TOLLS AND CUSTOMS Florilegium Urbanum

Keywords: medieval Nottingham trade disputes Derby tolls commerce livestock mediation smuggling fines exemption
Subject: Agreement between Nottingham and Derby regarding payment of tolls
Original source: 17th century transcript (believed to be from the Red Book), Greaves papers, Nottinghamshire Archives
Transcription in: W.H. Stevenson, ed. Records of the Borough of Nottingham, (London and Nottingham, 1882), vol.1, 54-56.
Original language: Latin
Location: Nottingham, Derby
Date: 1279


Know, all who see or hear this document made in the form of a chirograph, that certain disagreements having arisen between the burgesses of Nottingham on the one part, and the burgesses of Derby on the other, concerning certain exactions made by the parties relating to tolls as well as to sales of living livestock or domesticated animals, and other things indicated below, thanks to the mediation of many friends by the express consent of each community, these disputes have now been settled, at Sandiacre as of 26 July 1279, to the following effect: viz., the burgesses of both Nottingham and Derby have granted, on behalf of themselves and their heirs and successors in the liberties of those boroughs, that henceforth any of their burgesses who buys any animal whatsoever, whether domesticated or livestock, within the liberties of the other borough should bring the sellers of those animals before the bailiffs of the liberty – before exiting the liberty with the said animals – for purpose of paying their toll thereon, if he so wishes. If it should happen that any seller refuses to pay his toll thereon, by claiming some kind of liberty, the buyers are allowed to cancel their purchase of the animals, if they wish; or, if they prefer and they see it as expedient to them, to go ahead [with the transaction] by paying the toll on behalf of the seller. After which, when with their animals they go past the street wardens who are called "Gategeters", or past other [officers] of the liberty of the borough where the purchase was made, who will require evidence from them of toll [having been paid] on the said animals, they can be cleared for passage by giving their oath that they have appeared before the bailiffs in the manner described. If the buyers are thereupon prevented by any representative of the borough from freely passing through, or are arrested, and can clearly prove this to have been the case, then whoever obstructed them shall – under the supervision of trustworthy men of both towns – compensate them for damages suffered as a result of the obstruction or arrest. Yet if it happens that any of these burgesses, of either of the towns, or his servant, dares to escape by himself or with his own livestock out of the liberty, taking with him the aforesaid animals (other than his own), in order to avoid paying toll, and this can be clearly proven, then the offender shall pay a fine of two shillings to the bailiffs for his offence; furthermore, the animals will be held under arrest until the bailiffs have been fully paid the fine and the toll. If any servant convicted of such an offence is found not to have the means to pay the two shillings, then his master shall answer to the bailiffs for as much of the two shillings as the servant's [due] wages cover and shall not have the servant in his service while any of the two shillings remains unpaid, nor shall any other burgess take him into his service until the bailiffs are fully satisfied for the offence; and if thereafter he [i.e. the master], or any other burgess of either town, will have him in his service ....
[The remainder of the transcript is missing.]


This case provides an example of the complications that could arise in the context of the conflicting rights of boroughs to exact tolls on commercial transactions, while at the same time claiming (by right of charter grants) exemption for their burgesses from such tolls. Here the concept of toll is more of a levy or tax on a sale, as opposed to an import/export custom, and who paid the toll was something negotiable within the bargain made between seller and buyer. If the seller agreed to pay part of all of the toll, then tried to evade this by claiming exemption through burgess status (perhaps during negotiations hiding that fact from the prospective purchaser), borough authorities – determined to obtain their toll one way or the other – might then demand it of the buyer, who would be rightfully aggrieved. Under the above agreement, the seller was offered the options of backing out of the sale (even after the bargain was agreed), or of deciding it was in his best interests to absorb the additional cost of the toll. A third, but illegal, option was for the buyer to try to get out of town without having to shoulder the additional, unexpected expense of the toll; whether a dramatic flight is envisaged, or escape via fraud – such as a false oath, or disguising newly-purchased beasts among those already owned – is less clear from the document.

Derby was not in a position to claim a general exemption for its citizens from tolls. Its first extant royal charter of liberties was granted by John in 1204. Nottingham on the other hand had been granted by Henry II (ca.1160) the right to collect tolls not only in the borough itself but along an extensive stretch of the River Trent, from Thrumpton to the south-west as far as Newark-on-Trent to the north-east, and other waterways between Rempstone (south) and Retford (27 miles to the north-north-east). It obtained an exemption from toll from Prince John, throughout his earldom, ca.1189, extended throughout the kingdom in 1200, after he became king. Nottingham's right to collect toll having preceded its neighbour Derby's exemption from toll, this would have been a decisive factor had there been a legal battle.



an agreement between two parties in which the text was written twice, once above the other, and the document then cut into the two halves, in a.somewhat irregular way that would identify – when the upper and lower halves were fitted back together – each half as an authentic part of the original (to prevent forgery).

Sandiacre lies about halfway between Derby and Nottingham.

main menu

Created: August 18, 2001. Last update: December 22, 2002. © Stephen Alsford, 2001-2003