|COMMERCE AND ITS REGULATION
|Porterage of commercial goods
|1. British Library Add. Ms. 25012, ff. 41-42; 2. Southampton City Archives SC 2/1/1, ff.18b-19a.
|1. Travers Twiss, ed. The Black Book of the Admiralty, vol.II: "Le Domesday de Gipewyz". Rolls Series, no.55, vol.1 (1873), 178-84. 2. P. Studer, ed. The Oak Book of Southampton, vol.1, Southampton Record Society, no. 10 (1910), 70-74.
1. Concerning beremen
Concerning those [operating] at the town quay who are called wine-drawers, it is ordained that the master and the principal chieftain of that office have under him 12 [men] to perform the duties, for whom he shall be answerable, to unload wines that come to this town, to place them in storage, and to carry out that which pertains to the office, so that no-one else may meddle in such duties without their permission, except in the event of their default. Let it be known that they may take 2d. for the unloading of every tun of wine and storing it on the quay where it is unloaded. Or 2½d. if the tun is to be stored in a cellar or tavern close to the quayside, so that it must be taken along the king's highway. And for all other places further away, 3d. For every tun of wine belonging to a burgess of this town which is loaded onto a cart and unloaded [elsewhere] within the town, 2½d. If the tun is unloaded into an underground cellar, 3d. For every tun of wine belonging to a denizen burgess at scot and lot in this town which is loaded and taken out of the town, 2d. From every foreign burgess who is not at scot and lot like a peer and commoner, or from any other outsider 3d.
The chieftain of the office should take care that the 12 who serve under him to carry out the duties of the office be such who know how, and are able well and conscientiously, to perform those duties. For if any tun of wine in their care is lost or suffers damage through their negligence, the chieftain shall be answerable for the damage; if he wishes, he may recover [such costs] against the negligent party who carries out the duties under him, according to the laws and usages of the town. If any of them resists the authority of, or disobeys, his superior, so that he is unwilling to perform the duties to which he is sworn, his superior has the power to dismiss him, and replace him with someone else for whom he is willing to be answerable.
In regard to bales or trusses of cloth, tuns of woad, barrels of ashes, and all other goods (except wine), it is ordained that other poor porters may work on such goods, earning their living alongside the aforesaid 12 beremen. They may take 1d. for every bale carried and put down inside or outside a house. For loading a bale of white [wool] 4d., and for a bale of grey 3d. If the bale belongs to a denizen burgess of the town who is a peer and commoner, and it is loaded and unloaded within this town, the same kind of price applies. If loaded but not unloaded, then from the burgess may be taken only 3d. for a bale of white and 2d. for a bale of grey.
For unloading [from a ship] a tun of woad, 1d., and for loading it [onto a cart?], 1½d. For each barrel of ashes, a halfpenny for unloading it, and 1½d for loading it onto a cart. For each cartload of trusses of cloth, 4d. for unloading it, loading it, and tying it down in the cart. For each sack of wool, a halfpenny for carrying it. As to other kinds of wares, for each bale or frail, or amount less than a truss, that is not unloaded, 3d. for loading it into a cart and tying it down.
For every sack of wool carried from the East Gate, from the North Gate, or from another place within the town, as far as the quay, 1½d. From the West Gate or other place as distant, 2d. For each sack of wool loaded or unloaded in the town, a halfpenny. For each fess of grain, herring, fish, iron, or other things carried from the quayside as far as the fish-market or some location further away than that, a farthing; and if further, payment must be based on estimation of distance.
For 6 fesses carried as far as the corner [property] formerly of Hugh Leu or to the house of Alexander Margaret next to the mill which is called the New Mill, or further afield in the town, 1d. For 8 fesses as far as the house of Baldry Horold or that of Hugh Davy, or further afield, 1d. For 10 fesses as far as the house of Roger le Maister, or further afield, 1d.
