s.8d.
All colliers who bring coal to town are warned that from this day forward every sack should hold 4 heaped bushels, upon penalty of confiscation of the coal and burning of the sacks.
All those who bring branches, brush, straw, coal or wood to town by land to sell are not to hang about in the high streets, but put it in St. Peter's Street, or Wynch Street, or St. Thomas' Street, and not in any other place, upon penalty of 4d. on every occasion they do the contrary.
[4. Mayoral duties for policing Northampton traders, late fifteenth century]
You shall make enquiry into whether the pillory and the tumbrel are sturdy and in good repair or not, so that if any man or woman is judged to that [punishment] he or she shall lose neither life nor limb but go into it safely and come out safely without any bodily harm.
Weighing with auncel
Those who conduct commerce from their houses
Also you are to enquire about those who are accustomed to send their own merchandize or victuals that is, corn, cattle, poultry, wildfowl, fish, meat, milk, cheese, butter, or anything else to the town or market by the agency of their servants or their associates, then shortly afterwards come to the town or market in person to shop and make offers for the said merchandize or victuals as if they were not his. And thus by this deceit and trickery, bidding for his own merchandize or victuals, he drives up the price by a halfpenny or penny and sets the price for the entire market. In this way he forestalls and regrates the market, impoverishes the king's subjects, shows scorn and contempt for the rich people, and infringes the law and statutes made in the time of King Henry III and King Edward III, etc. Also whether anyone buys or sells corn heaped or by cantell instead of by level bushel.
Also three prices of wheat, the first, second and third ascertained over the course of three market days; and the best for the king. Also in regard to barley, peas, beans, oats, and hay for our sovereign lord's horses. Likewise for his saddle for one day and one night. A gallon of the best ale. A gallon of the best wine of Gascony.
Also you are to enquire whether the steward or the bailiffs of the town take any fines or rewards for their own personal gain or profit, contrary to the law made in the 53rd year of King Henry III, to the effect that bakers or brewers breaking the Assize of Bread and Ale should be sentenced to the pillory for the baker and the tumbrel for the brewer, without any redemption or substitution of a fine.
Also whether any mayor or bailiff of city, borough, or town sells any kind of victuals that is, bread, meat, fish, wine, or ale by retail during his term of office.
Also that everyone buys or sells 8 level bushels to the quarter, and no more.
Also of tallow chandlers who sell tallow, candles, salt, oatmeal, soap, and various other commodities, that their weights are compliant with the assize and are sealed and weigh true; and that they mix no "floteys" into their tallow nor thread into cotton, so as to deceive people. If you know any such, report their names to us.
Also of all those who occupy themselves by fishing in the communal waterways with illegal nets or traps; if you know any, report them to us. Also those who fish in the river without having farmed it, for they ought to pay fines to the chamber of the town; report them to us.
Also of all bakers who have signs at their doors, for this is contrary to the statutes; report them to us.
Also of all bakers who operate mills, for this is contrary to the statutes; report them to us
Also of all victuallers who operate inns or have signs at their doors.
It is inherent in the nature of a urban settlement of the Middle Ages that its relatively large populace is occupationally heterogeneous and less self-supporting than medieval rural settlements, where the generation of necessaries through farming is the primary activity and one productive enough to provision a small local community. Consequently keeping urban populations fed was inevitably one key challenge for urban authorities. Towns of course were only one component of the overall food economy, yet an important one, for their function was not simply to supply the needs of their own populations but, as the focus of marketplaces and merchants, to redistribute goods over larger geographical areas. Merchants particularly wholesalers but also retailers were at the core of the distributive trades in the Middle Ages. A high proportion dealt to some degree in victuals, and in most medieval towns residents involved in victualling in some way or other represent the largest grouping of occupations, both full-time and part-time.
Bread and ale were arguably the most fundamental necessaries for medieval people, providing the greater part of their daily caloric intake; this was especially true for the poorer members of society, whose relatively unvaried diet likely also included intake of cereals in the form of gruel. As the staple drink of the wealthier classes, wine was also important enough for the wine trade to receive attention from public authorities. Less frequently eaten, but still of consequence, particularly to town-dwellers who could afford them, were meat and fish. Although these elements of the food supply attracted less frequent attention from the authorities, their supply, processing, and marketing were addressed both through provision of special facilities (such as dedicated markets) and through regulation. Interestingly, vegetables and fruits received scant attention from the authorities, perhaps because mainly supplied either through local gardens and orchards and/or by small-scale traders from the countryside. Fuel was no less important to survival, particularly during the winter, than food itself. For it served not only domestic heating needs but also those of baking, cooking, fish-curing, brewing, and various industrial activities that themselves supported the supply of necessaries, for example, provision of clothing and transportation (itself vital to distribution of goods).
