|COMMERCE AND ITS REGULATION
|Forestalling and other market offences
|1. Roll of presentments of the Mickletorn Jury, Nottinghamshire Archives; 2. Corporation of London Records Office, Letter Book K, f.11
|1. W.H. Stevenson, ed. Records of the Borough of Nottingham, (London and Nottingham, 1882), vol.1, 316, 318, 322; 2. R.W. Chambers and Marjorie Daunt, eds., A Book of London English 1384-1425, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1931, 102.
|1. Latin; 2. Middle English
|Late 14th and early 15th centuries
[1. Presentments of offenders against the market at Nottingham, 1396]
[25 named jurors] state that all brewers are guilty of brewing against the Assize and of selling by cup and by dish, against the Assize.
They also say that all bakers are guilty of charging too much for baking and cooking bread for the public; that is, 1#189;d. per bushel, which makes 6d. per quarter, when they ought to charge no more than 4d. a quarter according to the king's statute.
They also say that all butchers sell meat which has been kept too long and has gone bad, yet obtain up to 12d. for it.
They also say that all Nottingham fishermen, whether of saltwater or freshwater fish, sell fish that have been dead too long, that each of them is a regular forestaller of such fish, and that they sell for excessive prices against the statute.
They also say that the hucksters of Nottingham sell garlic, flour, salt, tallow candles lacking wicks, butter, cheese, and suchlike too dearly, against the statute and to the deceit of the public, and that they regularly forestall such victuals being brought to Nottingham to sell, by standing at the ends of streets down which the said victuals are transported.
They also say that all Nottingham tanners sell leather which is not properly tanned, and that each of them sells leather from his own house without market oversight or it being displayed for sale in the market.
They also say that Henry de Sutton weaver is a regular forestaller of saltwater fish, in that during Lent Henry bought for a penny from men of the king, in the daily market, a quantity of salted salmon which he afterwards sold for 4d., contrary to the interests and to the detriment of the whole town.
They also say that John Albayne of Nottingham came into the marketplace on Easter eve, 1396, and forestalled there by buying a cartful of tanned leather from Richard Huddesson of Bredon, against the interests and in deceit of John de Lyndeby, John Balle, Thomas Holand, and Edmund de Qweteley, because they had spoken to Richard about [buying] that leather and had almost reached an agreement on the price; then John went behind their backs and contrary to the king's statute bought it at a higher price.
They also say that Joan Taverner the wife of John Wyrhall, Joan Payn, Katherine Fischer the wife of Robert Hayward, Magota de Tommeworth, Magota Berbour, Christiana Day, and Gilbert de Lammeley sold, in the Saturday Market and in the Weekday Market, 5 white herring for a penny, when (according to proclamation made by Sir Walter de Clopton, Justice of the King's Bench and the king's Clerk of the Market, and by the mayor of this town) they ought to sell 6 white herring for a penny, contrary to the interests of the town and the entire region.
[2. Prohibition of forestalling, London, 1423]
Proclamation that no-one intercept merchants or victuallers bringing goods or provisions into the city to sell, and that no-one place themselves in St. John's Street, Southwark, or other places in that vicinity for the purpose of intercepting outsiders bringing goods.
Among other of the beneficial and important franchises and liberties granted to the citizens of London by the noble ancestors of our present king, and ratified and confirmed by parliamentary authority, is one stating that no man is to go by land or by water to meet any merchant or victualler heading for the city with goods or provisions to sell, until those goods or provisions have been brought into the city and set out for sale in open market, upon penalty of imprisonment and confiscation of any goods or provisions that he has bought. However, the mayor and aldermen are given to understand that it has recently become common practice for many freemen of this city, ignoring that franchise, to go daily to St. John's Street and other neighbouring places in Southwark to encounter outsiders intending (were they not prevented) to bring cloth, wool, wine, hides, oxen, cattle, sheep, and other goods and provisions into the city to sell. Once there, they buy and forestall all such merchandize of the outsiders, for their personal gain, so that it does not reach the city market, to be sold as it should to any members of the community who have need. Consequently, the mayor and aldermen of the city having, as they ought, more concern and diligence towards the good of the community rather than any individual's profit, intending that no man be able to defend such action on the grounds of ignorance of the aforementioned franchise and liberty, are making the same public through this proclamation, ordering that no man in any way act contrary to it, upon the penalty mentioned.