In the event it should come about that wines arrive at various quays of the town and the 12 beremen are not sufficient for unloading and storing those wines, as is their duty, then their chieftain may take on porters to assist the 12 beremen, so that merchants, private parties, and outsiders, can suitably be serviced, paying those porters for their work (together with those sworn to the task) according to the number of persons engaged. And those 12 beremen and all the other porters are to understand that they are to be ready to provide service to all people, and undertake what pertains to their office. And if they, or any one of them, are found to fail through rebellious behaviour, or any of them absents himself out of malice or for no good cause, as a result of which the people are not served as per their duty, then those who are in default are to be, at the first occurrence, imprisoned for three days, without any remission, at the second occurrence 8 days without remission, at the third occurrence suspended from duty for half a year, and on the fourth for an entire year.
In addition the chieftain of the beremen is to be sure to have poles and other things that belong to his office and enable the people to be served; for if people go unserved because of a lack of the things it is his job to find, he will be answerable for any damage if a client chooses to make a complaint. He is also to advise each porter to have a sack and whatever belongs to his office, if he wishes to earn his living from that office in the town. If he does not wish to supply himself with such things, he is to be suspended from office.
2. Provision concerning the porters of Southampton
It is ordained that the porters of Southampton may take 1½d. for placing a tun of wine into a cellar adjacent to the seashore for storage. This shore extends along English Street as far as the lane that belonged to Walter le Fleming and along French Street as far as the house where James le Weyte used to live, or to the West Hithe as far as the cellars that belonged to Sampson del puytz, as far as the king's castle, and as far the capital messuage that belonged to Dame Claramunda, where she used to live.
Furthermore, for transporting a tun of wine on drag or hand-barrow beyond the said shore, as far as the Church of St. Cross or the Church of St. Michael, 3d; and beyond those churches, to wherever in the town the tun of wine is transported, 4d.
Furthermore, for loading a tun of wine onto a cart, to be taken to any part of the town, 3½d., and for loading a tun of wine into a ship, 3d., or into a boat, 2d. For unloading and placing in storage that tun, 3½d., and for unloading a tun of wine to be sent out of the town, 3½d.
Furthermore, for carrying a large sack of wool from storerooms in St. Lawrence parish as far as the sea and placing it in a boat or loading it onto a ship, 2d. For a small sack of wool, 1½d.; that is, to take a halfpenny for carriage and 1d. for loading it. Also, for carrying a last of hides from the said storerooms to the sea and for hoisting them into a ship, 12d.; that is, 8d. for carriage and 4d. for hoisting.
Furthermore, for carrying four weys of cheese to a boat, 2d. Also, for carrying salt, grain, or other goods which are transported by the hundred[weight], (with the exception of sea-coal) 2s. per hundred transported from the sea to the aforesaid storerooms. Also for a placing into storage a set of millstones purchased on the seashore, 2d; for unloading and storing a set, 6d., and for putting or loading a set of millstones into a boat, 8d.
In all these matters, the aforesaid porters are to satisfy the needs of Southampton burgesses first before those of any outsider. If they do not, but in any regard infringe the above ordinances, they are to be imprisoned for a day and a night, without bail, and may not undertake the office of porter for a year and a day.
When we think of commerce we tend to think in terms of producers of goods, sellers, and buyers. Less well evidenced and so less considered are the support mechanisms involved in the transportation and distribution of goods. We know of porters who transported water a task for which women were sometimes employed, as by Durham abbey and garbage, but these were domestic services. Commercial transportation is evidenced in a small handful of towns, largely because it was regulated by the local authorities, although it seems likely that porter service would have been available in any port-town involved in the wholesale trade. Loading and unloading ships relied on manual labour, probably assisted by block and tackle, until cranes started be installed on town quaysides in the fifteenth century. In the cases of both Ipswich and Southampton, the unloading of wine and other goods would have taken place only from smaller ships able to navigate into the shallow waters of their ports, or from lighters by which goods were trans-shipped.
The first document above, an Ipswich ordinance, though copied into the Ipswich Domesday Book, is not a part of the borough custumal itself, but an independent text entered immediately following it, and consequently probably copied in from a separate source perhaps merchant gild records which likely also held the list of tolls that were the next text copied into the Domesday, and have an evident thematic connection with the ordinance on porterage. Had the ordinance been part of the redrafting of the custumal that took place in 1291, it would have easily fitted into that compilation of regulations. The personal names in it help us date this text, tentatively, to the final years of the thirteenth century or early years of the fourteenth.