As best we can estimate, a large minority of a town's adult employed population at least a quarter and in some places perhaps as much as a third were involved to some degree in the food supply chain, whether in production of raw ingredients, their processing into consumables, or their marketing; for a number this involvement may have been a sideline, or one of various avenues pursued to make a living. Since ale was the most common drink, brewers many of them small-scale or part-time operators, and frequently (perhaps predominantly) women were numerous. Wine traders were much fewer, and the same may be said of spicers (who similarly catered to a smaller clientele), though those branches of commerce were generally more profitable, not least because prices were determined by the market rather than by government efforts to restrict them. Fishmongers seem to have been relatively numerous, especially in places (like London) with good access to the sea and involved in long-distance redistribution; and they were relatively prosperous, often being men who could afford their own fishing vessels. Butchers, by contrast, were less numerous and less prominent in urban society, there perhaps being a certain social stigma surrounding them. More surprisingly, bakers are less in evidence than we might expect. This may be partly because a small amount of baking was done at a domestic level; though more often housewives might prepare the dough then use the bake-oven facilities of professional bakers (for such ovens consumed space, which could be at a premium in town centres). But it also seems to be because a certain amount of bread was baked in rural ovens and brought to town by outsiders to sell directly or through hucksters and regraters. Bread had a low profit-margin and both grain and fuel for ovens were more easily accessed and cheaper in the countryside. Grain itself appears also to have reached towns largely through rural farmers, or small-scale dealers who sought out grain from rural sources; merchants specializing in that commodity (cornmongers) were relatively scarce, except perhaps in London, although general merchants (dealing in whatever seemed profitable at any given moment) certainly engaged in importing grain supplies at times of scarcity and in foreign export of large cargoes when harvests were plentiful. While some of the urban brewing was also domestic, it was in the nature of the process to generate a surplus beyond household needs (and ale did not keep well), so that housewives were likely to sell small quantities to others.
Assuring food supply was not a simple matter, and aspects of it were a concern of government at both national and local levels. The challenge was to ensure that key consumables were available in sufficient quantities, sold by uniform weights and measures, at reasonable prices, and of wholesome quality there always being the temptation to increase profits by using sub-standard ingredients or processes, to adulterate, or to sell by short measure with locals given priority in obtaining their household needs before re-sellers or manufacturers of secondary products (such as bread or ale) had an opportunity to snap up supplies. Only limited success could be achieved in preventing efforts to circumvent these principles; most of our documentation of retail activities outside the marketplace derive from the government measures put in place and proceedings to bring to justice alleged infringers of them
To address the matter of price controls, in the late twelfth century we see the introduction of examinations, or assizes; these aimed at establishing and ensuring compliance with nation-wide standards; fixed prices were not absolute, however, for it was recognized that supply of grain would affect grain prices and thereby the prices of secondary products made from grain, so prices were recalculated periodically. An Assize of Wine was introduced by Henry II, and in 1196 the Assize of Measures identified what were the acceptable measures for cereals and liquids, while weights were similarly standardized, as was the width of cloths manufactured for sale. Uniform enforcement across the realm of these initial controls gave some difficulty in John's reign, so that the matter was addressed briefly in Magna Carta; in 1202 a royal ordinance had already paired the assize of bread with the assize of ale, tying the price of the latter to the price of corn. That mistake (since ale was made from barley or oats) was not repeated, but the assizes continued to be held in tandem, although not always with consistency from locale to locale; nonetheless the principle underlying the assizes worked its way into local administrative custom. Enforcement of the various assizes fell somewhat into abeyance during the troubled times of Henry III's reign; but it was revived when his law-and-order minded son, Edward I, came to the throne. It was part of the responsibility of borough officials to police the various assizes, and their duty was, or came to be, interpreted by them as also checking on the quality of victuals.
York's victualling trades
The lengthy set of York regulations from which several have been excerpted above were the initiative of Edward I, although prompted by exceptional circumstances and not representative of the overall economic policy even of the controlling Edward. Professor Prestwich [p.1] notes that they are "the earliest surviving ordinances which provide for the detailed regulation of trade in a provincial city." Outside of London, ordinances formulated by civic authorities tended to be expressed in more generalized terms. But in 1298 Edward, in anticipation of extended campaigning in Scotland, had transferred components of his household and of his administrative machinery from Westminster to York for an extended stay. This influx of courtiers and bureaucrats, together perhaps with an influx of coinage and an expectation on the part of local traders that they might cash in on the war effort, put an extraordinary strain on local provisioning and pushed prices up; complaints were put before the king's council. Edward himself may have been dissatisfied with the quality and cost of victuals, with a perceived lack of enforcement of the national assizes, with a lack of professionalism in the medical services available, and with the unsanitary state of the city streets; he showed a interest in urban affairs and had already had experience of direct intervention in urban reforms at London.
The 1301 ordinances addressing these various concerns were supposedly produced by the king's council in consultation with city officials, but they show a strong stamp of the royal will, not least in the somewhat severe penalties for offenders. Prices were set for various products and services (perhaps at levels that preceded the arrival of the royal entourage), and persons alerting the authorities to commodities exceeding those amounts would be rewarded by receiving the overpriced goods. Such broad-ranging price-setting was not commonly attempted either by national or civic governments and, despite the punitive measures, city traders proved disinclined to conform their practices to the regulations. Although the city bailiffs claimed to be doing the best they could to implement the new rules, the mayor had to advise the king's council in 1304 that the ordinances were unenforceable. An investigation was ordered, but juries produced lists of offenders that amounted to an indictment of entire trades: 36 bakers, 26 taverners, 35 cooks, 49 butchers, 59 fishmongers, 70 brewers, 37 poulterers, were among those named. However, that later in the year the royal bureaucrats were transferred back to Westminster, and Prestwich doubts that any significant action was taken in regard to the offending traders or to improvements in enforcement.
