DEFENCE AND SECURITY Florilegium Urbanum

Keywords: medieval Exeter King's Lynn York financial administration defences expenditures fortifications maintenance civic works building materials transportation masons carpenters labourers tilers wages tools hardware artillery ditches barriers conduits gatekeepers murage account Great Yarmouth revenues taxation shipbuilding
Subject: Costs related to maintenance of defences
Original source: 1. Devon Record Office, Exeter City Archives, Misc. Roll 6 ; 2. Norfolk Record Office, King's Lynn archives KL/C39/31 m.1-2. 3. York City Archives, YC/F: C. 3:1 m.2
Transcription in: 1. Margery Rowe and John Draisey, eds. The Receivers Accounts of the City of Exeter, 1304-1353, Devon and Cornwall Record Society, new series, vol.32 (1989), 93-107 (passim). 2. Dorothy M. Owen, ed. The Making of King's Lynn: A Documentary Survey, British Academy Records of Social and Economic History, new series, vol.9 (1984), 326-28. 3. R.B. Dobson, ed. York City Chamberlains' Account Rolls 1396-1500, Surtees Society, vol.192 (1978), 78-79.
Original language: Latin (translation of item 1 by Rowe and Draisey)
Location: Exeter, King's Lynn, York
Date: Late 14th and 15th centuries


[1. Excerpts from Exeter murage accounts, 1341/42]

Account of Robert le Taverner, receiver of the murage granted to the citizens of the city of Exeter, from 29 October 1341 to [October 1342]  
Purchase of the commission of the present murage 16s.
Various expenses about the upkeep of the city walls and also about the quarry and conduit and about repair of the city roads and other necessary works by order of the mayor, as is shown particularly below, viz.
Next week after the feast of St Martin [10 November], which was the first week of expenditure of the second commission
50 [seams of] sand 15d
Three masons to whom 14d for the week, working next to the church of All Hallows on the Walls 3s.6d
One servant of theirs for the week 8d
Transport of water and stone 3d
Two men with two horses for 3½ days, each 3d a day 21d
Four men at the quarry to whom 8d for the week 2s.8d
Their drink by order of the mayor 3d
One barrow bought 1d
Total: 11s.5d
The next whole week before Christmas, in which was the feast of St Thomas the Apostle [21 December]  
Four masons hired to mend a defect in the wall at piece-work 2s
Their servant for the week 7d
One man with one horse for 1½ days, 3d a day 5d
Transport of water and stone 2d
Two men at the quarry, each 7d for the week 14d
Mending the road at Bolehill by order of the mayor 2½d
Mending one "bitell", viz. iron and working 8½d
Making one pick-axe from new, iron and working 8d
One barrow bought 1d
Timber bought from R. Trobrigge for the conduit etc. with the carpenter's wages 2s.6d
Firewood bought   ½d
Beef tallow   12d
Pitch and rope   1½d
Solder for mending the said conduit   7d
The plumber's wages for 4 days, 3½d day with his drink   14d
His servant's wages for the same time   4d
2s 4½d
Total: 11s. ½d
Next week after the feast of St Gregory the Pope in the 16th year [12 March 1342]  
Hire of six men at the quarry for the week to whom 9d 4s.6d
Hire of two women transporting stone and earth for the week, each 6d 12d
Their drink for the same 3d
Total: 10s.4d
Week [...] in which was the feast of St Mark the Evangelist [25 April]  
Hire of two masons working at the quarry as above for the week, each 17d 2s.10d
Hire of two masons working at the wall for the week, each 16d 2s.8d
Their servant for the week 9d
Their drink by order of the mayor 4d
1 fotmel of lead bought for mending the East Gate 2s
Solder for the same   10d
Beef tallow, firewood, moss and nails   3d
Wages of the plumber and his servant for maintenance of the said Gate with lead at piece-work 15d
Total: 15s.6d
Week [...] in which was the feast of Corpus Christi [30 May]  
Hire of three masons still in the north quarter at the wall for the week to whom 17d 4s.3d
Hire of two masons for the week, each 16d 2s.8d
Their servant for the week 9d
Their drink 5d
Hire of four men at the quarry to whom for the week 9d 3s
Hire of one man in the same place for the week 7d
Their drink 3d
Hire of one man with one horse for 4½ days, 3d a day 15¾
Mending various tools 2½d
One rope bought for drawing water at the quarry 1½d
Total: 13s.6¾d
Next whole week before the feast of St. Margaret [20 July]  
1 quarter of sand bought 7½d
Four masons working in the north quarter for the week to whom 17d 5s.8d
One mason in the same place for the week 16d
Their servant for the week 9d
Their drink 5d
[Transport] of water for making mortar 3d
[One] man with one horse carrying stone etc. for 2½ days, 3½d a day 8½d
[Five] men at the quarry to whom 9d for the week 3s.9d
[...] in the same place for the week 8d
Their drink for the week 4d
Making a wedge from new 5d
Total: 14s.11d
Week [...] in which was the feast of St Laurence [10 August]  
Three masons at the wall around the barbican to whom 17d for the week 4s.3d
One mason in the same place for the week 16d
Their servant for the week 9d
Their drink 4d
Mending various tools 3d
Transport of water for 4 days 4d
Mending the conduit, viz. firewood, pitch, tallow, and rope for the same 3d
2 lb of tin for the same 3d
One stone of lead for the same 3d
Wages of the plumber at piece-work for his labour 10d
Total: 13s.4¾d
Week [...] in which was the feast of the Beheading of St John the Baptist [29 August]  
As many masons and all other workmen still as in the same week, price of carriage nothing, and besides those things viz.  
21 lb of Spanish iron bought for strengthening the windows in the chapel above the East Gate, price ½d a lb 10½d
Wages of W. Crockern' for making frames there and latches and catches 10d
Four pairs of hinges for the said windows bought from the said W. 8d
Four boards for making window shutters 7d
4½ lb of lead bought for strengthening the window frames 2d
One iron wedge newly made bought with the said W. 2d
Mending tools 2d
One large sledge bought from the said W. for the quarry 2s.2d
Total: 19s.11½d

[ 2. Lynn chamberlains account for work on the defences, 1371]

Account of Henry de Cove, Roger Paxman, Thomas de Couteshale,and Edmund Belleyetere, chamberlains, of monies received from the gilds of the town of Lynn – that is, half the goods of each gild, granted by the town community in the guildhall towards the making of ditches and carrying out repairs around the town – and of their expenditures, up until 29 September 1371.  
Expenditures on timber boards
They account for £13.18s.8d paid for timber bought by Thomas de Botkesham and Thomas Drewe senior.
Item, they account for £310s. paid for 21 beams bought from the Carmelites.
Item, they account for 2s.6d paid for ash wood.
Item, they account for 2s.6d paid for piles.
Item, they account for 6s.8d paid for 40 wainscot.
Item, they account for 16s.5½d for 80 wainscot and its carriage.
Item, they account for 5s.8d paid for 4 deal boards.
Item, they account for 9s.4d for 7 deal boards.
Item, they account for 6d. paid for spokes.
Item, they account for 5s.7½d for 45 spars.
Item, 5s.4d paid for boards for "cyntrers" and "kreles"
Item, 3s.9d paid for 30 Rhenish wainscot.
Item, 8s.6d paid for 15 righolt and 6 wainscot.
Item, 3s.4d paid for 2 trees.
Item, 16d. paid for boards for the south gates.
Item, 16d. paid for repairs to 2 barrows.
Item, 27d. for 9 "hirles" bought for "stagyng"
Total £21.8s.5d
Costs of mortar and sand
They account for £6s.9½d paid for 88 trays, 1½ quarters of mortar bought on various occasions.
Item, 16s.3d paid for 10 boat-loads of sand.
Item, 10d. paid for [...]
Item, 8d. paid for plaster of Paris.
Item, 10s.4d paid for 11 trays of mortar and its carriage.
Total 114s.10½d
Costs of stones and tiles
They account for 23s.3d paid to Robert Busshop for stone bought on various occasions.
Item, 15s. paid for 6 large stones bought from an outsider.
Item, £5.8s.8d for 28,500 tiles. Item, 10s.1d paid for transport of those tiles.
Item, 4s. paid for loading the tiles into a boat.
Item, 10s.5d paid for 2 boats belonging to Peter the chaplain.
Total £9.5d
Costs of iron and its working, that is for bars and portcullis
They account for £4.8s.3d paid to Thomas de Botkesham for 906 stone and 5 lb of Spanish iron, priced at 9s a cwt.
Item, 6s.5d paid to Nicholas de Narford for 5 stone 10 lb of Spanish iron.
Item, £4.8s paid to John de Titleshale for 11 cwt. of Prussian iron, priced at 8s. a cwt.
Item, 50s. paid to John Smith who lives in Fish Row for working 11 cwt. of iron.
Item, 3s.4d to the same.
Item, 34s.8d paid to Thomas de Fleg, smith, for working 7 cwt. of iron and for doing other things that were necessary.
Item, 18s.8d paid for making hinges, keys, and various other things.
Item, 21d. paid for screws and nails bought.
Total £14.11s.1d
Purchase of various necessaries
They account for 40s. paid to John Blower for 5 "shynes" bought for the portcullis and for hauling it across the bridge.
[...] weighing 130 lb., priced at 4d. a lb.
Item, 10s.11½d paid for "boll skopes bastes trowes et 1 soo."
Item, 23d. paid for a pike.
Item, 6s.1d paid to Peter Maffru for 7 stone of lead, [priced at ?] 4d. a lb.
Item, 44s.5d paid to Thomas de Botkesham for 56 stone of lead.
Item, 43s.4d paid for 40 stone of lead bought from various men.
Item, 7s.5d paid for 2 stone of resin and for oil for use on the bars of the east gate.
Item, 18d. paid for a barrier rope.
Total £7.5s.7½d
Costs of 13 springalds.
They account for 19s. paid for 203 stone of Prussian iron.
Item, 24s. paid to Thomas de Castre for working that iron and other, older, iron for the springalds.
Item, 10s. paid to Richard de Houton for a tree bought from him.
Item, 20d. for ash timber bought for the same.
Item, 8s.4d paid to various men for projectile cords for the same.
Item, 48s.5d paid for 20 stone and 3 quarters of projectiles, bought for the price of 28d. a stone.
Item, 14s.½d paid to the roper for preparing the projectiles for the cords.
Item, 14s.1½d paid for string for the springald cords.
Item, 4s.5d paid for hemp ropes for the springalds.
Item, 13d. paid for fashioning "shynes" and nuts for those springalds.
Item, 9s.4d paid for nuts and "shines" for those springalds, bought from John Blower.
Item, 36s.8d paid to a certain carpenter for 11 weeks of carpentry on the springalds.
Item, 13s.4d paid to Richard de Swafham as his wages from 24 June to 29 September.
Total £9.14s.5d
Wages for carpentry, as regards sawyers