The Southampton ordinance is curiously similar in many regards to that of Ipswich; nor are the porterage fees significantly different. It would be tempting to think that one town might have consulted the other on the subject, or that both were influenced by some now unknown precedent (such as at London). However, a scale of fees determined by distance and type of task performed is only a rational way of dealing with charging for the service, and the punishment of suspension from the job was a common enough punishment for craftsmen who failed to meet standards of performance. The oath of the Bristol wine porters indicates those standards to be conscientious and prompt performance of duties, and adherence to a prescribed set of fixed fees. A Bristol ordinance of 1351, broadly similar to those of Ipswich and Southampton, set fees that salt porters could charge for transporting a last, or a smaller measure, specific distances within the town, and threatened those who charged more with loss of their occupation for a year; this likely reflects part of the effort to keep wages and prices in check following the Black Death ultimately futile and at some later date the authorities conceded by inserting higher fees into the record.
The most significant difference between the two towns is that at Ipswich porterage services are perceived as operating at two levels, with the more important that of transportation of the valuable and fragile commodity of wine containers organized and regulated as a department of borough government, and the second level, the 'poor porters', apparently being more on a for-hire basis. While at Southampton the porterage of wine and of other commodities is all done by a single type of workman, regulated but private sector.
If so, the situation at Southampton had changed by the end of the Middle Ages. A set of ordinances issued in 1491 included the requirement that porterage be paid on all merchandize brought to the quayside, along with terrage, quayage, and (if the crane were used) cranage. Another set of by-laws, undated but probably of slightly later period, required all sellers of tin to take their goods to the tin house for storage, paying 2d. per piece to the porters for carriage, while the porters apparently also engaged in weighing the tin when it was sold, receiving 1d. each from buyer and seller for the service.
By this time Southampton's porters were organized in a company which corporately held property serving as its base. Most of what we know of them is from the sixteenth century, when they had become both powerful but somewhat unpopular, for a variety of reasons. In 1551 they were collectively presented though a well-to-do ring-leader was also identified and blamed in the leet court:
"the porters unscrupulously oppress the king's subjects who come to this town, by overcharging for their service, yet often sitting in the alehouse while others undertake their work; and when the latter have loaded up the carts, one or two of them [i.e. the porters] come out and oblige the poor men to pay them for what they have not earned. Which is to the great dishonour of the town.... Also they charge burgesses so exorbitantly for carrying their wares that it is a great injury to them to be so used."
A like complaint is found at London in October 1349, when ten named wine-drawers admitted charging double what they used to take, and were locked up in Newgate for a few days before being released upon swearing an oath not to repeat the offence. However, this must be understood in the context of the aftermath of the Black Death and the attempt by the Statute of Labourers to keep wages from rising.
The porters of York are also heard of in the context of complaints about their work in 1412. Though the report does not say so explicitly, the impression given is that the porters were unhappy with the amounts they were earning which again were regulated by the city authorities, based on prescribed destinations and they were expressing this dissatisfaction by refusing to work or, in some cases, by retaining goods they had been engaged to transport. An affronted mayor and council summoned before them six men who were considered the chief porters and had apparently been administered an oath as supervisors of the porters, and ordered them to see that duties were carried out as specified by city regulations and not to employ anyone who was unqualified for the work or would not be accountable for performance of duties and for the delivery of any goods put into their charge. An earlier ordinance (1371) targeted at them indicates that one aspect of the standards of behaviour associated with their work was that they not themselves be involved in purchasing wholesale amounts of coal, grain, or victuals to cargoes of which they would, as persons stationed on the quayside, have had advantageous access.
Unsurprisingly, London's porters were also well organized. In 1301 four groups of wine-drawers, ranging in size from nine to twelve men per group and each including a master, appeared before the mayor and aldermen and were required to take an oath to perform good service and not to exceed a specified fee schedule; the schedule started at 2d. for unloading a tun, or two pipes, of wine from the ship at the wharf and taking it to be stored in the cellar by the wharf, increased if the storage cellar was in Thames Street, the Vintry, or the Ropery, and went up in increments if taken as far as the city gates, or into the suburbs (10 d.) for the latter). The masters of each group were instructed not to handle any tun of wine unless their company had on hand twelve members who were skilled in the work. The same ritual is also recorded in 1369, when the fees remained almost the same, except for a small increase for the longest journeys.