It was simply a given that victuallers, particularly butchers, bakers and brewers, could be troublesome members of the community. At York the butchers seem to have been, at times, organized and militant. Concerns about them in the 1301 ordinances were that they made excessive profit and sold corrupt meat. The former was addressed by requiring that no butcher slaughter an animal until having made an oath before city officials as to the price he paid for the beast, and two other butchers had estimated the value of the labour in butchering it, so that a fair price could be set at which the meat would be sold. In regard to the latter, it was ordered that no meat already exposed for sale on the butcher's stall for a day could be sold unless cleaned and salted, and that no butcher should buy meat from outsiders for resale, but only sell meat from animals he had personally slaughtered. The penalties for infringing these regulations varied from graduated fines for repeat offenders leading to loss of occupation, to forfeiture of suspect meat and 40 days imprisonment. In 1381 we find York's butchers complaining to the king about the levy of what was essentially a stallage fee, and the following year being sued by city officials for using force to resist its collection [see market_york.rtf notes]; the butchers intimated that such fees should only be applicable to butchers from outside the city. This tension between intrinsic and extrinsic butchers is seen again in 1425 when, following public complaints of city butchers selling at scandalously high prices, the city authorities took the tack of encouraging outsider butchers to bring their meat to the Thursday Market on any day that suited them and retail it there in small cuts; city butchers were forbidden (in terms suggestive of a past practice) to obstruct their outsider counterparts from reaching, or operating in, the Thursday Market, upon penalty of imprisonment and disfranchisement.
We must beware of assuming, from these seemingly isolated instances (an impression given partly by the incompleteness of the surviving record), spread over a long period of time and perhaps resulting from particular crises, that there was constant friction between York's butchers and the civic authorities. Yet such information as we have about their relationship is reflective of an inherent mutual distrust stemming from divergence of interests: the tradesmen looking to optimize the livelihood they could obtain from their chosen occupations and resenting anything that detracted from that, while the authorities were anxious to ensure a supply of affordable victuals for the citizenry, not least those prone to unrest at a period when the city, and indeed much of the realm, was in a disturbed state.
Bristol and its economy
Policing the assize legislation in towns which involved sampling products and also surveying the weights and measures used in producing or distributing the goods fell in most cases to the local authorities. It was incumbent on them to ensure the assizes were adhered to, at first because their default in duty would have risked the intervention of royal justices to rectify the situation, with consequent fining of the town or possibly even suspension of local government as had, in effect, occurred at York when the 1301 ordinances were imposed. A Bristol ordinance of (apparently) 1283 copied into the Little Red Book indicates this fear of royal wrath, and threatens brewers breaching the assize with the loss of their entire brewery. A later motivation, which likely developed over time, was that the assizes produced regular income for local government in the form of fines.
The so-called Kalendar of the mayor of Bristol "provides insight into the purpose of the assize legislation at an urban level" [James Davis, Medieval Market Morality, p. 251]. The importance of the town's food supply along with the reputation of the town as a good place to buy and sell is indicated by the major's direct involvement in market administration, counselling brewers and bakers as to their communal obligations and, on occasion, personally overseeing the monitoring of bread and ale products. Edward III's charter of 1347, issued specifically to deal with complaints of lawless behaviour in Bristol, commanded the borough authorities to exert themselves in keeping the peace and enforce the assize of bread, and authorized them to punish infringers of the assize by dragging them through the streets on a hurdle, as done in London. Yet when, in the 1370s in the context of a legal dispute related to the Crown's efforts to extract additional revenues from Bristol, including a sum from bakers who broke the assize of bread the town's attorney was arguing before an Exchequer court for the right of mayor and bailiffs to levy amercements for infringements of the assize as a component of municipal revenues, he also did so on the grounds of the right to view of frankpledge since time immemorial, supported by the 1347 charter.
At the same time, a Bristol petition for royal grant of enhanced authority and powers included the request that the steward of the king's household and clerk of the market be prohibited from interfering in the administration by mayor and bailiffs of the assizes of bread, ale, wine, weights and measures. The charter of 1373 that resulted, although very detailed in its grants, did not specifically address the issue of the assizes. Possibly the king, satisfied that local government already had sufficient mandate for assize administration (confirmed via a blanket authorization of judicial jurisdiction over all misdemeanours, transgressions, counterfeiting, misprisions etc, including those committed by victuallers and craftsmen), did not wish to preclude intervention by his officials should there be any cause to think that mayor and bailiffs were not performing satisfactorily. On the other hand, the charter explicitly withheld from borough authorities jurisdiction customarily exercised by the king's steward and other officers in the Tolsey court. If the Tolsey dealt with market offences, then the king's decision may have been influenced by the ongoing lawsuit mentioned above; but the charter, though it refers again to the Tolsey, does not clarify what fell within the purview of that court.
It was not until the royal charter of 1461 that the monarchy turned over to local government practically all the material and fiscal resources of the town, including markets, fairs, butchers' shambles, local tolls, court amercements, and related judicial administration including that previously in the hands of the king's steward and clerk of the market and the view of frankpledge. The mayor's court and Tolsey court were thereafter amalgamated and sessions of both held were apparently confined to the guildhall, except at fair time. So it would seem that though the mayor and bailiffs earlier had the duty to police the market and carry out physical punishment of offenders against market regulations, those offenders were tried in a court that could be presided over by royal officers when in the town (though in practice that duty may have been delegated to the town bailiffs), any revenues going to the king separate from the borough farm.
