Nostlagia: Market trade war with Seamer finally ends

The roads into Scarborough were evil and miry during winter months, especially around Scarborough Mere.
The roads into Scarborough were evil and miry during winter months, especially around Scarborough Mere.

Many of the benefits claimed by Sir Henry Gate for his new Seamer market were endorsed by signed petitions received by the commissioners who met at Hutton Buscel in 1584-5. At least 31 townships and villages declared their agreement with the Monday market. All along the north side of the Vale of Pickering, from Wilton, Ebberston, Snainton, Brompton and Ruston, southwards over the Wolds as far as Cranswick, and westwards as far as Rosedale, surviving signed petitions discovered some years ago in Scarborough’s public library, told the same tale. For them, Seamer was far more convenient, accessible and cheaper than Scarborough. Stallage rates and the prices of staple goods, such as wheat, barley, rye and peas, were all lower on Mondays at Seamer than on Thursdays and Saturdays at Scarborough. Moreover, during winter months, the roads to Scarborough were “evil and miry”, whereas placed between moors, vale and wolds, Seamer was better suited to trade with all three.

By the time of Sir Henry’s death in 1589, the dispute was still unresolved. The Court of the Exchequer, the Council of the North at York, the Court of the Queen’s Bench and the Privy Council in London had all failed to reach a conclusion. So, after a lull, Edward Gate, now lord of the manor of Seamer, revived his father’s market in 1594, and the legal war resumed. Once more the issue was referred to the Council at York and its lord president there, now the earl of Huntingdon.

This time, the Common Hall on Sandside asked their senior bailiff and legal representative, William Conyers, to present their case at York. Conyers must have been a formidable and persuasive advocate because soon afterwards, in 1595, the lord president ordered the suspension of Seamer market for the next four years.

Clearly, however, this was no more than a truce, not a peace treaty. In 1598, when Scarborough was visited by a “dangerous infection whereby great mortalitie did ensue”, Edward Gate was permitted to reopen his market for as long as Scarborough’s were shut down by the plague. But the following year, when Scarborough was declared to be free of the disease, Gate refused to close his Seamer market. Commercial hostilities were resumed.

Edward Gate proved to be as stubborn as his late father. Scarborough retaliated by raising the stakes. Anyone in the town who dared to travel to Seamer on a Monday was threatened with a prohibitive fine of £3 6s 8d. In March 1599, all 44 members of the Common Hall were required to swear that Seamer market was “a great hynderance to the towne of Scardburgh” and that they had never spoken to the contrary or knew of anyone who had. Again the dispute came before the Privy Council. In a futile and desperate attempt to delay its proceedings, Edward Gate absented himself from the hearings and conveyed his lordship of the manor of Seamer to Henry, his eldest son.

It seemed that at last Scarborough was winning. In September, 1599, the town’s traders announced that the suspension of Seamer’s market between 1595 and 1598 had been wonderfully beneficial. The tanners said that hides were for sale once again in Scarborough; the shoemakers declared that their numbers had increased from five to nine; and the masons, tilers and carpenters told a similar story of revival. Building work worth a thousand pounds had been resumed in the borough.

Now, Lady Gate, Edward’s sister joined the contest. In her letter of November 1599 to Robert Cecil, the Queen’s principal secretary, she argued strongly that Seamer market had not competed with Scarborough’s and that it was an asset to the whole neighbourhood. Seamer, she wrote, was a natural point of exchange for goods coming from Blackamoor (North York Moors), mainly “ploughs, carts, wains and such necessaries for husbandry” and those, mostly cereals, from Yorkswold (Yorkshire Wolds). In contrast, she continued, the route from inland to Scarborough was often inaccessible, “as almost no horse with burden in winter can pass without danger”. [Here she was referring to the Burtondale road which was frequently flooded by Scarborough Mere].

Her case was succinct and well-made, but ignored. The Privy Council ruled the suspension of Seamer market at the end of 1599, and when the order was defied Scarborough’s two bailiffs and the sheriff of the county were authorised to shut down the market by force if necessary.

Nevertheless, closure was still only temporary. Having exhausted the patience and resources of Elizabeth’s government, final judgement on the controversy was passed to a jury of 24 North Riding gentlemen, who included such notables as Sir Henry Cholmley of Roxby, Sir Richard Etherington of Ebberston and Nicholas Bushell of Whitby. Edward Gate denounced some of its members as biased, but the verdict went against him. In 1602, Seamer market was shut down permanently.

The stakes had always been stacked against Seamer. After Sir Henry’s death in 1589, Edward Gate did not command his father’s former prestige at York and in London. Neither could he match the £2,000 that Scarborough was said to have invested in prolonged litigation. Moreover, the Queen and her ministers dare not discount the strategic value of Scarborough’s harbour and the castle, the borough’s annual rent to the Crown of £91, and the 4,000 fish the royal court received at half the market price.

Finally, at the end of the affair, Scarborough had acquired two powerful advocates, the earl of Nottingham, Lord High Admiral, who became the borough’s steward in 1597 and Lord Burghley, lord president of the Council at York from 1599 until 1603. Both were alarmed by what they saw of Scarborough’s poverty and decline, even though they had been grossly exaggerated in town petitions.

The drawn-out war with Scarborough had practically bankrupted Edward and his family. The compensation of £100 offered to him and his son Henry by the Common Hall could hardly have covered his mounting debts, even had it been paid as promised in instalments. In 1604, the Gates sold their interest in Seamer manor for £200 to Thomas Mompesson. He was a Wiltshire squire, who had married Eleanor, one of Edward’s many daughters. Mompesson did try once again to revive his market, but it was finally suppressed by royal charter in 1612.