Item, they account for £8.16s.2d paid to 4 carpenters, as their wages for 14 weeks.
Item, £4.6s8d paid to master Richard as his wages for 13 weeks.
Item, 40s. paid the same master Richard for his work when he first arrived here.
Item, 10s. given to those carrying letters to Salisbury for the master.
Item, 2s.7d for wine bought for the master at various places.
Item, 17s.1d paid to a sawyer at various places.
Item, 20s. paid for "slynkyngg" the portcullis.
Total £16.14s.2d
Wages of masons and tilers

They account for 2s.9d paid to 1 tiler as his wages for one week.
Item, paid to 3 masons and 2 tilers with their assistants for one week, 21s.4d.
Item, 17s.8½d paid to 2 masons and 2 tilers with their assistants for one week.
Item, 17s.7d paid to the same for another week.
Item, 34s. paid to 4 masons and 4 tilers with their assistants for one week.
Item, 47s.8d paid to 4 tilers and their assistants for one week.
Item, 28s.11d paid to 3 masons, 4 tilers, and their assistants for one week.
Item, 23s.2d paid to 2 masons and 3 tilers for one week.
Item, 33s. paid to 4 masons, 4 tilers, and their assistants for one week.
Item, 14s. paid to 4 masons and 1 tiler with 2 assistants for one week.
Item, 5s. paid to master John de Dodesthrop for 8 weeks.
Total £14.15s.1½d
Wages and costs in digging the ditches
They account for £13.15d paid to 12 diggers working for 12 weeks in the ditch at Barkerswall.
Item, £19.11s.1d paid to diggers working for 15 weeks in the ditch near Thomas Drewe['s place], at the east gate, and elsewhere.
Item, £8.6s.10d paid to 6 diggers working for 16 weeks in the fleet in front of the sluice of the Friars Preacher.
Item, 3s.4d paid for "slyk" placed before the North Close.
Item, 23s.11½d paid for 2500 "soth" and "thak" purchased on various occasions.
Item, 2s.3d paid for 9 cart-loads of gravel bought for the east gate.
Item, 2s.6d paid for 20 empty barrels
Total £42.11s.2½d
Wages of porters
They account for 9s.8d paid for the carriage of portcullis, stones, timber, and bars to the east gate.
Total 9s.8d
Gifts to officials
They account for 13s.4d given to Roger Calye, common bailiff, for his work.
Item, 3s.4d given to Peter de Rollesby for his work.
Item, 2d. paid for ale at the time when the chamberlains and the clerk drew up this account.
Total 16s.10d
Costs of the conduit  

They account for 3s.4d paid for stones for the conduit near St. Margaret's church.
Item, 5s.6½d paid for 5 trays of mortar.
Item, 2s.8d paid for half a thousand tiles (all costs included).
Item, 16s.8d paid for masonry
Item, 7s. paid to a tiler working on that conduit.
Item, 2s.6d paid for repairing two brass pipes
Item, 16s. paid for 2 cwt. of iron bought for the pipes.
Item, 13s.4d paid to Thomas de Castre for working that iron.
Item, 3s.1½d paid for a key and a lock for the enclosure around the conduit, for the transport of various things used by the carpenters in making that enclosure, and for drink for the workmen on various occasions.
Item, 10s.5d paid to John Blower for 42 lb. of tin for soldering of the conduit.
Item, 10d. for making pavement.
Item, 15s. paid to Andrew Plomer for making the conduit.
Total £4.16s.5d
Grand total of all expenses £147.17s.3d. And so there remains in hand £15.6s.2d

Also there remains from the timber 33 trees on the common quay. Also two trees at the friars' quay. There also remains 3½d cwt. of Spanish iron. [...] Also, 1 iron "crowe". Also, hurdles. [...]

[ 3. Extract from York chamberlains account, 1453/54]

Costs of the city walls this year and other expenditures on protecting the city  
As the fee of Robert Couper, master mason, this year, as per [agreement?] made. 40s.
For 4 ells of cloth as the summer allowance for his clothing. 22s.
For 4 oaks bought from Thomas Atkynson for making posts to be placed beside the tower of the Friars Minor, between the River Ouse and that tower, one pile per oak. 6s.
As 3 days wages of John Stede carpenter for installing a stake in Walmgate and another across from the church of All Saints, Pavement 18d.
As one day's wages of John Spayn for making a ditch next to Talkan Tower, under contract. 10d.
To Robert Egle for transporting 3 sled-loads of timber from the cemetery of the church of St. Wilfrid to a palisade next to the city walls near Walmgate Bar. 6d.
To John Helproby for transporting 2 sled-loads of timber from the Guildhall to Layerthorpe Bridge, for making a palisade there. 4d.
To Thomas Loksmyth for repairing and mending various gate-chains, locks, and keys at different locations within the city this year, as one lump-sum payment 6s.4d
As one week's wages of Nicholas Thornthwayt carpenter for installing three stakes between the tower of the Friars Minor and the River Ouse. 3s.
As wages of William Kirkeby for the same length of time on the same task. 3s.
As wages of John Burgh for the same length of time on the same task. 3s.
As one week's wages of Thomas Edmond carpenter for making a palisade beside the Layerthorpe postern. 3s/
To John Stede for the same length of time there. 3s.
To Thomas Eye for the same length of time on the same task. 2s.2d
As six and a half days' wages of John Stede and Thomas Edmond for making a palisade beside Walmgate Bar and elsewhere, each of them receiving 6d. a day. 6s.6d
As 3 days' wages of Nicholas Thornthwayt, John York, and Thomas Moundevyle for making a palisade beside Talkan Tower, receiving as above. 4s.6d
As one day's wages of Robert Couper mason working beside Walmgate Bar 7d.
As wages of William Stabler for the same length of time there. 8d.
As wages of Robert's assistant, Patrick, for the same length of time. 6d.
As wages of William Hikson there for the same length of time. 4d.
As wages of John Gollayn for three and a half days there. 14d.
For iron and nails bought for repairs to the Walmgate and Layerthorpe gates. 6s.4d
For repairs to the lock of the postern next to Barker Tower.
For one large lock bought for Bootham gate. 18d.
For one lock bought for the gate beside Layerthorpe. 8d.
As five days' wages of two labourers digging 2 pits, each receiving 4d. a day. 3s.4d
For 28 boards bought for one palisade beside Talkan Tower. 2s.6d
For carriage of the same, and other timber, as far as that tower. 6d.
For repairs to the pavement (2s.) at Bootham Bar, together with 4 loads of stone (17d.) and 14 loads of "lucius". 3s,8d
To John Couper locksmith for "braggis" and mending a join in the gate of Bootham Bar. 12d.
To Peter Loksmyth for repairing and mending various chains and large staples in Petergate, St. Saviour street, and at the gate of the cathedral church of St. Peter, York, together with 8 lb. of iron. 15d.
As a reward given to Robert Hall for custodianship of Walmgate gate. 12d.
And to John Gunson for custodianship of Monk Bar. 16d.
And to Thomas Birkhede for custodianship of Bootham Bar. 16d.
And to Richard Morton for custodianship of Fishergate Bar beside the walls of the Friars Minor. 4d.
And to John Nailer for custodianship of Skeldergate gate. 6d.
For 5½ cwt. of double spikes priced at 22d. per cwt.; 2 cwt. of "sharplyng" [priced at] 6d. [per cwt.], 12d.; 1 cwt. of mid-sized spikes, 3d.; 2 cwt. of "brode", 4d.; 2½d stone 3 lb. of Spanish iron, priced at 8d. per stone, 22d.  
4 loads of lime bought from Alexander Buntyng for the repair of the walls by Walmgate Bar, together with their transportation. 18d.
Also, paid to Robert Bewe for 1 iron cross and for the repair of 1 iron chain hanging opposite the Carmelites' gate. 14d.
6 lb. of lead bought for six staples of that chain. 3d.
80 planks bought from Thomas Girshop to enclose various windows around the city gates this year. 19s.
Total: £7 11s. 8d


