London tradesmen and their creditors
(G. Unwin)

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Centre for Metropolitan History

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Author

George Unwin (editor)

Year published

1918

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Pages

19-34

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'London tradesmen and their creditors: (G. Unwin)', Finance and trade under Edward III: The London lay subsidy of 1332 (1918), pp. 19-34. URL: http://british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=33002 Date accessed: 30 September 2014.


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LONDON TRADESMEN AND THEIR CREDITORS

Amongst the most valuable material for the economic history of the middle ages are the recognisances of debt which are frequently to be found in great numbers in the public archives of states and municipalities As, however, the obligations thus recorded obviously partake in many cases of the nature of legal fictions, the interpretation of them is not a task that can be lightly attempted, except in cases where they constitute such a close sequence amongst themselves as to cast light upon each other, or where they can be brought into intelligible relations with the data of the same period Both these conditions are fortunately fulfilled in the case of a series of recognisances contained in the "Letter Books" of the City of London, and in the following essay an attempt will be made to use this material as a means of illustrating the relations existing at the end of the thirteenth and the beginning of the fourteenth centuries between the shopkeepers of London in a variety of trades and their creditors

Let us begin with the trade in wine, which is the foreign commodity that bulks largest in early commerce Wine was the one article of daily consumption-for the middle and upper classes a necessity rather than a luxury-that had to be brought from abroad It came chiefly from Gascony and the Rhineland The Liber Custumarum preserves a vivid picture of the arrival of the Lorraine merchants with the wine fleet They raise their ensign and sing Kyrie eleison as they approach London Bridge There they may broach a tun of wine and sell it at a penny a stoop retail After passing the Bridge they must wait two ebb-tides and a flood so that the Sheriff and the Chamberlain may come and have the first pick of their wares on behalf of the King, for the ships may be bringing not only wine from the district of Cologne and Mainz, but also gold and silver cups and precious stones, fine textiles and coats of mail that have come from Constantinople by the Rhine route A London jury of goldsmiths, drapers and mercers will set a price on such of these wares as the King may fancy Then when the Sheriff and Chamberlain have claimed two tuns of wine below the mast and one before the masthead for the King's use at reduced prices, the Lorrainers are free to sell by wholesale first to the merchants of London, then to those of Oxford and Winchester, and afterwards to other merchants and the general public If they wish to seek customers on shore they must first take registered lodgings and pay extra custom In forty days they must depart, unless a storm or their debtor detain them (fn. 1)

Acknowledgments of debt in the "Letter Books" show us that not only noble and rich merchants but also well-to-do craftsmen bought their wine direct at these times from the foreign merchant Brokers were appointed by the city to facilitate the bargains, and credit was given for three or six months Wine could be readily stored it was as good as money fines were generally levied in it in settling trade disputes For this reason a class of native wholesale wine merchants was slow to develop, especially as the Gascons, with the King's connivance, frequently ignored the restrictions set on their stay in the country The King, through his officers, the Sheriff, the Chamberlain and Butler, dominated the wine market, both as a buyer and as a seller He caused much of the inferior wine levied as custom to be sold, and bought large quantities of superior vintages Gregory Rokesley and Henry le Waleys, who between them held the mayoralty for ten years under Edward I, began their careers as buyers of the King's wines But as this was only one of their many mercantile interests they cannot be styled vintners Matthew of Colombiers, who continued to be King's Chamberlain of London for twenty-one years, at the same period was a vintner of the official type He sold the King's wines Through his connections we may get a glimpse of the wine trade in general One of Matthew's clients was a young citizen, Henry of Arras, who, despite his French name, had inherited rents and tenements in London, a manor in Buckingham, and a mill at Ware But his wine business had not prospered, in 1287 he owed Matthew of Colombiers 75 marks To make matters worse, he had two younger brothers and two sisters upon his hands While in these difficulties he made proposals of marriage to the daughter of a more successful wine merchant, William of Barage William received him with words to the following effect "Well, Henry, Philippa seems to have taken a fancy to you, and I've nothing against you as a son-in-law, but you've clearly no notion of business as yet I'll tell you what I'll do If you'll let me manage all your property for the next eight years, I'll pay your debts, I'll find jobs for your brothers, and husbands for your sisters, I'll back you with my credit, and I'll teach you the business" (fn. 1)