The mayor's responsibilities went beyond simply enforcement; he had to ensure the citizenry was informed about commercial regulations. Elsewhere in his guide to mayoral administration, Ricart indicates that each new mayor was, within a week of taking office, to have public proclamation made of local ordinances governing victualling and other market-related matters. The Great Red Book initiated in the 1370s as a register of property-related documents recognized before the civic authorities, but later with other materials added contains an undated (but probably mid-fifteenth century) list of ordinances whose heading suggests that they were what was read out to the populace; this is supported by the reference to having stands sealed be twene this and Alle halwyn' tyde. However, there appears to be a certain amount of duplication in these articles, which may indicate that this copy was compiled from more than one source. One of these was possibly a Latin set of proclamations from the fourteenth century, recorded in the Little Red Book (f.193), although differences between the lists suggest more a situation of frequent updating.
An article in the otherwise shorter Latin list, not included in the later list in English, forbade brewsters or alewives to take the water they needed for brewing from the public conduits or springs, which were supposed to serve the entire community, neither during the day nor the night. Instead they were to draw water from cisterns associated with the Frome and the Avon. Such restrictions are seen elsewhere, such as at London where in 1345 brewers were prohibited from taking water from the conduit in Cheap, as their requirements had become large enough to interfere with the supply of water for the public. Similar concerns can be seen at Lynn.
The attention of historians has tended to focus on Bristol's important role in long-distance trade, rather than its local commerce. We do not know when was first exploited the future city's economically strategic location, near the point where the River Avon empties into the tidal mouth of the Severn, for Domesday Book gives it a very cursory treatment and before that it is virtually absent from the documentary record. But its Anglo-Saxon name ties it to a bridging point over the Avon, and numismatic evidence shows there was a royal mint there from the early eleventh century, which suggests both that Bricgstow was perceived as a town and that there was a market. Taken together, these facts suggest Bristol's origins were as at least partly as a river port, just possibly servicing a nearby manor or an abbey that later became the cathedral, in addition to funnelling trade to and from the West Country and Midlands via the Severn, Avon, and Wye; this trade was fed partly by Bristol's hinterlands, rich in agricultural and mineral products, such as metal ores, coal, building stone, timber and bark (for tanning), and sheep. We know that there was a trade link between Bristol and Viking settlements in Ireland, pottery and slaves being among the goods exchanged, while twelfth-century chronicles show a much wider range of imports and exports and that trading relations existed with Scandinavia and even with Iceland. It seems likely that there would also have been coastal trade with the south-west of England and southern Wales, and in the late eleventh century livestock was being driven overland from Wales to sell at Bristol. Fishing was another component of the early economy.
By the time we start to have good documentary evidence of Bristol, in the thirteenth century, it had become very prosperous in the eyes of contemporaries. During the Late Middle Ages its port was outranked in importance only by London and, perhaps, Southampton; moreover, much of the import/export business was in the hands of local merchants and many of the goods coming into the port were being sold through its market, whereas at the equally lively port of Southampton, goods were imported by a larger proportion of non-resident merchants and simply passed through onto roads leading to markets elsewhere. Perhaps prompted partly by the fact that the town lay well west of the circuit of great English fairs and merchants of the Hanse and Italy were less likely to venture as far afield as Bristol's port (although French traders, particularly in woad and to some extent wine, were regular visitors), Bristol's merchants had expanded their activities to Gascony and the Iberian peninsula. By the fifteenth century, when mercantilist dominance became even more pronounced, its ship-owners were prepared to vie with the maritime giants of Venice and Genoa for a share of the Mediterranean trade, albeit unsuccessfully.
Archaeology has evidenced for the post-Conquest period fairly significant industrial activity in pottery production and leather-working. But, though it was not a major player in the wool trade, exports of woollen cloth produced locally (notably in the industrial suburb of Redcliffe south of the Avon), in the Cotswolds, and in the west Midlands, gradually grew to become, in the fourteenth century, the mainstay of Bristol's long-distance trade; it remained so in the fifteenth century, even after Exeter won away some of this trade and London increased its dominance as the port for shipping to the continent. Imports included large quantities of Gascon wine for redistribution across much of western England and to Wales and Ireland, dyes necessary for the cloth industry (an increasing proportion of which was redistributed as cloth manufacturing grew in villages and small towns in the countryside) , and hides and pelts for leather-workers. Bristol's economy was so strong and diversified that it was able to weather the economic downturn in the fifteenth century better than most English towns, though not to escape it entirely. Bristol merchants' activity in Gascony was reduced after Bordeaux came under French control in the 1450s, but they were able to resume the old trade connection with Iceland, to divert resources into the Iberian trade, where there was a growing market for some English cloths and a source of wines to replace those of Gascony, and to contemplate a Mediterranean venture; this outward-looking mentality would before the close of the century lead Bristol ships all the way across the Atlantic.