Records of expenditure on wall construction and repair can throw some light on how some initiatives were organized and managed.

Murage is documented primarily through two classes of record. One was the authorizations to collect; these sometimes incorporated justifications for the grant and/or specification of what merchandize was subject to the toll. The lists of murage tolls at Northampton (1301), at Kidwelly (1280) and at Oswestry (1283) provide fairly typical examples of the sums that could be imposed on different kinds of goods.

Considering the large number of authorizations granted, the second class of record – accounts of revenues and their expenditure – are disappointingly scarce. Perhaps some were scooped up during royal audits and lost in later centuries. The Crown was determined that murage proceeds be used for walling and investigated complaints of maladministration of murage.


A small number of murage records have survived from work on the walls at Great Yarmouth. They are mainly in the form of receipt rolls, but some record expenditures; these date to the 1330s and 1340s, during what appears to have been a phase of steady activity on wall construction (the main work continuing perhaps to the close of the fourteenth century), and from the 1440s until murage collection ceased in the post-medieval period. The earliest known murage grant was a six-year grant in 1261, but it was not renewed, for it had not been long into the grant period before there were complaints that tolls were being collected but no work on walling undertaken; it seems that the local authorities may have been allowed to continue to collect the tolls but, if they could not show having spent the money as intended, required to pay the lump sum of £27.6s.8d to the Exchequer each year as a kind of reimbursement. In 1279 a commission was appointed to audit Yarmouth murage accounts (if such there were), perhaps partly the result of uncertainty as to whether any work was being undertaken, combined with the recent threat, in the Statute of Westminster (1275), of punishment of any town that levied murage contrary to the terms of royal licence. Yarmouth obtained a new murage grant in 1285, and was discharged of the annual sum due the Exchequer on the grounds that the townsmen had convinced the king that more than this sum had been spent on the walls.

A further setback was experienced in 1287, when floods damaged the walls already built. It is generally assumed that this period marks the beginning of a serious effort to raise walls, but perhaps it could not be sustained, since no further grant was obtained until 1321; grants continued with regularity through much of the remainder of the century and halfway into the next; by 1369, the completed stretches were in need of repair and an additional grant for that purpose was obtained. The completed circuit was over a mile in length.

During the 1340s there were four muragers, described in the records as "collectors and custodians of murage"; since several of the known holders were drawn from the ruling class of the time, it may be doubted that they undertook collection in person, but were more probably supervisors of the work and treasurers of the fund; they had call on the services of the town clerk and sergeants, to whom they paid 12d. a week each as wages. The sergeants appear to have been involved in the actual collecting, at least in the port, probably taking turns on duty between time spent on other tasks for the town. There is no indication collecting took place at other locations – most commercial traffic coming to Yarmouth by water – and the lists of permitted tolls specify that they be levied from cargo ships using the port.

The records of expenses show the muragers:

  • Purchasing and arranging for the transportation of building materials, such as lumber (used for example to construct flooring within the towers), lime, stone, huge quantities of tiles, and wafer-iron (used to strengthen the wall). There must have been a ready supply of sand locally, but stone would have been a little more problematic at a site essentially reclaimed from the sea; part of the solution was to purchase ballast from ship-owners; Lynn's walls similarly show local stone supplemented with amounts of ballast, among other materials, in wall construction. One of the muragers, merchant John le Neve, brought boat-loads of stone each year to sell to the project and allowed his quay to be used for unloading construction materials, while another murager, Simon de Halle, is likewise found on several occasions selling the town lumber and iron for the project, and a third, Peter de Cressy, supplied 11d. worth of rope apparently for tying scaffolding together. It was natural enough, and helpful to the town, for such men to capitalize on the town's need, and the amounts they made were not huge sums of money.
  • Norwich merchants also shipped in quantities of brick and stone, so the opportunity was not restricted to local men.
  • Buying tools and equipment, such as a dozen troughs and metal plates for carrying mortar (the plates presumably along the lines of a modern mortar hawk or other mortarboard), a vat (to hold water used for mixing mortar?), bowls, and a shovel.
  • Employing certain labourers such as ditch-diggers (presumably in relation to a foundation trench for the wall, which archaeology has indicated to have been lined with flagstones), and masons.
  • Renting facilities for their work: space for their office – we hear of a shop in 1336/37 and a house in later years– and a townswoman's garden to be used for storing construction equipment.>/LI>

In 1336/37 £40.11s.7½d was spent on the walls, while the following year saw £38.3s.7d paid out. Work during 1342/43 incurred £73.3s.9½d in expenses; in 1343/44, expenditures totalled £70.19s.4¼d, and during the twelvemonth thereafter, costs added up to £88.17s.11½d. Although the revenue sub-totals on the rolls of receipts for August 1342 to August 1343 are not all perfectly legible, they indicate that murage income was somewhat over £60. A shortfall is indicated, and records of revenues for other years (although the periods covered do not correspond precisely to those covered by expenditure records) suggest that this was usually the case. We know that modest amounts were also received from bequests by civic-minded citizens, there may have been resort to local taxation as at other towns, and Yarmouth cited its defensive costs in efforts to obtain reductions in its fee farm and national taxes, but we do not know for certain whether other sources were also tapped or if deficits were run into subsequent accounting years.

A few examples of what appear to be Hereford's murage accounts survive from the second half of the thirteenth century. They list revenues from tolls collected at each of the town gates (which, judging from a few months of receipts in 1270, added up to an average of about 4s. a week) and expenditures that included repairs and strengthening of walls and gates, and wages of sentinels (insidiatores) stationed at the gates – though whether these were gatekeepers, toll-collectors or both is not clear.


Exeter's walls were, in the Middle Ages, founded on the rectangular rampart circuit put up by the Romans; hence, the principal gates into the city were at the four cardinal points, controlling the main east-west and north-south roads crossing the city (although the medieval street plan did not correspond quite to the Roman grid). At the close of the Middle Ages, a more modest gateway, the Watergate, was added; this was to give access between the quayside and intramural area for goods being imported or exported via a new canal dug to extend the Exe from the city's satellite port at Topsham. The Roman fortifications, probably refurbished in the Saxon period, were strong enough to give residents the confidence to make Exeter a regional centre of resistance to the Norman invaders; either the defences or the resolve of the citizens proved, however, insufficient to withstand a prolonged siege by Norman forces in 1068. The Conqueror ordered a castle built in the northern corner of the walled circuit, to keep the citizens subdued.

Maintenance of the Roman defences gave way in the thirteenth century to a major upgrade, indicated by grants of sums of money from national taxations in 1215 and 1218, and royal instructions in the same period for the city authorities to clear away obstructions from the walls and ditch. Authority to collect murage was given in 1224, for a three-year period, and several further grants (for longer periods) were obtained later in that century. There was a hiatus after 1310, perhaps prompted by an audit of the murage accounts following complaints to the king that revenues were not being applied to the intended purpose. Not until 1338 was murage granted (or sought) once more; a shorter sequence of commissions followed, and another short grant in 1369, although by that period the authorities were apparently collecting murage as a matter of course, licence or no licence – for murage accounts have survived from most years between 1341 and 1372, and the second half of the century saw a high level of activity on the fortifications. In 1377, prompted by fears of an imminent French invasion, the king authorized the mayor to levy local taxation to support repairs to the gates, walls, and ditch; this was renewed the following year. A tax roll has survived from the first commission, listing 420 householders as taxpayers. Most of the population lived in an area defined by the walled circuit, about a mile and a half in length, beyond which lay the odd small suburb but mostly open fields.