Following the Conquest, a new Norman borough was introduced alongside the pre-Conquest burh of Nottingham. Both these English and French boroughs a distinction preserved for certain purposes into the fifteenth century, though their administration became united before the close of the twelfth century had a marketplace. The Weekday Market was located in one corner of the smaller English borough, while the French borough (larger in order to incorporate the Norman castle) had a spacious triangular marketplace known as the Saturday Market. The latter was large enough to accommodate most needs of local commerce, including the butchers' shambles, although livestock were segregated from other commodities. The tanning and cloth industries were among the most important of the town.
The presentments above were made at the Great Tourn held in April 1396. This was in essence a leet court and seems to have been a separate institution from, rather than a specialized session of, the borough court proper. In these various charges brought against certain craftsmen and traders of Nottingham we see many of the fundamental concerns about fraudulent market practices: sale of substandard victuals or manufactured goods, misrepresenting the quality of goods, use of non-standard measures, exceeding price controls, and pushing market prices up through forestalling and regrating (the latter in the case of the herring); those accused in the abuse of underselling the quantity of herring were probably hucksters, and the difference between five and six herring represented their profit-margin.
Most of the accusations made at Nottingham target classes of craftsmen as a whole. The same approach had been taken at the previous session of the Great Tourn in October 1395. The impression given is one of an operating tax, or licensing fee, imposed on all members of the craft, rather than the more time-consuming and tricky challenge of dealing with individual craftsmen's specific infringements of the assizes and statutes, and assessing of fines on an individual basis according to the gravity of the infringements.
The presentments show different dimensions of forestalling. The hucksters who lie in wait to intercept country-dwellers bringing produce on roads to the marketplace represent the conventional usage of the term at that period. In the case of Henry de Sutton, the forestalling was not the result of intercepting goods en route to market, since the goods had already reached the marketplace. Rather it seems that Sutton must have made an early bargain to buy the salmon and then resold it at a considerable profit. Forestalling here was judged as a kind of pre-emption with intent to resell at an extortionate amount which could only be effected by cornering the market in the particular item. Nor is the case of John Albayne a conventional example of forestalling, although it does represent an underhanded intervention to thwart a bargain in process of negotiation, again doubtless with the intent of capitalizing on demand for the leather in order to make a profit; a similar case is recorded at London in 1341, when mason John Oubrey was accused of being a common forestaller of paving-stones, apparently for no other reason than that when a cargo of stone was offered to one Londoner for 7s., Oubrey piped in with an offer of 8s.3d a tactic that would have been expected to push up the retail price of the stone. Enhancing prices through monopolization was likewise the admitted aim of a Londoner from whom 3,000 forestalled eggs, worth about 26s., were confiscated in 1372.
Forestalling was such a widespread and long-standing offence, that it is somewhat surprising to see, in the London prohibition of relatively late date, the suggestion that some offenders might claim to be unaware of its illegality. It is hard to imagine the city authorities would have allowed prosecution of forestallers to fall into abeyance. Cases are not very common in London (relative to the likely regularity of occurrence of the offence), but nor are they absent. The concept underlying forestalling appears to have deep roots. Liberties the Londoners persuaded Henry III to approve, through a charter of 1268, included prohibition of what was in effect forestalling of victuals perhaps a development out of one of a set of early London customs [printed in B. Thorpe, ed., Ancient Laws and Institutes of England, London, 1840, pp.462-64], known because mixed in with a collection of laws attributed to Edward the Confessor but probably written ca.1120, which declared that within a radius of three miles of the city, no-one should detain, impede, or trade with any other wishing to go to the city. The formal prohibition of forestalling in the city's custumal is undated; it forbids any trader, whether citizen or outsider, to intercept other traders bringing victuals or other goods, by land or water, before they reached the city and were exposed for sale there (with implication that interceptions resulted in denying the city its rightful tolls), or before a cargo vessel had docked along the Thames later case law showing that this was interpreted as having tied up at a quayside, and that anchoring mid-water did not count.