Now we know enough of William Barage's business to satisfy us that it was worth learning It was evidently very extensive In 1283 we hear of one of his young men, after transacting successful business as a commercial traveller in the North of England, being robbed of thirteen marks at Lichfield In 1286 we find two of his agents setting out with a cargo for Norway In 1287 and 1288 William himself was summoned across the Channel to transact some business for the King in Gascony (fn. 2) But it is with the London business that we are especially concerned This was of a very varied character William acted as the London agent for a Gascon firm, and collected the instalments of their debts He also lent his credit to back the bills of less substantial merchants than himself He did the same for retailers of wine Here is a case in point Allan of Suffolk is a neighbour of William's, a taverner of Vintry Ward His moveables are assessed at 5/- (William's at 20/-), (fn. 3) and his credit with Gascon firms is limited On one occasion he buys £8 worth of wine in August, and arranges to pay £2 at Xmas and the rest by quarterly instalments of 30/- When therefore we find Allan and William Barage acknowledging a joint debt of £38 to a Gascon firm we may be sure that William is lending Allan his credit for a consideration (fn. 4)

William also bought extensively from the Gascon merchants on his own account In November, 1282, for instance he orders from a Gascon firm seventy tuns of wine, worth £84, to be paid for next midsummer The wine is apparently at Portsmouth A week later a skipper from that port presents a bill for freight amounting to £24 William has not so much cash in hand, and it will take him a fortnight to collect it He goes with the skipper to the Guildhall, acknowledges the debt, promises to pay it in fourteen days, and agrees to give the skipper fourpence a day with which he may have a good time in London whilst waiting (fn. 1)

In the meantime William must get his wine landed from the Portsmouth vessel lying at Vintry Wharf There are four gangs of winedrawers of twelve men each, for the union rule is that there shall never be less than twelve men to a job of this sort Wine, like meat, should be "led, not drove" William, we will suppose, engages the "skip up" gang (their name promises alacrity), and their registered tariff is 2½d for every tun carried into any of the lanes near the wharf where William has his cellar But some of the tuns will no doubt have to pay the higher tariff of 8d that they may be carried to William's customers, the taverners of the city These are evidently sometimes indebted to the vintner, not only for their wine, but also for other stock-in-trade-thus resembling the "tied houses" of our own day Cristian the Taverner, for instance, acknowledges "that he has received from William Barage six casks of wine for sale, worth £13, which is stored in the cellar of Walter of Berden Also four silver cups, weighing 40/3, which he would account for when he sold the wine" (fn. 2) It was unlawful for the wholesale merchant to retail wine on his own account When the wine was delivered at the taverner's, the official searcher would come round and mark the end of the cask, after testing its quality, with the price at which it was to be sold In 1311 the price of best wine was fivepence a gallon, of seconds fourpence, of the rest threepence The cellar door was to stand open so that the customer might see that his wine was drawn from the right cask In 1331, twenty-nine taverners closed their shops as a protest against unfair prices fixed by the authorities (fn. 3) In 1364 a taverner who had sold unsound wines was condemned to "drink a draught of the same, and to have the remainder poured upon his head and to forswear his calling for ever unless the King will pardon him" (fn. 4)

A vivid picture of a tavern interior is presented by the verdict of a coroner's jury in 1277 On December 6 the keeper of a tavern in Ironmonger Lane was heard quarrelling with his man, and as they slept in the same room alone in the house, the man arose in the night, murdered his master, and hid the body in the coalhole For two days afterwards he sat at the bench and sold wine, then he departed, taking with him all the portable property-a silver cup, a robe and some bedclothes Three weeks later the vintner who had supplied the wine called for the money, and, finding the debtor gone, took all his stock-in-trade-a tun and a half of wine, worth fifty shillings, some small tables, cloths, gallons and wooden potels, worth two shillings Not till the following Easter, when the landlord, Master Robert the Surgeon of Friday Street, set the shop to a new tenant was the murder discovered The murderer was never caught Chattels, adds the jury, he had none (fn. 1)