Besides work maintaining and strengthening the city gates, particularly in the late fourteenth century and into the fifteenth, work was focused, it has been suggested [Hilary Turner, Town Defences in England and Wales, London: 1971, 196], on the southern and eastern sides of the circuit; the other sides benefiting from some protection from topographical features.

A special officer (called a receiver) was appointed to manage Exeter's murage funds. His account of 1341/42 was presumably written by the clerk for whom the receiver sought approval, in the account, of 10s. in wages. The sparsity of evidence from the main city financial accounts regarding murage revenues and expenditures suggests that murage was often separately accounted for at earlier and later periods; a few such accounts have survived from the period between 1298 and 1410. The royal investigation early in the fourteenth century must have encouraged such a practice; although the petition for an enquiry itself assumes the existence of such accounts, part of the cause for complaint might have been a deficiency in accounting. It may be no coincidence that around this period we begin to hear of an annual inspection of the walls, already a practice by 1322. Each newly-elected mayor was, within days of his election, to make a perambulation, accompanied by other officers, members of the city council, and (perhaps informally) by interested citizens, to see where repairs were needed and identify any encroachments that might jeopardise the integrity of the defences. What began as an administrative duty became over the course of time a civic ritual, with the Guildhall as setting-off point for the uniformed officials, and the parade punctuated (by the post-medieval period) by charitable hand-outs to the needy and to prisoners in the gaols around the route, schoolboy speeches, and a meal in the gaoler's house. The city authorities did not rely exclusively on these perambulations; between their occurrences, the leet court could hear presentments of defects, or private citizens might report problems. While the perambulation doubtless formed the basis for planning major work on the defences for that year, minor repairs that became necessary during the year could be initiated by the receivers.

Murage was collected, the account reveals, by a pair of collectors operating at the east and south gates, which were the busiest and correspondingly the more impressive of the gates (the south gate controlling the road to Topsham), and by individual collectors at the west and north gates. The revenues from murage collected at three of the gates were farmed out for 4s. a week, but the collector at North Gate (used by fewer traders and so less lucrative to prospective entrepreneurs) rendered his own account to the city authorities for monies. At Topsham the customs collector(s) undertook also to collect murage for the city – a matter of convenience. Expenditures on public works – not restricted to the city walls – were directed by the mayor, presumably after consultation with the council.

The income available for application to public works amounted to £31.19s.4d; but this included arrears still owing from the previous year's account, and some of the murage proceeds due from collectors at Topsham (merchandise arriving by sea) and at the city gates (goods brought by land) may also not have been actual cash in hand; the revenues also included a few shillings in private donations intended for work on the road at Bolehill, and money from the sale of rock at a city quarry.

Expenditures on Exeter's walls during the 1341/42 accounting year were divided up into weekly groups — of which a few examples are given in the translation above — with a total for each week's expenses. Work was undertaken during a total of 40 weeks out of the entire period, the gaps likely being due to festive seasons – the Christmas and Easter periods, for instance, being absent. The accountants calculated a grand total of £28.2s.6½d in expenses that they asked to be "allowed" by the auditors (although my own hasty addition of the weekly sub-totals arrives at a grand total of £30.5s.5¼). Two schedules attached to the main account detailed the costs of repairs to various of the city conduits, the road at Bolehill, the West Gate, and one of the wall towers.

We find much the same items recurring in the weekly expenses: purchase and/or transport of raw materials; labour of quarrymen, masons and their workmen; refreshment for these workers; and repair or replacement of tools and equipment. It is not evident from these routine items whether the work in hand involved actual rebuilding of parts of the walls, or simply repairing, shoring up, strengthening, or heightening the Roman fortifications. Much of the larger and better-coursed stones in the surviving sections of wall are considered to be Roman in origin; however, there are stretches considered to be essentially of medieval construction, while towers were built in the Middle Ages to improve defensive capability between the gates.

The work on the walls seems to have provided fairly regular employment for a number of Exeter's craftsmen, as well as labourers likely drawn from the lower ranks of the population living at or near the poverty line (references to men with horses do not necessarily mean that the men owned the horses). Masons were put to work in two contexts: at the quarry, where they presumably shaped some of the stones, and at the walls where the stones were mortared into place; their weekly wage ranged between 12d and 17d. based perhaps on their known abilities and the type of work they were to perform, but also fluctuating according to the number of feast-days in a week (reducing the amount of time work could be performed).

The above excerpts from the murage account give a sense of the kinds of expenses incurred on wall construction and maintenance. Some work on the defences, however, was paid for through the office of the city's chief financial officer (also known as a receiver). For example, mending locks or purchase of new ones for the various gates (or, rather, the doors within them for pedestrian passage) were fairly frequent items of expenditure, in 1344 repairs to the planking of the bridges at the South and East Gates consumed 4s.11d, while in 1351/52 spikes were added to the North and South Gates. Such aspects of work on the defences, mostly minor upgrades or repairs limited to the gates and the facilities within them, were evidently considered not strictly within the scope of the construction process for which murage was permitted, although that position was not consistently maintained. It may also have been that murage revenues were not equal to meeting all needs, particularly after the impact of the Black Death on commerce and with the growing number of grants of exemption from murage; in 1360/61 £7.9s.7d was collected. and in 1370 £6.4s., while 1369 had seen only the meagre sum of 16s.11d as income, although 80s. had been spent on lobbyists to go to London seeking a renewal of the murage grant, and work on the East Gate had cost 27s.4d. The community tax of 1377 offered a return to earlier resourcing levels, producing £28.8s.9d, which was spent much as in past murage accounts, with particular attention to the East Gate.

A later generation may have felt all this expenditure worthwhile, when in 1497 the forces of pretender Perkin Warbeck approached the city. The authorities there had enough warning to be able to make some arrangements: moving cannon into position on the gates, buying a large quantity of gunpowder, buying lead and having it made into pellets as ammunition for the guns, hiring gunners, and provisioning the gates with beer and wine (for the defenders) and candles (for the night-watch). The city having declined to surrender to the rebels, they assaulted its East Gate and North Gate and set the wooden gates on fire; attempts were also made to scale the walls. But the fortifications were in good repair and could be held by the well-armed defenders, who were also able to raise banks against the burning gates and dig new ditches behind them. After two days of futile assaults and many casualties, the attackers withdrew.


By contrast with the departmentalized accounting at Exeter, work on the defences at Lynn was reported through the main financial accounts of the borough chamberlains.

Also unlike Exeter, Lynn did not have the benefit of Roman defences, for it only began to develop into an urban settlement from the late twelfth century. Nonetheless, it seems the planning that went into the layout of the town did not ignore defensive needs, which were met initially by a ditch and bank, with round wooden towers (bretasks) at strategic (i.e. land and water access) points, and possibly some kind of early gateway (known as Gannock Gate) on the road leading towards the original town centre. It is generally assumed that two of the bretasks were eventually made redundant by the sturdier East Gate, situated across the road leading out to the Bishop of Norwich's manor of Gaywood and beyond that to Norwich, and the South Gate, dividing the borough from the village of South Lynn and protecting the road coming from Cambridgeshire; those two gates, along with another, known as the North Gate or Dowshill Gate, were staffed by gatekeepers from the reign of Edward III on.

The defensive line protected the eastern side of the town (see map), stretching between the rivers Gay and Nar, on the northern and southern sides, and relying similarly on the River Ouse for protection on the west. In the southern half of the town the defensive line made use of an existing sea-bank, to which a ditch was added; no stone wall was erected along that part. In the northern half, the line of the sea-wall may have been used as a defence in the early thirteenth century but, when it was decided to rebuild in stone, a line further west was chosen; this could have had something to do with expansion of the settled area in the New Land, beyond the Bishop's Bridge, and an attempt by the borough authorities to assert jurisdiction over part of a suburb which more probably belonged to the manor of Gaywood. A consequence of choosing this line of defence was that it enclosed a large area of marsh and meadows east of the area where settlement had built up. Within that bounded area, other watercourses, natural (known as fleets) and artificial, serving primarily internal transportation and industrial needs, must have been felt to offer additional obstacles to hostile forces; this canal system of "watergates" was elaborated during the course of the Late Middle Ages.