Despite the large volume of this foreign trade which directly engaged only a small proportion of local families and enriched an even more select number of those, and which provided the civic authorities with both revenues and regulatory obligations the basis for the town's economy was nonetheless the local sale and regional distribution of victuals and craft products, exchanged on a daily basis from marketplace and shops or by itinerant traders. There was a large and growing resident population that had to be fed, along with non-local merchants and their ships' crews, occasionally military expeditions to Wales or Ireland to provision, and victuals played a large role in Bristol's export trade in the thirteenth century. Although the earliest marketplace is suspected in part due to local tradition in the fifteenth century of being near the bridge over the Avon, along whose banks private quays were appearing by the early thirteenth century, Bristol's market cross was placed at a crossroads centrally located within the nucleus of the town, which was walled at unknown date in the Norman period; the four main streets High Street, Broad Street, Corn Street, and Wynch Street leading from the principal gateways in the wall to the crossroads, were where the market was held; the Tolsey court was housed at one corner and by the close of the thirteenth century shops had been installed in its ground floor. These streets in particular featured closely packed houses with shops often situated at ground floor level; in Corn Street, which ran westwards from the crossroads, a number of shops, with cellars beneath, were operated by vintners. About halfway down Wynch Street, running eastwards from the crossroads, was a widened stretch in which was placed the pillory and where a market hall would later be put up. Facing onto Broad Street, the northwards route, was the civic guildhall, once the base for a merchant gild, seemingly glimpsed on brief occasions from the early thirteenth to early fourteenth centuries; the hall of the merchant tailors gild was close to the opposite side of the street. Around the High Cross itself small dealers from the countryside had their selling stations.
But this was not Bristol's only market area. The riverside area of the original marketplace was now taken up in part by the shambles a series of slaughter-houses had been erected there by the fifteenth century, with vaulted cellars for storing bulky commodities and a spot occupied by goldsmiths; while on the north side of St. Mary le Port church was an area used for marketing of grain until an indoor market was built for that purpose in the late sixteenth century, the same period when sale of meat was transferred indoors to the New Market, built off Broad Street. Livestock sales were wisely kept out of the central streets, for the most part, although wide St. Peter's Street (close to the shambles) was used for the purpose once a year, as well as more regularly for the sale of broom, hay, straw, firewood, and coal; but Horsefair was a street just north-east of the town walls. An imposing house built and occupied in the late fourteenth century by one of the wealthier merchants, three-time mayor Richard le Spicer, was acquired by the borough after his death and used partly as an indoor market where outsider cloth dealers could display and sell their goods. The Norman castle was erected, by one of the lords to whom the king initially entrusted custody of Bristol, east of the borough nucleus and the street leading away from the castle's east gate was known as La Markette and, by the fifteenth century, Old Market; the unusual width of this thoroughfare, which led out of the town in the direction of London, suggests it may have been laid out by the castle-founder or a successor to provide room for stalls part of a 'new town' initiative. A market cross was, at some time, placed just outside the gate. This street was apparently the location of Bristol's fairs, held around Pentecost and Michaelmas, during which periods retailers of victuals were required to transfer their activities to the Old Market. Halfway along this street was a building which housed a piepowder court; whether this had ever operated on regular market days is not known, but during the period of at least the Michaelmas fair the Tolsey court was suspended and its jurisdiction transferred to the Old Market court. In St. Thomas' Street, which ran southwards from the Avon bridge, through Redcliffe where craftspeople engaged in cloth manufacturing concentrated, there was a Thursday market in for wool, yarn, and cattle; this suburb had for some time been a problem for the borough authorities, but was formally incorporated into Bristol when it was made a county, and in the sixteenth century the city would finally obtain full control over the market.
Nor were marketplaces the only facilities that Bristol's authorities had to keep a watchful eye on, in their efforts to ensure the smooth flow of commerce. The river system that linked the town into the interior of England presented its own challenges, and in the 1370s we encounter a series of petitions put before parliament by the communities of Bristol and adjacent counties complaining about fishing weirs and kiddles that had been erected in the Severn. Such constructions could present obstacles to boats attempting to convey goods to and from the town, not to mention a source of potential damage to vessels and a cause of flooding that endangered human life and compromised pasture and arable land. The Severn was the main route by which grain and other necessaries reached Bristol, and imports such as wine were redistributed inland; consequently the financial health both of local merchants and of the town itself were partly dependent on the river. A second concern expressed in parliamentary petitions of the same period was raids into Gloucestershire, Worcestershire, and other counties by bandits and livestock thieves from Wales and even Cheshire areas outside the king's direct jurisdiction and therefore difficult not amenable to pressure for compensation which presented a threat to the persons and goods of merchants from Bristol and other towns near the Welsh border, and made commerce in south Wales risky.