Three of the groups in 1301 had names: the New Men, the King's Company, and the Company of 'Skipup'. The number of contingents may have varied over time, and in 1373 we seem to see a group of wine-drawers being transferred from one group to another. These gangs of wine-drawers were later amalgamated into one of the liveried companies of London.
But they represented only one branch of porterage in London. A case heard in the mayor's court in December 1300 involved charges against the eight named corn-measurers stationed at Queenhithe, and twenty-three named assistants responsible for carriage and porterage. Each measurer was apparently assigned three porters, each gang equipped with a horse and seven sacks; there were also four measurers of salt at Queenhithe, each with an assistant having eight sacks sturdy enough for use in service to the public, but they were not involved in the indictment. The complaint, made by Roger le Palmer and his fellow cornmongers, was that the corn-measurers did not measure accurately, and that the porters charged more than the customary amounts. According to the complainants those amounts, per quarter of grain, were: three-farthings for porterage of grain purchased at Queenhithe and transported to West Cheap, the Church of St Anthony, Horseshoe Bridge, or Wolsiesgate in the Ropery; a penny if taken to Fleet Bridge, Newgate, Cripplegate, the far end of Berchenereslane on Cornhill, East Cheap, or Billingsgate; and a penny-farthing if as far as the bars in the suburbs. The accused denied the charges. At the subsequent inquisition, the corn-measurers were acquitted of dishonesty, but the jury agreed that the fees demanded by porters had risen above what was customary, especially for carriage to La Riole; they were let off with a warning not to do it again.
Corn Porters and Salt Porters are also heard of in later times. The Ticket Porters are seen in the fourteenth century negotiating with the Grocers' Company as to acceptable fees for porterage of weighable quantities of alum, madder, almonds, cinnamon, pepper, dried fruit, black soap and other goods to be carried from the wharves into the city; the group committed to having at all times a gang of six men at the ready in Sopers Lane and Bucklersbury.
The city authorities liked to keep a close eye on most aspects of commerce in London, but the wine trade was particularly important; it has been estimated that half of the ships importing wine into England in 1290-91 unloaded at London, and by 1350 63 of wine imports were coming through the city [Caroline Barron, London in the Later Middle Ages, Oxford: University Press, 2004, p.85]. Wine-brokers could only operate if licensed: they were chosen by the vintners and taverners and sworn into office before mayor and aldermen; in 1302 nine were appointed. No wholesale transaction in wine was supposed to take place without the presence of a broker, nor before the wine had been stored in a cellar, where it could be tested to ensure it was drinkable before being sold wholesale or retail; sweet and non-sweet wines were not supposed to be stored in the same cellar. For checking the quality of wines, 13 vintners were chosen in 1319 and their oath of office administered in the presence of mayor and sheriffs in the church of St. Martin in the Vintry; two wine-drawers from each of five companies were designated to assist these wine scrutineers. Even wine-drawers might be appointed by the city, as evidenced in a record of ca.1483, when two men were appointed to the post for life and instructed not to charge more than was customary; though whether this was the case of all wine-drawers, or at earlier date, is unknown.
Commerce was a process involving multiple actions and players, and porters (along with carters) played an unglamorous, little-seen, but essential role in that process. As manual labourers, they would not normally have acquired the wealth that would lead them into the sorts of commercial or real estate transactions necessitating written documentation. Yet that some of them could make a good living is suggested by a reference to Alan Deynes, an Ipswich wine-drawer who, in the 1390s, had come to own a tavern there and even imported small quantities of Gascon and Rochelle wine himself.
"Roger le Maister"
"poles and other things"
"Walter le Fleming"
"James le Weyte"
"Sampson del puytz"
"drag or hand-barrow"
"Church of St. Cross"
"Church of St. Michael"
"weys of cheese"
"Church of St Anthony"
|Created: October 28, 2014. Last update: April 15, 2015
|© Stephen Alsford, 2014-2015