Though the corn supplies of London did not arrive with the same pomp and ceremony as the wine fleet, their coming was not without a certain picturesqueness of its own Most of it must have been brought from the ports on the East Coast in barges not unlike those that still make the same voyage and that lend the Thames so much of its charm to the eye of the artist On its arrival at Queenhithe it must be measured by the cornmeters. There were eight of these officers, each of whom had three servants, and each servant one horse and five sacks Bakers and brewers who came to buy their corn were charged ¾d or 1d for measuring and carriage of every quarter, according to the distance We know many bakers acted as their own corn-merchants, since we find them forbidden to go out and forestall supplies But more often a corn-monger intervened-"blader" was the term used-and played the same part in relation to the baker that the vintner bore to the taverner (fn. 2) In 1301, for example, Thomas Lef, baker, acknowledges a debt of £35 to a blader, to be paid in instalments of £4 or £5, lasting over several years (fn. 3) To take another more interesting case We find a certain Henry le Coupere, baker, has run up a debt in 1301 of forty-three marks to a goldsmith-who seizes his body, lands and tenements in satisfaction-but who, finding this satisfaction very imperfect, makes over the whole bad debt to a blader, Roger the Palmer, on condition of receiving twenty-five marks in two years' time, and Henry le Coupere completes the arrangement by leasing his bakehouse to the blader Obviously the cornmonger intends to run the bakehouse on capitalist lines (fn. 1) Now, in the year 1310 Roger the Palmer, by virtue of his office as Sheriff of London, is recorded as having arrested a whole cavalcade of market-women who were bringing in bread from Stratford and of condemning it as being of light weight The jury found that the bread was weighed when cold and had therefore been condemned unjustly, but, as a warning to the offenders, it was ordered that three halfpenny loaves should be sold for a penny, whilst as an act of mercy the bakeresses aforesaid should this time have such penny (fn. 2) A cynic might be tempted to infer that Roger's bakehouse speculation had deflected his judicial mind from the strict course of equity

Let us descend one step in the scale to the baker who was a substantial tradesman, using his own capital He must make his choice between brown bread and white He must not sell bread in his own house, but might either have it hawked about by "regratresses," or sell it from a hutch in the market twice a week-Wednesdays and Saturdays He was forbidden to deal with the breadwomen on any other footing than thirteen to the dozen, and he must not give a woman credit who owed debts to his neighbour He must stamp all his bread with a seal, and he might fatten swine on his husks so long as he reared them in his own house or elsewhere, and not in the streets or lanes of the city. (fn. 3)

The business of the trading baker was moreover elaborately regulated by the Assize of Bread According to the custom of London this was made at Michaelmas by four sworn men, who were to buy three quarters of corn-one in Cheapside, one at Grasschurch or Billingsgate, and one at Queenhithe- of which they were to make wastel bread, light bread and brown bread, and to present the loaves while hot to the Mayor and Aldermen, who weighed them and fixed the weight of the halfpenny and farthing loaves for the year Eightpence a quarter was allowed for expenses of baking The halfpenny loaf of best bread-called demeine bread or simnels-only weighed as much as the farthing loaf of wastel or seconds (fn. 1)

The nature of the penalties by which these regulations were to be enforced was one of the most disputed points of mediæval municipal policy An aldermanic chronicler lays it to the charge of the Earl of Gloucester's unconstitutional government of the city in 1258, that, instead of placing bakers in the pillory he exalted them in the tumbril But he is still more scandalised by the leniency of Walter Hervy, the revolutionary Mayor of 1271, who let bakers off scot free, though every loaf was a third short weight

Below the class of independent tradesmen who sell their own bread, there was a lower rank of bakers who worked upon the materials supplied by their customers It has been a matter of lively dispute amongst those interested in mediæval origins, which of these two classes developed out of the other, but the evidence seems to point to their simultaneous existence in the earliest times Sometimes both modes of business were combined, but there were obvious reasons why the municipal authorities should desire their separation There is a case on record which not only serves as an admirable illustration of this point, but also proves beyond a doubt that the "public baker" was a widespread institution in mediæval London

In 1327 John Brid, baker, "was attached to make answer as to certain falsehood, malice and deceit by him committed to the nuisance of the common people in that he did skilfully and artfully cause a certain hole to be made upon a table of his called a moulding-board pertaining to his bakehouse after the manner of a mouse-trap, there being a certain wicket warily provided for closing and opening such hole And when his neighbours and others who were wont to bake their bread at his oven came with their dough-such dough having been placed on the aforesaid table, the said John had one of his household sitting in secret beneath the table who carefully opened the hole and bit by bit craftily withdrew some of the dough aforesaid, falsely, wickedly and maliciously"