When a stone wall was put up, it ran along only part of the eastern perimeter, starting from one bank of Purfleet, across from the sea bank, and continuing perhaps as far as the site of the East Gate which, had been preceded by a drawbridge to control access into the New Land. The East Gate and the South Gate were built at the same time as the stone wall; the latter still stands, but as rebuilt in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. It seems likely this fortification programme was underway in the second half of the thirteenth century, since an attack on the town in 1266, by the baronial forces opposed to Henry III, was quickly followed by a grant of murage, and a few years later the king ordered action taken against residents who harmed the wall by building against it; a further murage grant came in 1294, renewed in 1300, but this sequence was halted by a royal audit prompted by complaints of maladministration. For most of the fourteenth century, apart from a brief murage grant (3 years) in 1339, the burgesses had to rely on their own resources to keep the defences in repair: in 1338 borough authorities had been authorized to levy a tax on residents to support defensive costs. The power to do so was confirmed in 1376. In 1385 we hear of the election of collectors of a £200 tax for defence purposes, to be assessed on moveable goods and rents, and the following year saw a further levy of £100 "for the provision of guns, springalds, and other defensive equipment, as to be decided for the defence of the town" [Holcombe Ingleby, ed. The Red Register of King's Lynn, vol.2 (1922), 27], although public consultation was required on how best to apportion the burden among residents. The difficulty in raising money to keep the defences in a fit state may also explain why the stone wall was not extended along the full line of the older earthwork enclosure.

The late thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries, when Lynn's defences took new form, were a period of growing prosperity locally, as regional and international commerce was stimulated by improved access to water transportation; Lynn's merchants, prominent in borough government, had increasing wealth and property to protect, and stronger defences must have seemed more desirable. It was also a period of growing self-confidence, with local authorities prepared to engage with the town's seigneurs in a struggle for control of authority and revenue sources (including toll collection), as well as taking on greater responsibilities in the context of national administration; the need for better control of access points into the town must have been an added incentive for an improved enclosure. At the same time the expanding ambitions and sphere of activity of local self-government – and perhaps particularly complex, expensive, and long-term capital projects such as wall construction – necessitated improved fiscal administration.

We hear nothing of muragers at Lynn and the only reason we have to be confident murage accounts existed is because of the royal audit (which may be partly responsible for the blind spot in borough archives). However, some items of work on the defences are addressed in the chamberlains' accounts. A good series of these has survived from 1319 onwards, covering the greater part of the fourteenth century, while a handful of tallage rolls between 1292 and 1319 may indicate an earlier form of borough account, for they evolved to list not only income from local taxation but also expenditures; the chamberlains, an office in existence by 1295, were involved in the administration of this revenue, although a reference in 1300 suggests their own accounts were being compiled by that date.

The earliest detailed account of expenditures is from the tallage roll for 1297/98. It makes passing reference to murage revenues, as well as to the carriage of stone for making a sluice; sluices could be considered part of the defences, for they allowed the ditches be kept filled with water and even in flooding unoccupied parts of the town). From the earliest chamberlains account (1319/20) we learn that Lynn already owned a springald, 3d. being paid to transport it to the guildhall; other items dealt with repairs to gates and a bretask. Many of the accounts thereafter include some item or other related to the defences, but without giving any indication of anything other than minor repairs. In 133/34 5s. was paid for making a "great crossbow". 1336/37 saw £61.4s.7d spent on improvements to walls and ditches. In 1338/39 (following the taxation authorized by the king) £90.6s.9½d was spent on the defences, including the manufacture of 14 springalds (at just over 25s. apiece) along with an unspecified number of bolts. It was at this time that a gates were installed across the Dowshill Bridge, although it is doubtful they were housed in a stone gateway; repair of the nearby bretask suggests it continued to be relied on for defence. Work of that year, part of the final phase of the active period of fortification, also included the construction of mud walls and brick arches; the former perhaps represented a heightening of the earthen bank, or maybe filled a gap between the stone wall and the East Gate, while the latter refers to an arcade on the interior of the rubble-built wall, with an arrow-loop in each arch.

By mid-century maintenance of ditches, gates, and bridges had become established as a regular sub-section of the accounts, but there is no indication of work on the walls themselves. The 1350s and '60s appear to have been a period of relative neglect of the defences, with annual expenditure often not more than one or two pounds, although in 1357/58 £7.13s.5d was spent on the South Gate, and there is some indication of economizing in the number of gatekeepers. The reason for the lull may have been the all too frequent diversion of a large proportion of the borough budget into outfitting ships for naval service.

The work documented in 1371 represents a revival of concerns about the defensibility of the town, at a period when French ships were mounting raids on various English ports, although limited resources probably restricted efforts to restoring rather than upgrading defences. In 1370, in response to a royal commission (February) to the borough authorities to survey and clean up the town ditches, financing that effort by a levy on residents, an extraordinary property tax was imposed, although it apparently was unproductive (for reasons not explained). Also during the 1369/70 fiscal year £8.17s.9d was spent on the North Gate, and one of the more prominent citizens, Geoffrey de Tolbooth, was despatched to Norwich to take counsel with the vice-admiral of the northern fleet, Hugh Fastolf, and to London with a large sum of money to be loaned the king; he represented Lynn in a parliament of 1371 and in November 1372 he would be commissioned to assemble carpenters to work on a barge being made at Lynn for the king. At some point in 1370/71, the borough authorities held an array of arms. These things may be taken as indicators of growing tensions. Under the circumstance, why Lynn was unable or unwilling to pursue a new grant of murage is hard to explain (Yarmouth, for instance, had received a 10-year grant in 1369). Perhaps part of the problem regarding why the southern stretch of the defences was not converted from earthen bank to stone wall was because most of it skirted South Lynn; there had been disagreement as to whether the borough or the countryside was responsible for maintaining the South Gate, and the same could have applied to the southern wall. Not until 1386, in the context of another scare, did the borough accept responsibility for defending South Lynn.

It may have been the failure of the property tax that forced the unusual resort to Lynn gilds for revenue to support work on the defences; although, as the account's heading indicates, the focus was not exclusively on the defences. The sizable sum of £158.3s.5d was raised by the 50% tax on gild valuables, and the town's merchant gild kicked in another £5 towards repairs to the conduit by the parish church. As the expenditures listed above show, this extreme measure produced the kind of funding needed. In following years expenditure on the defences once more dwindled to nominal levels; had there been any intent to pursue further the initiative of 1371, the community's obligation to construct the barge (mentioned above) consumed much of the authorities' attention and fiscal resources in 1372/73 and, on a diminishing scale, the next few years, supplemented in the opening years of Richard II's reign by the added responsibility to construct a balinger for the king. In 1377, in the context of another invasion scare, just over &$163;114 were spent on the defences, the authorities having received royal approval for a tax levy for that purpose, but this was just another blip in the normal pattern. By the beginning of the fifteenth century, the defences had become lumped in with other communally-owned elements of the urban fabric whose maintenance formed a section within the chamberlains accounts.


York possesses what are arguably Britain's most substantial remains of a medieval mural defence system, incorporating some three dozen towers and all four of its main gateways (one with the rare survival of a barbican), as well as some elements of two castles and defences protecting an abbey adjacent to the city. Although many components underwent sometimes substantial redevelopment during the post-medieval period, and were subject to restoration efforts in the nineteenth century, the protective circuit, 2.5 miles in length (when walls are taken together with the castle and stretches of water that acted as barriers), still gives one of our best impressions of urban defences from medieval England.

Judging from those chamberlains accounts (mostly from the fifteenth century) published to date, maintenance of the defences was not a responsibility of the chamberlains until about 1453. The 1442/43 account, in recording "a loan of 113s.3½d from this city's murage, beyond this year's payments and expenditures, as appear in the murage account" [Dobson, op.cit., 20; my translation]. shows that murage revenues were separately administered. Whether this was by muragers or other officers is not clear. In 1468/69 collection of murage at four of the principal city gates – Micklegate (its name meaning the "great gate"), Walmgate, Bootham Bar, and Monk Bar – as well as on the Ouse was being farmed out to various individuals, and the same appears true for 1475/76 (when receipts rounded off at £19 exactly) ; but this was not necessarily the case before 1468.

Murage accounts survive from two years in the 1440s and likely exemplify a continuous series over a longer span of time. The chamberlains account for 1445/46 again indicates that, once repairs to the wall that year had been paid for by the murage administrators, the remaining surplus (£18.16s.3d) was transferred to the chamberlains; the murage account of that year confirms the fact. Such transfers had been an annual occurrence since at least 1437. By 1454 the fiction that they were "loans" had been abandoned, and it appears that, while certain payments continued to be recorded in murage accounts, the chamberlains had taken over not only the surplus but also expenditure on maintenance of the defences. By 1476 even reference to transfer had been dropped. The murage surplus in 1454 was £29, well exceeding the costs (as above) that year. The following year costs amounted to £12.16s.2½d, while the murage surplus was £26, again leaving a good bit extra for application to other city needs; so the transfer decision looks to have been financially sound.