Londoner Walter le Forestall (evidenced 1291) was presumably sufficiently notorious for the offence that it became his by-name. In 1298 hosteler Alan de Newebery, who acted as warden of one of the London selds and also engaged in weighing merchandize with the king's trone during the Westminster fair and at other times, was convicted of forestalling and related offences: he was considered to be in a conflict of interest because he earned income from acting as a sworn broker and, as such, should not also be involved in weighing; also because he received foreign merchants in his lodging-house, allowed them to trade with each other there, then in his capacity as broker assisted them to evade the customs payable on their purchases. On the same occasion were convicted eight other lodging-house keepers (6 men and 2 women) who were similarly accused of allowing outsider merchants to conduct trade in those lodgings, helped them smuggle their purchases out of the city to defraud the customs collectors, and acted as unofficial (i.e. unsworn) brokers in selling whatever remained of the merchants' imports after the merchants had exceeded their forty-day stay limit and had to leave the city; that last charge meant they had deprived sworn brokers of income, and had pretended that foreign goods were their own (counter to their freeman's oath, in the case of the three hostelers who were citizens). Furthermore they were accused of selling the merchandize retail by small measures, which was illegal for those of the accused who were not citizens (the non-citizens pled ignorance), or of allowing their mercantile guests to do so. Similar charges against fourteen other men, most apparently resident foreigners, produced less conclusive results. Collusion between citizens and outsiders may lay behind a larger number of charges of forestalling than court records detail. In 1299, for example, Richard de Pelham was accused of acting against his citizenship oath to uphold the privileges of the city by partnering with an outsider; the latter went to Bristol to purchase goods with partnership funds and, on his return journey, was met outside the city by Richard who took possession of the goods in order to get them into the city free of toll. The charge was plausible enough to warrant trial, but a jury brought in a verdict of not guilty.
In February 1300 we see what looks like another crackdown, netting ten men and three women who were accused of forestalling grain, and an eleventh man of whom it was not specified what goods he had forestalled; the men at least were disfranchised, although four managed to persuade the mayor and alderman to reverse their sentence, probably on payment of a fine. In May four more men were convicted of forestalling and "brokerage of carts"; they promised never again to commit the latter activity. In August, eight more men were disfranchised after an inquest jury convicted them of repeated offences of forestalling coal and wood, though two subsequently redeemed themselves. It may be significant that these prosecutions took place in the aftermath of the years when Edward I had installed a warden to govern the city and institute various reforms to restore law and order. It was also a time, just prior to the issue of the Carta Mercatoria, when the civic authorities were feeling the need to reassert the rights of citizens in regard to their beleaguered monopoly over retailing and to enforce regulations that countered those whose commercial activities threatened to subvert those rights. At the opening of the reign of Edward II there was still a backlog of accusations of forestalling, stretching back some twenty years, yet to be investigated by the courts.
Despite that, London prosecutions of forestallers are only evidenced sporadically, perhaps because the offence was difficult to police in mid-fourteenth century the appointed supervisors of the butchers' trade had the duty to report incidents of forestalling livestock, but we do not know if this had long been the case or whether an effort to improve policing. Prosecutions may have relied on informers or public rumour (the community being identified as plaintiff in a number of cases), or perhaps because there was a reluctance to take action to interfere with profit-making, except in cases where the public interest was clearly damaged, or cases of persistent or outrageous offenders. Public complaints about rising food prices may sometimes have prompted official action, while in 1315 and 1349 it required royal writs to galvanize city authorities into investigating forestalling complaints; on the latter occasion 24 men and 7 women (described collectively as poulterers, although one was the wife of a poulterer and another had a by-name indicating her a huckster) were rounded up in April and May 1350 and all but one convicted. While most of the forestallers appear to have planned to re-sell, either in or outside the marketplaces, offenders also included cooks and bakers who presumably wished to buy raw foodstuffs at below-market prices in order to improve the profitability of their cooked foods, whose prices tended to be capped by the city authorities. In 1300, for instance, a large number of cooks (only 16 being identified by name) were convicted either of forestalling poultry and other victuals outside the city, or of waiting outside their front doors before sunrise to intercept and buy up such items as they passed through the city streets, depriving citizens of the chance to purchase them in the marketplace.