The Serjeant-at-mace and the Sheriff's Clerk who discovered this atrocity, having made a raid on the public bakehouses of the city, found no less than nine others provided with fraudulent tables, beneath which in many cases lay an accusing litter of dough The sentence passed by the civic jury on these malefactors was a fine specimen of mediæval justice All the bakers with dishonest moulding boards were to stand till vespers in the pillory and those under whose tables dough was found were to have a quantity of dough suspended from their necks Two women bakers were reprieved for a time because they declared that they had husbands, and that the deed was not their deed (fn. 1)

As in the case of the vintner so in that of the goldsmith, we have a profession whose free development was overshadowed and retarded by the dominance of official privileges Many of the early mayors and sheriffs of London had been at one time or another goldsmiths as well as vintners They minted the King's money, acted as his exchangers, undertook the repair of the crown jewels or negotiated for a new supply, generally with the technical and financial assistance of Italian experts In this sense Gregory de Rokesley, Mayor of London 1275-81, was a goldsmith But he was also, as we have seen, a vintner, and he dealt largely in wool We are concerned here with the goldsmith's trade as a distinct profession It had been organised as a powerful gild in the twelfth century, and there are abundant evidences of its activities in the Letter Books dating from the end of the thirteenth century First and foremost, the goldsmith was a highly skilled craftsman He did not necessarily own the precious materials in which he worked We find him going to the Guildhall to acknowledge the receipt of articles of plate entrusted to him by royal or noble personages for his manipulation But more often he was a dealer as well as a worker in the precious metals The first charter of the craft (1327) authorises the goldsmith to buy gold and silver plate, but only in the row of shops called Goldsmiths' Row, in Cheapside, where their work may be overlooked, and not in back streets where stolen goods might be received Other sources show us that the goldsmith's profession embraced men of every degree of wealth-from the merchant of aldermanic status to the poor craftsman, and the charter gave to the select body of dealers who had shops in Cheapside the control of the trade It is, however, with other aspects of the goldsmith's calling that we are here more especially concerned Before their expulsion in 1290 Jews had often followed the goldsmiths' profession, and in their hands it embraced the functions of the banker, the moneylender and the pawnbroker During the civic revolutions that accompanied the Barons' Wars we see the Jews, who were frequently harried by the London mob, hastening to deposit their store of pledges with Gentiles who were not always faithful to the trust reposed in them Did this side of the goldsmiths' calling disappear along with the Jews ? It is often assumed that it did, and that the banking carried on by the seventeenth century goldsmiths was a "newfashioned mystery" I think there is good reason to doubt this.

We shall see presently, from an examination of the acknowledgments of debt, that the lending of money and of credit was carried on in an occasional way by many of the wealthier merchants of all trades, and the same evidence seems to show that the goldsmiths, as was natural, specialised in this direction, and acted as channels through which both ready money and credit might flow We find that a certain wealthy fishmonger named John Sterre was in the habit of advancing £2 to £5 in money to butchers, who no doubt needed short credit with which to buy stock and who came in little groups of twos and threes for a loan in common Now John King, who twice forms one of these groups of borrowers, comes a third time accompanied by a goldsmith, Robert le Gloucester (fn. 1) Why should a goldsmith be borrowing money along with a butcher? Is it not more likely that he is merely guaranteeing the butcher's solvency, "for a consideration"? But then we find Robert de Gloucester and other goldsmiths several times borrowing on their own account from the fishmongers And moreover on looking further we find these same goldsmiths borrowing, about the same time, considerable sums from a variety of people-Gascon wine merchants, Spanish leather merchants, London aldermen, corders, ironmongers, country gentry and clergy (fn. 1) It seems difficult to account for these loans otherwise than as deposits The sums vary from £3, or £4 to £25, and are generally entrusted to a group of two or more goldsmiths, who are jointly responsible for their repayment It is not, I think, an extravagant inference to suppose that foreign merchants or country gentlemen should have left their surplus cash at the goldsmith's, who may possibly have encouraged the practice by acknowledging a debt of the deposit plus a small amount for interest They might thus manage to borrow in spite of the usury laws, and by reversing the process they could contrive to lend at a profit, but as I find them borrowing oftener than lending, I imagine that their loans may have taken the form of purchasing articles of plate below cost price and holding them as pledges