The section on wall work in the chamberlain's account of 1454/55 is very similar to that of the previous year, being taken up largely with: the wages of craftsmen and labourers involved in wall repairs, ditch digging and scouring, and palisade erection; the purchase and carriage of building materials, along with a few items of equipment (e.g. a tenpenny barrow) and hardware (e.g. locks for posterns and ropes for the portcullises of Micklegate and Walmgate Bars). The work undertaken, as in 1453/54, was evidently maintenance and repairs, rather than any new construction or major rebuilding. In addition to murage revenues of £29, 18s.7d was raised through donations for repairs to the walls and drawbridge at Skeldergate postern; a collection was made in the churches of parishes in the vicinity of Skeldergate. and several individuals (likely residents of the neighbourhood) also contributed. The section title that year referred only to work on the walls, rather than defence in a broader sense; this may have been a deliberate decision, based on consideration of the purpose of murage; a payment for shipping a gun from Kingston upon Hull was recorded in a different section of the account. In the 1462/63 account the section was titled "Expenditures on the repair of the city walls, gates and their keys, as well as of custody of those gates", and was much briefer, with a correspondingly lower total. Beyond mending keys and extending a chain, work was limited to cleaning, paving, and once more erecting palisades. In 1468/69 the section title referred to walls, gates, and defence, while in 1470/71 there was no such section, although there was one related to the purchase of artillery. We should not make too much of fluctuations in section titles; they were probably adjusted each year to conform to the scope of expenditures.

As with Exeter, York's original defences were put up by the Romans. These were only around an area in the north-west sector of what was later the medieval city: initially an earthen rampart topped by timber palisade, with gates and towers added later. They were rebuilt over the following centuries as a stone wall about five feet thick, supported by an earth rampart on the inner side and a ditch on the outer. At least some parts of the wall were still standing during the Anglian period, with some effort to keep them in repair, although we know of at least one gap that was filled by a palisade. After capturing York, the Danes focused their efforts on strengthening the ramparts: heightening some and covering stretches of the Roman wall in the process (while some parts of the Roman wall were abandoned or used for scavenging stone), and probably building extensions down to the banks of the rivers Ouse and Foss; timber palisades once more topped these ramparts.

The Normans were interested, initially, in controlling the city rather than protecting it, and focused their efforts on building castles there, as well as damming the Foss where it joined with the Ouse, with the intent of feeding water into the moat of one of the castles, but with the result of flooding adjacent fields and producing an extensive pond that presented a potential obstacle to any attackers approaching from the east. But after the Normans were securely established, there was further work on heightening the ramparts (to a height of about 25 feet) and enlarging the outer ditch (roughly 50 feet wide and 10 deep). The gateways began to be rebuilt in stone during this period.

The medieval walls, built in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries (from which almost no chamberlains accounts survive), were placed on top of the existing rampart; having this advantage, they were not built to a great height. Two of the medieval gateways – Bootham and Micklegate Bars – were on, or very near, the site of Roman gates. In this period the York community was becoming more prosperous as commerce flourished, was beginning to obtain a measure of self-government, and a sense of civic identity was growing; at the same time, it was a period of civil wars followed by the war with Scotland. King John had granted the city some timber for its fortifications in 1215, and in 1244 Henry III initiated the rebuilding in stone of the surviving castle at York. All this outlines the context for decisions to erect stone walls around the city, as well as around St. Mary's Abbey and the cathedral Close.

Although the first murage grant was made in 1226, it was only for one year, and there is no evidence of a large reconstruction effort at this time. That probably got underway mid-century, after which a regular series of murage grants occurred covering most of the remainder of the century and up until 1449, when the right to collect murage was granted in perpetuity (although Richard III abolished it on the grounds it was a disincentive to commerce). One indicator of the change underway comes from a land grant document of ca.1250 referring to John de Muro (by the wall) whose father had been named Thomas de Fossato (by the ditch). It was not all smooth sailing: in 1305 the citizens requested the king to be allowed to recover murage funds from mayor Henry Lespicer, after he had been convicted of embezzling £73 from the proceeds. Furthermore, the murage proceeds were proving inadequate for the task. In 1321 the king authorized the city authorities to levy a property tax to support costs associated with the defences.

Nonetheless, by 1315 the walls were apparently complete for the central area of the city and for the Micklegate area north of the Ouse, for a record was drawn up designating the parishes responsible for defending or maintaining particular stretches of wall, gates, and bridges as well as for the Old Baile. The last was still defended only by a palisade, as was the Walmgate sector of the city. In 1327, after the king ordered the city authorities to inspect the defences, and upgrade where necessary, the citizens argued that the Old Baile was inadequately protected and that this was the archbishop's responsibility; at some time in the following decade, the archbishop replaced the palisade with a stone wall. In 1345 the city authorities initiated a similar upgrade to the Walmgate area. The early fourteenth century also saw the gateways strengthened via the addition of turreted upper storeys, portcullises, and barbicans whose outer end was blocked by a further gate.

The fortifications were, by and large, complete by the end of that century, with the later addition of only a couple of towers, to further strengthen defensive capabilities, and an arcaded parapet walk along some of the length. These defences are not known to have been put to any serious test (i.e. extended siege) during the Later Middle Ages; a Scottish army that made it as far south as York in 1319 satisfied itself with setting the suburb of Bootham afire, before withdrawing in search of easier prey (which the mayor and archbishop supplied in the form of a rag-tag pursuit force that was slaughtered a few miles north-west of the city).



This refers to the king's renewal in 1341 of the licence to impose tolls for murage. Collecting was evidently underway in October, and the account indicates that money was being spent before mid-November. The first item in the account (not transcribed above) is a declaration of arrears from the murage account of the previous year, for which a separate renewal (to a two-year grant in 1338) had been obtained.

The Latin term essentially meant a pack-saddle, and the amount of material a packhorse was capable of carrying; when the English "seam" came into use it often meant a pack-horse load. It was used for various types of raw materials, the volume varying depending on the commodity measured as well as the period or locality. Prices in the murage account (7#189;d. for a quarter of sand), which remained constant throughout the year, indicate that a quarter comprised 25 seams. This is considerably higher than the 4 to 5 seams to a quarter in the OED definition of the term. Since there is no reference to the sand being transported by horses (unlike rock), I wonder whether, for practical purposes in the present context, a seam of sand may have been considered a barrow load. The schedule itemizing work on one of the towers refers to two men carrying sand and stone, it does not say how they did so, but a handbarrow seems likely. By contrast, for the road repairs at Bolehill, requiring gravel, we hear of the hire of large numbers of horses, presumably for its transportation.

A coarse sand, or even gravel was most likely meant.

Several barrows were purchased over the course of the year. The term used in the original does not indicate whether handbarrows, stretcher-like rectangular load-bearing platforms with grips for a porter at each end, or wheelbarrows, which substituted a wheel for one of the porters; wheelbarrows had been in use at English construction sites from the early thirteenth century. The low cost of the Exeter barrows, at a penny apiece, however, indicates them to have been handbarrows, as that was typically their price at this period. Wheelbarrows sold for several times that; yet, by eliminating the need for one of the porters (paid roughly 1d a day), they would have been more cost-effective if they lasted for over a week. Barrows were probably used until they broke and then discarded. Why the Exeter authorities did not invest in wheelbarrows we cannot say; perhaps the terrain was unsuitable.

The editors believed this refers to a ramming tool known as a "beetle".

"two women"
It is not common to encounter women undertaking this kind of heavy labour; The account does not normally identify gender (except when a man had a horse) or length of work of such labourers, so a gender comparison of wages is difficult, although probably the going rate for a male labourer was 1d a day. A more common employment of females occurred in the context of the work on the West Gate, when one woman was paid a penny to carry water, probably for the workmen making mortar.

"As many"
For this and the previous two weeks the work had employed 4 masons, their assistant, 6 quarrymen, and a man with a horse for transporting stone; the wages of these men, totalling about 13s.) was not itemized for the week of 29 August, but the amount was included in its sub-total.


Lumber from Riga.

"repairs to 2 barrows"
The original is uncertain; "pro dapn' in 2 barwes" might perhaps mean for laurels used in making barrows, but I am assuming it more likely that the reference is to damage to barrows that required repairs.


A tray was a measure (one-fifth of a quarter), but also a container for carrying mortar.

These were of course wall-tiles, as opposed to floor or roof tiles. That is, flat, hard bricks that were mortared into place. They would have been clay bricks of the northern European style (as opposed to the Roman style, which had been imitated in some earlier medieval brick production), likely introduced into Lynn, Yarmouth, and other East Anglian towns by Hanseatic merchants or Flemish immigrants [P.J. Drury, "The production of brick and tile in medieval England", in Medieval Industry, ed. D.W. Crossley. CBA Research Report no.40 (1981), 127-29]. They could have been imported or produced locally.

"Spanish iron"
Wafer-iron of superior quality. To produce strong iron with a high carbon content (essentially, steel as it was then) required good ore; but ore of that quality tended not to be available in medieval England; it was instead imported from Spain or northern Europe.

"keys, nails"
In each case the original has "clavis", but the contexts favour a different translation.