In the 1240s some of the confidence of the leading citizens and enhanced civic resources were applied to improving the infrastructure for commerce. A new harbour was established in the Frome, which was diverted by cutting a new channel deep enough to accommodate the bulky sea-going vessels needed to carry large cargoes of wine; a stone quay was built at one end. The result was to double the space available at the old quayside below the Avon bridge, which continued to be used by lighter vessels carrying on coastal trade and was part of what was known as the Back. The bridge itself was rebuilt in stone and by the end of the century would be widened and lined with shops and houses like the bridges at London and York. Also, assisted by royal grants of murage the circuit of town walls was enlarged to protect more areas of the growing town, including the suburbs now on the farther bank of the river, an area of vigorous growth and burgeoning prosperity. It was at about the same period, or slightly earlier, that a court with jurisdiction over offences committed against market regulations emerged out of, or as a specialized session of, the hundred court that was the borough's earliest judicial institution. This market court was perhaps a borough rival to the Tolsey court which was nominally under the presidency of royal officials (see above). Later we find the Tolsey court administering merchant law as a piepowder court, though whether this was a new development or just the market court under an alternate name is not clear. It was also subsequent to the improvement in harbour facilities that Bristol was appointed by the king as head port for administration of customs collection for a stretch of coast along the Severn estuary.
Northampton and its economy
The Northampton regulations for the assizes and supervision of trades are presented, according to the title assigned the document by the scribe, in the form of an oath to be sworn by the mayor, in his role as Clerk of the Market; however, it quickly changes character from an oath to a list of the offences to be policed, and certain phrases suggest that the list may have served as instructions either for borough officials to whom keeping of the market was delegated or for the leet jury that was convened in the guildhall periodically for the judicial sessions trying cases that fell under the various assizes and related market jurisdiction; these subordinates are required to report offenders to the mayor ('us').
Although undated, this document, which survives in the civic memorandum book known as the Liber Custumarum appears to be from the second half of the fifteenth century perhaps drawn up following the confirmatory charter granted to the borough by Edward IV (1462). However, it may have been copied from a somewhat older original, and many if not most of the duties described must have been part of the mayor's responsibilities for some time past at least since the borough charter of 1385 in which the king explicitly and formally invested the mayor with administration of the assizes of bread, ale, and wine, and weights and measures (assigning the fines therefrom to the civic revenues), as well as judicial authority over forestallers and regrators or unwholesome meat and fish; the king's own clerk of the market was thereby excluded from jurisdiction in the town. It is therefore conceivable that some such oath, probably couched in much more general terms, was administered to mayors thereafter. The fifteenth century version gives us details in regard to market standards and the kinds of offences, frauds, or malpractices that they were intended to address. Elsewhere in the same volume is recorded a later list, again organized by tradesmen and craftsmen, pertaining to the administration of the market assizes. This is more detailed and sometimes specifies prices that they could ask for their wares; for example; for example, the tallow chandler who bought a pound of tallow for a halfpenny could sell the same weight of candles for a penny, to allow a farthing for his labour and a farthing for wastage in the manufacturing process.
Northampton's central location within England placed it in the firing sights of history for a good part of the Middle Ages, although its importance was more political and military than economic. A modest middle Saxon settlement, situated on land bounded on west and south sides by the River Nene, had grown up around and eastwards from St. Peter's minster church and an adjacent complex with halls probably monastic, although possibly a secular palace. Invading Vikings used the site as an army base, added new blood to the local population and probably expanded the settled area. Edward the Elder is credited with erecting burh fortifications there (probably enclosing mainly the vicinity of the monumental buildings already mentioned) after retaking the area from the Danes in 918, and with making the ham-tun the administrative centre of a shire as the re-conquered Midlands were reorganized. Habitation was concentrated along an east-west street that was the spine of the burh area, and a north-south road (part of one of the main routes between London and the north) just outside the eastern perimeter of the burh; both led to river crossings. In addition to its administrative importance its location on the Nene, which connected to the sea via the Wash, and at a node in a road system running in all directions across England, meant that its trade was likely more than local in scope; in 1010 it was described as a port.
Following the Conquest, Northampton's importance increased. Located about mid-way between the Saxon capital of Winchester and what was effectively the northern capital of York, and similarly between the Welsh Marches and the East Coast, it was bound to be seen by the fledgling Norman monarchy as a useful base in the effort to retain a firm grip over England. William I turned over control of the town to one of his followers, whom he married to his grand-niece, and this Earl of Northamptonshire acted to secure Norman domination by installing a new quarter (likely for French settlers) and building a castle against one bank of the burh a strategy applied also at (e.g. Norwich, and possibly Bristol see above), and with similar disruption to the pre-Conquest focal area of settlement; Henry II later resumed lordship of town and castle, improving the residential facilities of the latter.
The Norman and Plantagenet kings were periodic visitors, on their itineraries through the realm; a number of royal-baronial councils were convened there, and it was an equally convenient central location for the later larger gatherings known as parliaments which were held at Northampton with some frequency until the peace with Scotland and onset of Hundred Years War diverted monarchic attention away from the north, towards France. Northampton was also the location for a number of ecclesiastical gatherings. The periodic presence of groups of wealthy consumers, and perhaps particularly business from the king in times of peace and war, would have been one factor in the commercialization of Northampton during the thirteenth century, despite setbacks when the town was contested by forces on opposing sides of civil wars. It may also have been this close involvement with figures and events of national decision-making that partly explains the strong local consciousness of national legislation impacting borough administration, seen in the Liber Custumarum through the numerous references to statutes and copying into that register of texts of many of the important promulgations. Another aid to the local economy would have come from the presence, in the shadow of a protective royal castle, of one of England's official communities of Jews, who provided loans for commercial enterprise.