This form of banking, if it existed at all, was rudimentary Most of the advances of capital on which London commerce and industry in the thirteenth or fourteenth century were dependent were made by merchants in the ordinary course of business, and as the way in which this was done has an important bearing on the social and constitutional history of London it will be worth while to follow it in some detail The classification of London citizens made by Miss Curtis on the basis of the subsidy roll of 1332, will be found of great value in interpreting the data given by the acknowledgments of debt, and will enable us to realise with some clearness the economic relations of the several classes to the foreign capitalist and to each other (fn. 2)

The foreign merchants who periodically visited England, whether they were drapers from Louvain and Douai, dealers in the light fabrics of St Omer and Cambrai, mercers of Paris, Gascon wine merchants, or Spanish leather merchants, were apparently prepared to give from three months' to twelve months' credit (or even more) to all who could offer sufficient security We may roughly distinguish-merely by their size-two kinds of "transactions," the larger of which-£20 to £80-we may call a "shipping order," and the smaller- £1 to £10-a wholesale order But there were half a dozen kinds of transactions by which these two kinds of orders might be fulfilled A foreign merchant might (1) supply a shipping order to the value of £30 or more on the single security of one of the larger merchants (classes A and B) Or (2) he might give credit for that amount to a shopkeeper (class C) if backed by the additional security of a merchant (class B), or (3) for a lesser amount on his own security Or (4) he might accept the joint shipping order and joint security of half a dozen small traders (classes C and D) Or, finally, a merchant who had obtained credit from a foreigner for a shipping order might proceed to give a number of shopkeepers credit for wholesale parcels ordered from himself

The two most significant records of the dealings of London tradesmen with foreign merchants and with each other are that of the cordwainers and that of the potters The term "cordwamer" was applied in the thirteenth century to men of widely different social status Early in the middle ages Cordova acquired a wide reputation for the leather which its craftsmen prepared from goats'-skins, and the manufacture, which afterwards spread to Barcelona, Northern Spain and Provençe, supplied one of the main articles of commerce at the Champagne fairs The merchants who dealt in it were called cordwainers Gervase the Cordwainer, who was King's Chamberlain of London in 1227, and Sheriff ten years later, derived his name from the cargoes of Spanish leather which he brought to London At the end of the thirteenth century the merchants of Northern Spain or their agents visited London and the English fairs with great regularity, and the leading cordwainers or skinners of London gave them "shipping" orders and received credit for sums of from £30 to £75 Besides these there were lesser merchants who took smaller parcels worth from £5 to £10, and occasionally as much as £15 But by far the commonest form of transaction was from two or three, four or five, six or eight of these lesser merchants and shopkeepers to combine for the purpose of buying a cargo We have a record of nearly a score of these bargains stretching over a period of three years. The first is the most remarkable A merchant of Spain, named John de la Founs, had brought, in August 1276, a cargo of leather valued at £133, and sixteen of the cordwainers of London arranged to buy it between them They divided themselves into two groups-one of seven, the other of nine- and each became jointly and severally responsible for half the cargo, i e £66 This was equivalent to the purchase by each member of the smaller group of over nine pounds worth of leather, and by each member of the larger group of seven pounds worth In the later transactions the groups were generally smaller and the average share larger A fortnight later five members of the larger group combined to buy a second lot of £78 from a Gascon firm, whilst the leading member of the smaller group bought on his own account a large parcel of £30 (fn. 1) We do not know anything about the internal arrangements of these groups of cordwainers, but we may safely infer that they were mainly composed of traders and manufacturers of classes C and D, who, by co-operation, were enabled to put themselves on a bargaining level with importing merchants of classes A and B

But most of the cordwainers of the fourteenth century were small craftsmen and shopkeepers of class E, and we get a glimpse of their economic status in the recorded transactions of Ralph Poyntel, a well-to-do leather merchant and currier, who acted as a middleman between the foreign merchants and the craftsmen He buys a lot of £20 and sells it in parcels of from 25/- to £5 One of the largest of his customers is a certain cordwainer John Tilli, who buys, in 1281, a parcel of leather worth £7 10s John Tilli's affairs seem to have prospered (in 1290 he belonged to class C, being assessed at 13/4 in Cordwainer Street Ward), and he wished to extend his business The gild rules generally forbade a member to have two shops, but this obstacle could be surmounted by setting up a man of straw In 1286, therefore, John Tilli joins with Ralph Poyntel in setting up a certain Richard "the Sewer" with a stock worth £11 13s Richard covenants to remain in their service three years, to render a yearly account of all money and goods received and profits made, whilst Ralph and John agree to provide Richard with all necessaries and to pay him a yearly stipend of one mark for his service (fn. 1)