Blower was a brasier and bell-founder, so whatever these were it seems likely they were metallic. An alternate reading of this word would be "shyves" (sheaths?). Subsequent references suggest possibly some kind of bolt?

How many of the Lynn gates were equipped with portcullises is not certain. But it seems a common feature of the gates of the more prosperous towns. Several of Norwich's gates had them..

"hauling it across the bridge"
This translation is speculative, as the original document was not entirely legible.

"boll skopes bastes trowes et 1 soo"
It would be pointless to hazard a translation without a better sense of context and confidence that the transcription may be accurate.

"projectile cords"
"cordis pilorum" refers to the springald equivalent of bow-strings, but whether the missiles used were javelin-like bolts, or cannonball-like stones is less certain: as "pilorum" could be translated either way (hence my fence-sitting translation). The former is more likely, particularly given the employment of a roper apparently to groove the projectiles so that they would sit securely against the cord in preparation for firing (assuming a tension-driven mechanism).

"Richard de Swafham"
We may suspect some supervisory role in the construction of the springalds (the 14 weeks for which carpenters were employed is the same length of time for which Swafham was paid). He is not listed among the burgess entrants of the period. Served as the borough's keeper of the East Gate from at least 1372 to 1396 (an unusually long tenure), and possibly 171/72, but not earlier, so perhaps the post was a reward of sorts for his role in 1371; he is not known to have held any other position of local responsibility.

"master Richard"
He would appear to have been the master carpenter involved in making the springalds, judging from the far higher wage he earned (6s.8d a week) and the title of respect. Evidently a valued expert brought in from outside Lynn – perhaps from Salisbury – whose initial work was presumably to plan and organize the project, including identifying material needs and seeking out appropriate wood for the weapons.

Bricklayers. Pointers were also bricklayers.

"ditch at Barkerswall"
Conceivably the Barkersfleet mentioned in a leet court record of about the same date.

"North Close"
In 1308 the bishop had agreed to rent to the community a plot of land that probably lay on the north bank of the River Gay, around which the local authorities had already put up an enclosure; the 12d. rent appears as a regular item in the chamberlains' accounts. It is unclear if this enclosed area had anything to do with defensive arrangements.

"Roger Calye"
He was first elected to the office of bailiff at Michaelmas 1370 and held it until his death in July or August 1386. At Lynn, the office was the equivalent of the office of sergeant in many other towns, and holders were sometimes referred to as sergeants.

"Peter de Rollesby"
He was Calie's predecessor in the office of bailiff, in 1369/70, but only for that year, although he also received a borough salary in 1370/71, without his office being specified (possibly he was a junior sergeant). Neither man appears to have been sufficiently well-to-do to take up the franchise at Lynn. What role these men played in the project is not evident, but part of their duties was to collect borough revenues, including local taxes, so perhaps they were assigned to gather the gild contributions.

"all costs included"
Such as transportation.

"ereo" could more strictly be translated as bronze or copper, but was also sometimes used to refer to brass. I have opted for the latter simply because we know that brasier John Blower was employed on the project. Alison Goodall ["The medieval bronzesmith and his products", in Crossley, op. cit., 63] has pointed out that "copper alloy" would be a more accurate term than brass or bronze, since alloys of various ingredients and proportions were worked, not in any given instance necessarily corresponding to brass or bronze as we would define it today. Lead was a more common metal for use in water conveyance pipes (and Andrew the plumber seems to have had prime responsibility for conduit work), but perhaps those referred to here were components of the conduit head.

"friars' quay"
Perhaps a quay attached to the Carmelite friary, which was on the bank of the Nar (which led into the larger Ouse). Since the nearby South Gate was a focus of work, the friary would have been a likely place to store some material.

"master mason"
Robert Couper was the city mason. The fee and the livery indicate he was considered a salaried official at this point in time. He was also put to work in that year on the project to undertake major repairs to the King's Staith, but was paid wages for that. In the chamberlains account for 1455 he was again engaged on work on a particular stretch of wall, but was additionally paid an "annual pension" (retainer?) of 40s. and once more given 4 ells of cloth for his summer gown.

"tower of the Friars Minor"
So named simply because it was the terminus of a stretch of wall (between the castle and the riverbank) which bounded the Franciscan precinct. In existence by 1315, a century later was known as Davy Tower (after a recent tenant). A boom chain ran from this tower to the tower of Skeldergate on the opposite bank of the Ouse, to be raised for defensive or toll-collection purposes.

Use of this term may indicate that the purpose of the posts was to support a bridge; this could have crossed a nearby inlet from the Ouse and been intended to serve users of a postern gate further up the stretch of wall.

The Latin term is stulpum which could be applied to a boundary marker or a pillar supporting something. Conceivably these posts may have been for purposes of raising removable barriers across the two streets, which were among the city's principal thoroughfares. We hear of the use of simple barriers (whence "bars") in several towns to control access to urban streets, but know little of the nature of such barriers. Light may be thrown on this question by items in the York chamberlains accounts. In 1468/69 an oak was bought for making bars at Micklegate, whilst in 1475/76 a carpenter was paid for making a post for installation at "lez barreers" outside Micklegate Bar, and a further 6d was spent on one "barr sive staunchon" for repairs to the same barrier on the far side of that gate. More than a century earlier, several of the gateways at Norwich were furnished with bars and chains, at a time when portcullises were also installed. We know that chains were also strung across streets (a common practice in French and Italian cities to hinder rampaging mobs and cavalry charges): explicitly so at Coventry, and in London (access to the Southwark side of the bridge being controlled by a chain attached to stulps), while at Beverley in 1391 a memorandum records the transfer from outgoing to incoming borough executives of 5 chains – some associated with specific places of deployment. But their ends must have been fixed to something (and it was not likely to have been private houses). So perhaps a common form of barrier was stanchions inserted in post-holes or some other foundation across a road and (in at least some cases) capable of supporting chains or ropes. A row of sturdy bollard-like stanchions are visible in several nineteenth-century illustrations of Micklegate Bar, an access control device associated with one of the pedestrian passages; the passage was post-medieval, as doubtless were the posts. Illustrations of Bootham Bar from the same period show stanchions positioned on opposite corners of nearby Gillygate. Costs involved in repairing Exeter's North Gate, after the attack in 1497, included the purchase of pitch and other protective materials for posts installed outside the gateway, and in 1485 a post had been made for "the bars" at the West Gate. Such bars would have had limited value in the face of an attack by a well-armed force, somewhat more value in terms of slowing riotous crowds, and greatest value probably as toll collection points or means to restrict the access to paved streets of iron-wheeled carts. Similar types of barrier can still be seen today.

"Talkan Tower"
Like Davy Tower, its name derives (it is believed) from a local man, who became mayor in 1399. Thought [B. Wilson and F. Mee, The City Walls and Castles of York, York Archaeological Trust, 205, 666] to be the "New Tower" mentioned in 1388 (when a nearby ditch and fishing rights there were leased out); it was rebuilt ca.1505 when the adjacent fourteenth-century Fishergate postern was reconstructed in a stronger form.

palatium should here be understood as a fenced enclosure used for storage, rather than as any defensive structure. On the other hand, perhaps they were fences to keep people or animals clear of the walls, towers, or ditches; reference in the following year's account to a "new palisade" between Walmgate Bar and the River Foss might suggest a structure intended to be permanent.

"John Helproby"
He had become a freeman just a couple of years earlier, when described as a merchant. This suggests that his qualification for the task he undertook may simply have been possession of a suitable vehicle.

"Layerthrorpe Bridge"
Where one stretch of wall came to a halt, beside the large flooded area known as the King's Fish-pond, there was a postern, with a wider than usual gateway (for carts), controlling the route leading from the suburb of Layerthorpe across the River Foss towards the city centre.

"William Kirkeby"
The name is fairly common in York, several freemen of this surname (including one with the same Christian name, but living in the 1390s) were wrights, so that may have been this William's occupation.

"John Burgh"
A carpenter of this name became a freeman in 1450.

"Thomas Edmond"
A wright of this name had become a freeman in 1425, but this would seem to be the wrong generation for someone still active in the trade 30 years later.

"Thomas Moundevyle"
Described in the following year (when employed on another civic works project) as a carpenter.

"John Gollayn"
He was also employed on the repairs to the King's Staith. A man of this name, described as a labourer, became a freeman in 1441. What benefit freeman's status could offer a labourer and how one could afford the fee (20d. being the lowest recorded) – it being hard to imagine the franchise was obtained without fee by apprenticeship or as a reward for service – is difficult to fathom, but there were a few men in that occupation who took up the franchise; perhaps they had ambitions.

"Barker Tower"
Named for the proximity of the tanners' quarter, this tower stood at one terminus of the section of wall on the south side of the Ouse, immediately across the river from Lendal Tower; between the two towers was strung a boom-chain (following the line of what would have been wall, had not the river intervened); in 1380, not long after the earliest mention of the tower, we hear of city officials responsible for supervising the chain in each tower. The postern beside Barker Tower was a very small gateway, suitable only for pedestrians.