Northampton's first royal charter of liberties (1189) dealt mostly with the preoccupations of the time in establishing the foundations of jurisdictional quasi-independence and gives no particular sense of the borough as a commercial centre. Similarly, the town's earliest custumal, known only from an early fourteenth century copy, but probably compiled ca.1190 that is, following hard on the charter grant, as happened at Ipswich is largely preoccupied with tenurial matters and exemptions from feudal constraints and has relatively little to say about commerce, other than restrictions on non-resident traders, tolls due from the same, and the fair. It does not give the impression of a community self-consciously commercial in its character, and of the 40 names of (presumably leading) burgesses who ratified the customs and swore to uphold them, only three have occupational surnames and of those only one was a tradesman (a saddler). By contrast, a list of the 24 jurats who approved a second custumal, which Mary Bateson [Borough Customs, vol.1, Selden Society, vol.18 (1904), xliii] dates to ca.1260, includes the designations though whether surname or occupation is hard to say of spicer, goldsmith, parmenter, and merchant, suggesting at least a slight shift in terms of the influential interests in the town. This custumal incorporates a much wider range of regulations related to commerce and industry, such as on market stallage, tronage, forestalling and regrating, the assize of bread, tronage, wool prices, dyers, weavers, butchers, and the leather trade, and was evidently the product of compilation over the course of one or more decades; in fact, it might be taken as an extension to the earlier custumal, dealing with issues and concerns that were not prominent ca.1190.
On the other hand, the focus of the first custumal on tenurial rights and freedoms from feudal obligations may have been in direct response to the terms of the royal charter, which included a blanket approval of any pertinent local customs that existed. It is conceivable that customs concerning themselves with commercial matters could, as happened at Ipswich, initially have been recorded in a separate document held by a merchant gild and is at least reflected in the custumal of 1260. Yet there is virtually no hint of such an institution at Northampton. It is conspicuously absent from the borough liberties granted by any Plantagenet and this despite the fact that the terms of King John's charter of 1200 are otherwise in essence the same as those granted Ipswich the same year; had such a gild existed, it seems not unlikely that the burgesses would have sought official recognition of it. That the base of local administration was called a guildhall is inconclusive evidence, for that descriptor is first encountered in 1385 (and then not as a local usage), whereas the term 'common hall' is documented a century earlier; 'guildhall' may have been adopted in imitation of London. A more tantalizing piece of evidence is a chapter of the 1260 custumal that prohibited the formation of any communa which led to a diminution of the bailiffs' authority in the town. It would be tempting to read into this an effort, at some time prior to that date, to nip in the bud an attempt on the part of some interest group within the town to form a merchant gild that would represent a challenge to ballival oversight of commercial affairs, and certainly the legal treatise known as Glanvill was able to see gild and commune as synonyms. However, it is perhaps more likely that some movement akin to the revolutionary commune arose during one of the civil wars that temporarily weakened royal authority in the town, such as in 1216 when rebellious townsmen attacked the castle garrison, or in the early 1260s when they (bolstered by students who had deserted Oxford and Cambridge in an abortive effort to establish a new university at Northampton) sided with De Montfort's party against Henry III. On the whole, however, we are safer to conclude that no merchant gild came into being at Northampton.
At the period of its first royal charter, and probably since much earlier, commercial activity at Northampton was focused around All Saints church, which stood in one corner of the crossroads outside the burh enclosure a location indicative of a widespread consumer population (as opposed to the residents of the monumental complex within the burh); but in 1235 the king forbade use of the churchyard for commerce and ordered such activities to relocate to an piece of wasteland nearby, which later became known as Market Square. Supervision and regulation of market activities must have been facilitated by the fact that the borough's administrative centre, the guildhall, was adjacent to the marketplace. The ban in 1235 also applied to a fair, beginning on the feast of All Saints, being held in the churchyard; this fair was already in existence when we have the first documentary reference to it around mid-twelfth century, and during the thirteenth century was part of the circuit of the great fairs of England, lasting for most of the month; its clientele included purchasers for the royal household and merchants from London and many other English towns, as well as from Flanders. The custumal restricted transactions, when both parties were outsiders, in wool, thread, hides and furs to fair time. A second fair, in April, is heard of during the reign of Edward I, and a third, in June, received royal licence in 1337 although it is not clear how long-lived it was and the other fairs were reduced in duration in 1495. The abbey of St. James, outside town, also had a fair, held in July and resented by the borough authorities.
The borough's location on the Nene, which connected to the sea via the Wash, had warranted it being described as a port in 1010, and it became a regional centre for redistribution of goods. Borough authorities are seen in the early thirteenth century being over-assertive in their administration of toll collection. A list of tolls collected in 1301 gives a sense of the range of goods brought into the town to sell. Industries based around textiles and leather (notably tanning and shoemaking) were of some consequence, although its trade in cloth was being out-competed by that of nearby Coventry and its trade in wool could not keep pace with that of other parts of England. Nonetheless, the cloth industries continued to be relatively important in the local economy; many of the late fourteenth and early fifteenth century bailiffs of the town were mercers, drapers, dyers, fullers, hosiers, weavers, or wool dealers.
