Strict control of commodities

Newborough Bar, 1845, as depicted by Henry Barlow Carter
Newborough Bar, 1845, as depicted by Henry Barlow Carter

Written by Dr Jack Binns

Many Scarborians were engaged in the preparation of hides and skins and their sale as leather. Later, St Thomasgate was called Tanner Street until it reverted to St Thomas Street in the early 1800s. Early seventeenth-century wills of half a dozen tanners, eight cordwainers (shoemakers), six glovers and two skinners have survived.

Before the days of cotton and artificial textiles, before cheap, mass-produced pottery and plastics, in the 1600s there were only wood, wool and leather. Scarborough’s Common Hall employed a searcher, a sealer and a registrar who tested, approved or rejected all leather goods offered for sale every Tuesday and Thursday mornings in advance of market days. So in 1643 we find that Richard Woulfe was found guilty of “selling one hyde before it was sealed by the sealer approved [it] before it were sold”.

Four hundred years ago the people of Scarborough were already burning sea-coal in their domestic hearths and smiths and brewers were using it to stoke their forges and fires. Ever since 1614, when the Privy Council ordered coal merchants at Newcastle and Sunderland to levy tax on outgoing sea-coal to maintain Scarborough’s piers, this coastal trade had become vital to harbour safety and an increasing source of employment and income for the town’s shipbuilders and mariners.

Within the town itself, the licensed coal porters delivered and traded under the watchful eye of “Mr Bailiffs”.

Since all Scarborough’s coal came in by sea, distance from the harbour side determined how much you were required to pay for it. A bailiffs’ order of 1625 told the porters what they could demand of householders. If they lived “alonge the sands”, a chaldron of coal would cost them eight pence; beneath Longgreece Steps, ten pence; all along Longwestgate and Dumple , sixteen pence; up to Paradise, twenty pence; all the Leade Stoope (Leading Post) up to the Corn Cross (at the end of Longwestgate), sixteen pence; all Merchant Row, seven pence; from the Corn Cross to Beast Market (lower Queen Street), sixteen pence; from Beast Market to the high conduit (corner of St Thomas and Newborough), twenty pence; all St Nicholas and St Thomas Streets, twenty pence; from the high conduit to Newborough gate, two shillings.

The Assize and Measure of horseporters also required them to bring in their “pokes” (sacks) of coal to check whether they conformed to local, legal measures. A chaldron was a common measure of coal of 36 bushels and Scarborough’s own pokes contained six bushels or six to a chaldron. Woe betide any of the nine horseporters whose pokes were underweight.

Daily wages were regulated by statute law and in each community employers were required to pay “the going rate” and their workers to accept it.

At the general sessions held in January 1640, Miles Cooper was presented “for takinge wages above the statute”. At the same sessions, Roger Boyes was in trouble “for kepinge unlauffull wegys”. Since workmen were often paid in food and drink, keeping a check on daily and weekly rewards must have been in practice virtually impossible in a town the size of Scarborough.

The borough’s officials relied heavily on the craft and trade gilds to obey the statutes. No one was permitted to follow any trade unless he had first served a full and successful apprenticeship of seven years. Such apprenticeships usually began as early as the age of seven and at the latest 14 and were supervised by 
the senior members of the gild.

In 1466 Scarborough had at least 19 functioning companies or gilds, but by the 1600s their number seems to have fallen to only about half of that. Because their “compositions” or constitutions have survived, the ones we know about were the carpenters and joiners, smiths, bakers, tailors, butchers, shoemakers, tanners, weavers, glovers and porters. So for their monopolies within the borough and stall places in the markets these gilds paid annual fees to the Common Council known as “pavage” and “conduit”, that is use of the public pavement and access to the public water supply. Whenever one of their “company” infringed their rules or those of the market, half of the fine imposed went to the bailiffs. Of the many obligations of members was that on the death of one of them or his wife they would “accompany and carry...the said 
deceased person in decent manner to the plaice of 
buriall”.

The Common Hall raised money by selling monopolies to the town’s richest men who usually had places there and then fined those who attempted to break or circumvent the monopoly! So, in February 1603, the bailiffs and burgesses granted a 21-year lease to five cordwainers of the sole right to make and sell train oil by boiling down the blubber of whales and seals. For this lucrative cartel they paid £13 6s 8d a year.

Scarborough’s foul-smelling “oil-house” was on the site of what is now the Town Hall. Another essential was salt which came from boiling off sea-water on South Bay sands. In 1600, the year of his marriage to Thomasin Hutchinson of Wykeham, John Farrer and eight other townsmen bought the borough’s salt monopoly for the next seven years for £60 at an annual rent of £20.

Not surprisingly, no cases came to the borough courts of townspeople trying to make their own train oil or sea salt; these were industries which needed expensive investment in equipment and large
quantities of sea-coal for fuel. Yet there were many instances of householders breaking the borough’s milling cartel by grinding their own corn.

Scarborough then had three water mills, upper, middle and lower, along the course of the beck that ran from “Le Mar” (Scarborough Mere) into South Bay and a windmill on the same Bracken Hill site where its successor stands today. Millers had a bad reputation for giving short measure, over charging or contaminating flour.

On the other hand, do-it-yourself householders using their own “handmills” were severely fined: for the first offence they paid five shillings, for the second, ten shillings, and for the third, twenty shillings “and soe to be doubled for each default”.