Accused persons were brought before mayor and aldermen for interrogation; they might submit themselves to judgement by that group or opt for trial by inquisition jury. By the close of Edward I's reign forestalling had become a statutory offence and so a defendant could not clear himself by performing his law. That method of defence was requested but denied in 1305 to a group of 55 fishmongers and their employees, associated with the fish markets of Bridge Street and Old Fish Street, accused of forestalling fish. That this appears to be a blanket charge against London's fishmongers as a group is suggested by the fact that (the defendants resorting to a jury inquisition) most were found not guilty, although two were convicted of forcing up prices, one of creating a scarcity, and a fourth of requisitioning for the king more fish than the king required then selling the remainder to his own profit. Two of the accused were members of the Matefrey family, and in 1311 fishmonger Hugh Matefrey pled guilty to a charge of having forestalled six containers of lampreys, imported by Thomas Lespicer of Portsmouth and brought to London but, through collusion with Hugh, stowed away in the latter's house where a purchase was subsequently negotiated between the pair. The record of the case noted that, according to the ordinances governing the fishmongers, drawn up ca. 1280, explicitly prohibiting forestalling of fish (perhaps the earliest use of that technical term for this offence) and requiring outsiders to sell their own fish, Thomas should have, after crossing London Bridge, displayed the lampreys for sale at a prescribed spot in Bridge Street and have continued to try to sell them there to consumers but not to persons buying them to resell for up to four days. Hugh at first seems to have resisted the proceedings and mouthed off against the mayor, but came to his senses and threw himself on the mercy of the court; the intervention on his behalf of an Exchequer official was sufficient to win an acquittal. Thomas was likewise acquitted. Both men then swore oaths on the Bible: Thomas that he would in future only sell fish at the place assigned, and Hugh that he would not forestall in future, but would advise any outsider bringing lampreys to take them to the said place. Poulterer John Bakon, by contrast, in 1320, after the custodian of the poultry market on Cornhill accused him of being a regular forestaller of poultry, opted for an inquisition, doubtless expecting that the mayor would give credence to a market official; he was sent to prison (pending payment of a fine) after the jury condemned him. A fine was imposed on first offenders, but repeat offenders might be sent to the pillory. If forestalled goods could be found, they would be confiscated. As already noted, citizens could also be more seriously punished through disfranchisement, which meant that henceforth they would be liable to pay toll on their wares.
Prohibition of forestalling was among groups of ordinances re-proclaimed in 1354, 1362, 1370, 1376, 1379, 1382, 1389, and 1404, while in 1360 a general sweep was undertaken to identify forestallers and regraters, with the order they be so heavily penalized as to deter them from offending again. Although forestalling usually related to victuals most commonly livestock, fish, grain, or hay being brought to the city by farmers or fishermen it applied to any kind of merchandize; thus, for example, in 1301 a London ironmonger was convicted of going to Southwark to intercept traders coming from the Weald with horseshoes, nails, and other metal products. And in 1378 we encounter an accusation made by the wardens of the drapers' gild of a quantity of cloth being intercepted, by a Londoner who belonged to the gild, in Southwark and bought up before it could reach the city. The cloth was ordered confiscated, but the accused paid a fine to redeem it. Ten years earlier the silkwomen of London had complained to the king (who forwarded their petition to city authorities with orders to remedy any problem) that one Nicholas Sarduche, a Lombard residing in the city, and apparently an agent for Flemish commercial interests, had for some time been in the habit of forestalling and regrating the imported silk and other wares the women relied on for their craft, forcing up prices and making it harder for them to earn a living. A series of inquisitions subsequently confirmed this and added to the charges: illegal export of plate and bullion, assisting foreign merchants to evade customs, forestalling a wide range of imported goods in order to raise prices, persuading foreign merchants to raise their own prices, smuggling in high-value goods hidden in bales of canvas and barrels, and using his personal balance, rather than the king's, to weigh silk. So shifty was Nicholas that he could not find anyone to act as guarantor for him, to keep him from being held in custody, and so serious his crimes that the case was transferred to Chancery and Nicholas ended up being 'hanged by the purse' as social critics put it. In 1382 Southwark again is named, as a particular spot where fish bound for the city was being intercepted, and the city's bailiff there was accused of a conflict of interest in the matter, leading to his dismissal. Occasionally forestallers were accused of using intimidation tactics to persuade producers to sell to them, rather than continuing on to the city markets.