To judge from levels of royal taxation, Northampton was at this period one of the most prosperous towns of England, although only a few of its merchants seem to have been much involved directly in export-import, and the Nene was not navigable for sea-faring ships. Its importance was more as a regional distribution centre, including, principally through its fairs, wool, cloth, hides, and furs for foreign export mainly by outsiders. In the fourteenth century it slipped in the rankings of urban prosperity, but in the fifteenth century despite the decline of its fairs, complaints from the town of depopulation and impoverishment, and an eventual reduction in the amount of the fee farm payable it maintained its relative position.
Most legitimate trading was centralized in and around Northampton's spacious marketplace. A street on its west side was known as The Drapery and that on the south side, flanking All Saints' churchyard, was Mercers Row. On the east side lay Wood Hill (where firewood was sold) and Malt Hill, and on the north side Corn Hill. Between the Drapery and the marketplace proper were lines of stalls known as the Glovery and Butchers Row (or shambles), at the south end of which was the short Fleshmonger Street; we also hear of rows of stalls allocated to cobblers, cooks, and other tradesmen, and the custumal required bakers and bread retailers to sit together in a row at an unspecified location in the marketplace, and regraters to congregate in another assigned location. Gold Street, where goldsmiths were based, ran westwards from one corner of the All Saints precinct. A little further afield were Silver Street and Woolmonger Street. There are also documentary references to a Fullers Street, a Tanners Street, a Saddlery and a Cordwainery. Only large livestock seem to have been kept out of the marketplace: Sheepmarket being a street leading from its north-west corner, and Horsemarket being another street further west.
An English edition of the custumal is found in the Liber Custumarum, a mid-fifteenth century translation of a mid-fourteenth century French version, drawing mostly on the chapters drafted both ca.1190 and ca.1260, adopting (in order to ascribe antiquity) the 1190 list as the 'authors'. Among the clauses dealing with commerce and industry are those which look typical of the thirteenth century, such as that if several burgesses were present at the making of a deal, all might claim a share; others have a later flavour, while several civic ordinances made in the first half of the fifteenth century were tagged on at the end, and assigned sequential chapter numbers. The custumal required all trading to be restricted to the marketplace and after the hour of Prime had been rung at All Saints; this was presumably applicable only on market days, for a reference to shops indicates that even legitimate commerce could take place elsewhere than in the official market. There was to be no forestalling of goods before they reached the marketplace, particularly in regard to: fish (a radius of 24 miles from the town being specified as the forestall-free area); wool or woolfells; and hucksters who lay in wait outside the town gates, in its streets, or in their houses to intercept fish, poultry, cheese, wood, coal, iron or other goods. Butchers were targeted by a number of regulations: they were required to pay a fee of 3s.4d to the town to operate as masters of their trade; they were not to sell certain suspect meats unless prepared to do so from a spot beneath the pillory, nor to buy pork from any seller who could not guarantee its wholesomeness; they were not to weigh goods themselves, but use the services of the town-appointed troner; and they were prohibited from taking the hides of newly-slaughtered animals out of town to sell. Several other regulations concerned the cloth industry: weavers and dyers are each addressed in terms of the quality of their work, woad-dealers as to the quality of their woad, and the merchants who commissioned and coordinated the cloth-making process are dealt with in regard to cost-cutting abuses.
The fifteenth-century list of trade regulations to be enforced, given above, is not highly repetitive of custumal specifications, except in regard to expression of general principles. It evinces the fundamental concern of borough authorities for keeping the prices of goods reasonable and their quality high and for policing the various frauds that could have negative effect on both those factors. At the same time, we should understand the list in the context of the gradual decay of Northampton's economy in the Late Middle Ages, worsened by the consequences of the Black Death and the socio-economic upheaval that followed; civic authorities were attempting to exercise firmer control over local trade and industry, there was less tolerance for flouting of the law, and a desire to shore up flagging municipal revenues by ensuring market tolls payable were not evaded and that market offenders were reported and fined.
"their own ale"
"when many outsiders come"
"set out later"
"chamber of the town"
"4 loaves for a penny"
"from the vat for a penny"
"ale by the dozen"
"sealed and equipped with pins"
"4 heaped bushels"
"St. Peter's Street"
"not well tanned"
"forbidden by statute"
"cornets or horns"
"the great harm and subtle deceits done by the same to the common people... and furthermore to avoid the great mischief that has been caused in this realm by the said auncels, and particularly to eliminate fraud by regrators of yarn, called Yernchoppers, it is ordained ... that in each city, borough, and town of the realm there be a communal balance with communal weights, sealed and compliant with the standards of the Exchequer, at the costs of the said city, borough, or town, in the custody of the mayor or constables of the same; to which communal balance and weights all the inhabitants of the city, borough, or town who do not own such weights and others who do, if they wish may freely weigh without any payment."
This kind of balance is said to be still widely used in present-day China.
"who makes people poor"
"the rich people"
"three market days"
"best for the king"
"during his term of office"
"fines to the chamber"
"signs at their doors"
"of all victuallers"
"the purview of that court"
"delegated to the town bailiffs"
"partly as a river port"
"Wales and Ireland"
"glimpsed on brief occasions"
"the castle-founder or a successor"
"craftspeople engaged in cloth manufacturing"
"dependent on the river"
"as a specialized session"
"some time past"
"focused around All Saints church"
|Created: October 28, 2014. Last update: January 6, 2019||© Stephen Alsford, 2019|