Here we have a situation parallel, only with harder conditions, to that of the taverner in the tied house, and such arrangements were common in other trades

Let us now transfer our attention to the economic conditions of a craft which possesses much æsthetic and antiquarian interest-that of the potter The potters of the fourteenth century London were not makers of earthenware, but workers in copper and brass, and bell-founders The early potters, like the early cordwainers, were importers of foreign goods-mostly kitchen utensils known as dinanderie The brasswork of Dinant, near Namur, had acquired a European reputation, and a class of wealthy exporters had arisen in that city, of whose mercantile operations M Pirenne, the historian of Belgium, has recently made an interesting study These marchands batteurs, as they were called, brought large quantities of their wares to England and took back English wool and tin Two wealthy London merchants, Walter the Potter and Richard the Potter, who made their wills in 1280 and 1281, in all probability derived their names from their extensive dealings in dinanderie Walter the Potter, senior, was an alderman, and built the Chapter House of Grey Friars Richard the Potter lived in Cheapside and had much property in London besides a shop at Bury St Edmunds and land at Boston and Winchester Richard's nephew, Walter the Potter, junior, and Henry, Walter's brother, to whom he left the shop and the land, were extensively engaged in the same business, as was also Alan the Potter, another nephew The merchant of Dinant, who appears to have done most of the English trade at this time bore the rather invidious name of Aubrey le Pecherous, and in 1287 we find Walter the Potter, junior, and Henry, his brother, giving him a shipping order for £34 worth of dinanderie to be paid for in four instalments at the fairs of St Ives, St Botolph's, and Winchester (fn. 3)

In this transaction Walter and Henry were only receiving the ordinary mercantile credit The case of another of Aubrey's clients is more interesting because it not only shows us how a London merchant might become dependent upon foreign capital, but also reveals the process by which the possession of real property on which the power of the aldermanic class was originally based, was gradually dissipated in unsuccessful trading operations The Durhams were one of the ruling families of London during the thirteenth century They were connected by marriage with the Viels, the Basings and the Buckerels (fn. 1) William of Durham, Alderman of Bread Street Ward, who died in 1283, had apparently lost much money in trade Two years before his death he was obliged to hand over for eight years' occupancy some valuable property near London Bridge to Richard the Potter, to whom he owed eighty marks (fn. 2) The assumption that William had been a potter-a dealer in dinanderie-is strengthened when we find his widow, Sabine, shortly afterwards marrying Adam le Potter at the sign of the Rose Now Sabine (née Viel) had some real property in her own right, and soon after this second marriage we find her going with Adam the Potter to convey this property for a term of years to Aubrey le Pecherous, in return for which he supplied them with capital to the extent of forty-six marks This was in 1284 (fn. 3) In 1287 and 1288 Aubrey supplied Adam the Potter on credit with two lots of £20 each (fn. 4) On the first of these occasions credit was given for a fortnight only, but, on the second, payment had to be arranged for by twelve instalments spread over four years, and two other potters had to provide security for Adam's debt Adam is evidently steadily going downhill Sabine Viel's second marriage has been more unfortunate than her first We should not be surprised to find the pair going, later on, to one of the aldermanic moneylenders And we actually do find that in 1311 their son Adam has become a desperate character, has made a murderous attack on Alderman Richard of Gloucester, and has had to be bailed out by several more prosperous members of his father's calling

So far the potters we have met with have been dealers in foreign goods But a home industry has been growing up, and we can watch its beginnings In 1277 Walter the Potter, senior, the alderman, helped to set up a working coppersmith named Nicholas of Stortford by advancing him £5 in money and copper Nicholas had no security to offer but his tools and his workshop, and he undertook not to alienate either of these till the debt was paid (fn. 1)

Another working craftsman of this trade, John the Potter, was a man of more resources In October 1288 he undertook a contract with the Abbot and Convent of Ramsey, in Huntingdonshire to make a new lavatory for them "of good and durable metal, thirty-three feet long and two and a half feet high, with sixteen copper keys (clavifus) of subtle design and richly gilt, and fillets through the centre" For this piece of work he was to receive £30 and a gown A third of the money was to be paid in advance to enable him to get materials, a third in six months' time, and a third when the work was completed John was to ride down to Huntingdonshire with his two journeymen The Abbey would find food for horses and men whilst they stayed Master and men were each to have two loaves of bread and two gallons of beer, a dish of meat or a dish of fish every day, but one of the master's loaves was to be "monks' bread," and both his gallons were to be drawn from the Convent cask, whilst his men were to be content with the bread and beer given out in the hall to the servants of the Abbey (fn. 2)