We might see the prohibition of 1423 as simply another reminder, prompted perhaps by specific instances in regard to rural producers bringing their goods from southern regions into London, via Southwark and London Bridge. But we must also understand it as part of an ongoing effort to resolve problems that Southwark, straddling the main southern route to and from the city, posed for the city authorities.
Although there had been some Roman settlement there, Southwark really originated, as reflected in its name (which, when expanded, meant the defence-work of the southern folk), as a burh erected on the south bank of the Thames to protect the crossing. That it was of some significance is suggested by a mint there in Ethelred's time, the minster church there just prior to the Conquest, and indications it was a toll-collection point. Domesday shows fishing as one source of employment there. It may have suffered from warring between Anglo-Saxons and Danes for control of the Thames valley, and from the effects of the Norman Conquest, but population later grew under the auspices of religious houses which acquired interests and bases there; we may recall that Chaucer's pilgrims set out on their journey from a Southwark inn. Post-Conquest its territory was divided among five manors, of which one, at the south end of the bridge, belonged to the king. This last, along with elements of one or two of the others, had come to be perceived in the twelfth century, as an area having for some purposes (notably taxation) the status of a borough, perhaps unchartered although in 1376 the burgesses claimed to have a charter of liberties that had been destroyed in a fire and as a bailiwick farmed out by the king. Despite the proximity to London, two markets existed by the second half of the thirteenth century: one associated with the king's manor and located in the main street through Southwark; the other with the hospital of St. Thomas, originally situated in the liberty of Southwark priory, but after 1212 relocated to the manor of the archbishop of Canterbury. The latter declined in the fifteenth century, due to competition from the High Street market. The earl of Surrey held 'third penny' toll rights in one or both of these markets, as well as in a fair.
London civic authorities, who would have liked to treat Southwark as one of the city's suburbs (Bridge Ward in fact spilling over the southern end of London Bridge), rather than an independent borough in Surrey, had no jurisdiction in Southwark. Worse, some of the liberties there enjoyed sanctuary status. As a result Southwark had become by the early fourteenth century a haven for criminals, the location of numerous inns where not only legitimate travellers but also transients might lodge, and home to a number of notorious brothels, as well as a place of residence for foreigners and for craftsmen who wished to benefit from London's commerce without having to purchase citizenship or contribute to city taxes. Following the overthrow of Edward II, London submitted a large number of complaints (with requests for remedy) to the first parliament of his successor's reign, including one about thieves and felons who, having committed crimes in the city, escaped to Southwark where city authorities could not arrest them. In consequence, the farm of Southwark was granted to London (1327); however, this served only to allow London officials to collect tolls and revenues associated with the farm and did not empower them to bring to justice criminals taking refuge there. London petitions to both parliaments of 1377 enlarged the complaint beyond felons and thieves to bakers, victuallers, and craftsmen not belonging to city gilds, who could not be made answerable to city laws and regulations once they had withdrawn to Southwark, and added a new complaint about the jurisdiction of the king's court of Marshalsea there, which was obstructive to any expansion of city authority; furthermore, it objected to the presence of the court of Marshalsea there, posing another obstacle to city jurisdiction an interesting complaint, given that royal regulation of trade offences, including forestalling, appears to have been a Marshalsea responsibility [Richard Britnell, "Forstall, Forestalling and the Statute of Forestallers," English Historical Review vol.102 (1987) p.96.] However, the king responded that he could not expand that jurisdiction without trespassing on the rights of the lords with manorial rights in Southwark.
A renewed plea, made directly to Henry IV in 1406, resulted in letters patent confirming the farm arrangement and further granting the city of London the power to arrest criminals found in the king's manor at Southwark and try them in the city courts, as well as the power to administer the assizes of victuals. Although an objection was raised in the parliament of that year, probably by the burgesses of Southwark, who continued to resist the exercise of the expanded jurisdiction, the city authorities had made a step forward (later reinforced by a charter grant of 1444, but then cancelled by Edward IV) towards control over Southwark, an ambition to be more fully realized in the sixteenth century.
The 1423 prohibition of forestalling was likely part of the London authorities continuing effort to assert their jurisdiction over offences committed in Southwark or by Southwark residents. On this occasion the purported forestalling likely indicates that goods passing through Southwark were being bought up there in order to resell them in Southwark's own markets.
|Created: October 28, 2014. Last update: March 13, 2016
|© Stephen Alsford, 2014-2016