Where the term is used by itself, without reference to the means of carriage, the term used is that for a packhorse-load (summagium) (although this does not necessarily mean that horses were used for the transportation). In 1449/50 "sledfull" (which I have translated as sled-load) is equated to "summagium". In the 1455 account there is reference to lime being purchased in cart-loads.

Possibly some kind of light or small stones, such as gravel?

"John Couper"
The locksmith became a freeman in 1440. I have found no evidence of any family relationship with mason Robert Couper, and the fact that in 1472 John was renting from the city the right to mow hay on land just inside Walmgate Bar (Robert having held a house from the city in Walmgate) may well be coincidence. However, Robert Couper junior, also apparently a mason, worked with Robert senior and several other masons on repairs to a stretch of wall in 1455, as well as on the King's Staith project in 1454, along with Robert senior's assistant (apprentice or journeyman?) Patrick. A family business?


"various chains"
These could be strung across the streets to block passage. Staples were used in securing chains.

That is, large nails.

A type of nail.

Plating staples (or other iron hardware) with lead was to help prevent corrosion.

"enclose various windows"
This must refer either to shutters or to frames in which translucent materials could be installed.

"continued with regularity"
Interestingly, one of the gaps between grants, in the early 1340s, is a period from which muragers' accounts have survived.

"During the 1340s"
Much of the following section is drawn from my notes, and those included by Swinden in his history of Yarmouth, on the contents of disbursement rolls that ended up in the British Library. For revenues, I have used my own notes and the calculations of A.R. Saul [Great Yarmouth in the 14th Century: a Study of Trade, Politics and Society., Unpublished PhD thesis: Oxford University, 1975, Appendix 1 E.

"treasurers of the fund"
By the late fifteenth century, however, the borough chamberlains were responsible for receipts and the muragers only for expenditures.

" lists of permitted tolls"
Two example lists, from different periods, are given by J.C. Tingey in "The Grants of Murage to Norwich, Yarmouth and Lynn," Norfolk Archaeology, vol.18 (1914), 140-44. One for Lynn (from 1294) can be found in Owen, op.cit., 431-32.

The wall is rubble-built, using particularly brick and Norfolk flint (which was used for the facing); Caen stone was used for the arrow loops.

They were used particularly on the interior of Yarmouth's wall, for arcades to support the wall-walk.

Saul has £71.3s.10d.

Saul has £148.17s.11½d. I have adopted the compiler's total, as given on the roll; Saul may have included in his addition entries on m.12d, some of which appear to be duplicates of those on m.12r, while others are crossed out.

"somewhat over £60"
Saul's addition made it just over £66.

Their composition has been analyzed by Maryanne Kowaleski, in "Tax payers in late Fourteenth Century Exeter: the 1377 Murage Roll", Devon and Cornwall Notes and Queries, vol.34 (1978-81), 217-222.

"special officer"
Not the same as the city's chief financial officer, who also had the title of receiver, although Rowe and Draisey [p.xviii] believed the same clerk wrote the murage and the main accounts; the receivers may have compiled their own drafts or notes, used at the end of the year by a professional scribe to write up the final versions. The scribe may have been the receiver's clerk paid 10s. in the murage account, or perhaps his role was just to draft the items as they occurred.

"city quarry"
There is reference in the receiver's account for 1350/51 to a quarry located outside the East Gate. Whether this was the one referred to in the murager's account cannot be said, although it seems not unlikely.

"grand total"
As the sub-section of expenses of work on the conduit (December) indicates, either the addition of the accountants or the accuracy of the scribe or editors is faulty. The total should therefore be taken only as an approximation.

"not consistently maintained"
As in the case of the chapel above East Gate, which received some attention from the murager, although its roofing and other work had been dealt with by the city receiver in the past.

"East Gate"
It fell to the tenant of the gate to arrange and pay for repairs, although the city excused his payment of rent to provide partial compensation. Repairs to the North Gate, however, which mainly entailed replacing the timber components, were paid for by the city.

The earliest reference to gatekeepers at Lynn is in the chamberlains account of 1319/20, with payments to custodians of the east and south gates; the 1331/32 account adds salaries of custodians of the south bretask and of Dowshill Bridge, where the northern gate would be erected a few years later; prior to which, we may imagine that access across the bridge over the Gay was controlled by some kind of moveable barrier. By the close of the century, the three gatekeepers are still on the payroll, the relative significance of the gates being suggested by the salary levels in 1398/99: 20s. for the janitor of the East Gate, 13s/4d for that of the South Gate, and 6s.8d for that of the North Gate, and only 3s.4d for the keeper of St. Anne's Gate (first mentioned 1389, location uncertain); for comparison, the town's night-watchman received 80s. In the fifteenth century, the Gannock Gates reacquired some importance, and we hear of their keepers.

In 1298 the bishop objected to the townsmen's erection of sluices to hold water in the ditches.

"mud walls"
These were presumably the section later referred to as the Clay Walls.

The chamberlain's account records income from two taxes levied that year (not uncommon in this decade), the first producing a fairly normal amount of £99.14s.2d, the second an exceptionally high amount of £/429.2s.3d; the latter must have been the tax for defensive purposes, the higher amount being raised by casting a wider net that included everyone resident in the town, not just burgesses. That only the lesser part of the tax was actually spent on the defences was probably due to high costs incurred in a legal battle with the bishop; the borough budget still ran a deficit in consequence. The costs of the litigation would both become a rallying flag for a reform movement seeking to wrest political power from the borough's ruling elite; the other side of that coin was apparently that the defences had been neglected, for, during its temporary hold on power, the reform administration complained of the dilapidated state of the South Gate (1413), and an effort to rebuild it was begun, but it encountered problems and would not be finished until the following century.

"part of the problem"
Another difficulty could have been that the borough authorities, because of the repeated conflicts with their lord, the bishop, either did not wish to enlist his championship of a request for murage, or did not feel they could count on his support.

"barge, balinger"
After complaints raised in the 1371 parliament about deteriorating naval resources on which the king could call for maritime defence, a number of towns were tasked in the years that followed with building barges and balingers specifically for the king's navy. A balinger, or balenger, is thought to have been one of the smallest vessels used in war: similar to a galley, equipped with oars and a single mast. Ranging from about 24 to 120 tons, they were swift craft intended to carry troops, and used much by raiders and pirates. The derivation of the name is uncertain, but one theory is that they were originally French whaling vessels (baleiniers). Although often mentioned in the Late Middle Ages, they are not (to our knowledge) depicted or described in any detail, so we are not exactly sure what they looked like. Barges would appear to have been similar vessels, but longer and broader, and were for transporting larger troops and cargoes. The construction towns included Norwich, which raised the money for its balinger via a tax on the wealthier parishioners, and London. To build these vessels was no small undertaking; in the 1372/73 fiscal year, Lynn spent over £257 on the project, almost half of its total expenditure that year, putting it more than £72 in the red. The chamberlains account divided up expenditures into the following categories: purchase of timbers, both worked (e.g. rudder, windlass) and unworked; purchase of spars; purchase of planking; purchase of pitch and tar (together with equipment for boiling the tar); purchase of oils; purchase of iron; wages of smiths; transport of the raw materials; setting up a boat-building site (essentially by spreading out a large quantity of sand on which the hull could sit); wages of carpenters (plus expenses of the barge-master travelling along the coast to recruit them); purchase of a small boat (with mast) to serve the barge; purchase of the barge's mast and sail; costs of making a canvas cover, a banner, and a streamer (of red and blue serge); purchase of hawsers, other cables and pulleys; purchase of willow rods; purchase of cooking utensils and supplies (e.g. fat); purchase of arrows and escutcheons (shields to protect rowers from enemy fire); sailors' wages.

Circuit is perhaps not strictly correct, as York is the unusual case of a defensive ring interrupted in several places by local watercourses.

In 1489 public donations were solicited at York to finance the replacement of wooden gates with iron gates at every gateway; this was prompted by a rural uprising in the vicinity of York (with some subsequent support from the citizens), in which the Earl of Northumberland had been murdered and Walmgate Bar and Fishergate Bar assaulted – the latter being so badly damaged that instead of trying to repair it, the corporation simply bricked it up.

If it needed a boat to carry it, it was likely a largish piece of artillery; possibly a cannon, but not necessarily since "gun" could be used as a general name for war engines. In 1468/69 the manufacture by masons of "gunstanes" refers to ammunition for such artillery; we hear at the same time of catapults (balistarum – perhaps referring to arbalists , although the term was also becoming applied to cannon – and the stones they threw.

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Created: December 31, 2007. Last update: December 13, 2010 © Stephen Alsford, 2007-2010