Richard of Wymbush-a third working potter of our acquaintance-was probably even better off than John the Potter His credit was good with various aldermen for £9 or £10, and we find a tiler owing him twenty marks (fn. 3) He had formerly cast a bell for Holy Trinity Priory, near Aldgate, and in 1312 he contracted to supply another as nearly as possible in tune with the first The second bell, though not so large as the first, was to weigh over a ton Richard was to have six months to complete the task, and the Priory was to lend him the first bell to work by We are glad to hear that the job was finished to the Prior's satisfaction (fn. 4)

Such great contracts as these do not of course represent the everyday work of the potter, but they show that London craftsmen were by this time capable of large undertakings. We may get an idea of the nature and value of the more ordinary productions of the potter from a list of household utensils seized in 1303 for arrears of taxes The cooking pot and other kitchen utensils were the readiest articles to the hand of the tax collector, and three potters, including Richard of Wymbush, were upon the jury specially appointed to value the goods, which included -

One brass pot, weighing 14 lbs, value 21d

One brass pot weighing 18 lbs, value 2s 6d

One kettle, value 14d

One brass posnet, weighing 6 lbs, value 10½d (fn. 1)

This record may fitly conclude with a document that shows us the London potters on the point of organising themselves as a craft In 1316 a number of those engaged in making and selling brass pots came before the mayor and aldermen to complain of the abuses perpetrated in their trade Many persons, they declared, who busied themselves in buying and selling brass pots, and especially a certain Alan the Shopper, were in the habit of buying pots of bad metal and then putting them on the fire that they might sell them as good second-hand pots on Sundays and other feast days in Cheapside, and these pots when exposed to great heat melted and came to nothing They received permission to elect eight men to make an assay to determine how much lead should go to the hundredweight of copper, and it is of special interest to note that four of these men chosen are described as "dealers in the said trade," and the other four as workers and founders of pots (fn. 2)

G Unwin

Footnotes

1 Lib Cust, I, 61
1 Bk A, pp 95, 95, 102, 103, 118, 164
2 C P R, 1286, p 249, 1287, p 289
3 Subsidy Roll of 1290, Public Record Office
4 Bk A, pp 71, 87
1 Bk A, p 55
2 Bk A, p 41
3 Riley, Mem, p 182
4 Ib, p 318
1 Ib, p 12
2 Liber Albus, trans by T Riley, pp 212, 229
3 Bk B, p 111
1 Bk B, 40, 42, 43, 114
2 Riley, Mem, pp 71-2
3 Liber Albus, pp 231-2
1 Liber Albus, pp 402-4
1 Riley, Mem, pp 162-5
1 Bk B, pp 163, 176, 150
1 Bk B, pp 20, 30, 53, 70, 88, 113, 135, 137, etc, etc
2 See later, pp 44 5 The classes distinguished by Miss Curtis are here given for convenience of reference [Ed ]
      No of taxpayers                           Assessed value of
Class     in class      Amount of tax             property
   A           16         £4 and upwards     £60 and upwards
   B           172       £1   -   £4            £15      - £60
   C           141       10/- -   £1            £7 10s - £15
   D           253       5/-   -   10/-          £3 15s - £7 10s
   E           502       1/4   -   5/-            £1       - £3 15s
   F           543       8d    -   1/4           10/-     - £1
1 Bk A, pp 8-9
1 Bk A, pp 26, 41, 97, 141
2 Bk A, p 106
3 Cal Wills, I, 49
1 Cal Wills, I
2 Bk A, p 153
3 Bk A, p 158
4 Ib, pp 105. 109
1 Bk A, p 15
2 Ib, p 172
3 Bk B, pp 54, 129
4 Riley, Mem, p 100
1 Riley, Mem, pp 47-9
2 Ib, p 118 The founders are all on the tax roll of 1319 One belonged to Class F, one to Class E, two to Class D The dealers in pots on the tax roll belonged to Classes B and C