OF YARMOUTH FREE-FAIR, AND THE VARIOUS DISPUTES
AND CONTESTS BETWEEN THE CINQUE PORTS AND YARMOUTH RELATIVE THERETO.
We have before had occasion to mention the annual concourse of
people to the spot where Yarmouth now stands, for the several purposes of catching, curing, and disposing of herrings, whence we
inferred the origin of the free-fair; in which it appears, the fishermen
of the Cinque Ports were principals, and thence claimed and actually
undertook, the government or that annual resort. We shall here, then,
resume the subject, and, for the better information of the reader, relate such particulars of the Cinque Perls as may be a necessary elucidation of their connections, and consequent disputes with Yarmouth.
Les Cinque Ports that is, the Five Ports, from their eastern situation
on the coast of England, immediatelo opposite to that of France, had
acquired the reputation of sending out the most expert mariners of
any in the kingdom, and were accordingly much confided in by the
Kings of England, from whom they obtained a particular policy and
jurisdiction of their own, were nominated, by way of eminence, the
Cinque Ports, and were governed by some nobleman, bearing the title
of Lord Warden.
The five principal towns, from which they are denominated, are
Hastings, Dover, Hithe, Romney, and Sandwich, to which several
members were added.
Camden says, that William the Conqueror first appointed a warden
of the Cinque Ports, who, from the several customs and privileges
granted them, continues to have the authority of an admiral, and
issues out warrants in his own name. This officer, or limenarcha, the
same author adds, seems to have been created in imitation of the Roman littoris Saxonici comes, or tractûs maritimi comes, the earl of the
Saxon shore, or earl of the sea coast, an officer with nine sea-ports
under his charge, established for the defence of the coasts.
Their grand privileges come from King John; who being distressed
to fit out a fleet of ships for the recovery of his Norman dominions,
lately lost, indulged them with a charter, on condition that they should
provide for him 57 ships for forty days, at their own charge, as often as
the wars he was engaged in, should give him occasion to demand them.
Amongst their liberties, the barons of the Cinque Ports had some
privileges granted at Yarmouth; or rather, they were confirmed; for
they had holden them by prescription long before. But these privileges interfering with some of those granted to the burgesses of Yarmouth, by the same King, occasioned such confusion, discords,
outrages, and domestic wars, as perhaps were never before known,
for so long a time, between any two communities in the British dominions; and which were sometimes carried to such horrid extremities,
that the whole nation was alarmed at their mutual depredations.
These seem to have originated from the idea that each entertained
of their own importance from these newly acquired grants, and a consequent tenacity of their particular privileges, at that time, perhaps,
scarcely ascertained. And this appears the more probable, if we consider, that (as we have before intimated) the sole management of the
fair, whence the town arose, was originally in the Cinque Ports, though
afterwards in conjunction with the King's provost, and, after the
incorporation, with the bailiffs of the town.
At the time when our Kings had real, as well as nominal possessions
in France, the fishermen from the coasts of France, Flanders,
Holland, Zealand, &c. as well as those of England, resorted to this
fair, together with a great number of merchants and traders from most
of our capital inland towns; whence the several orders, dites, and
decrees, issued from the throne, for the mutual advantage of the bailiffs
of Yarmouth and the Cinque Ports, will not appear extraordinary.
That the Cinque Ports first sent bailiffs to Yarmouth, to superintend
the fair, we have before observed; and though that parade has been
a long time discontinued, a short account of it may not be unentertaining.
The number of bailiffs sent was not always the same. In the 13th
of Edward I. we find ten in commission: but it is to be observed that
only the five ports and the two ancient towns (Rye and Winchelsea)
were concerned in sending them, the members being exempted. In
that year, we find Hastings sent one bailiff, Dover one, Hithe two,
Rye one, Romney two, Winchelsea two, and Sandwich one. They were
generally preceded, in their formal entry, &c. by four serjeants; the
two first carrying white rods, the next a banner, or standard, the other
When seven bailiffs were sent, they were the seven representatives of
the aforementioned seven towns, each town sending one. When eight
came, two were from Winchelsea, and one from each other town.
When nine came, two were from Winchelsea, and two from Dover or
Hithe, the rest one each. When there came ten, two were from Winchelsea, two from Dover, two from Hithe, and one each from the
remaining four towns. But this order was not always inviolably preserved, as may be seen by the foregoing instance of the 13th of
After Yarmouth and the Cinque Ports had obtained their respective
charters, the frequent riots, and dissensions between them, on account
of their liberties and privileges, occasioned the granting that famous
ordinance, called the dite, whereby King Edward I. in his 5th year,
confirmed den and strond to the Cinque Ports, at Yarmouth, and
granted them several other liberties there, which he further confirmed,
in his charter to them the following year. And by a special pardon
granted to Yarmouth by that King, in his 10th year, it appears that
several trespasses and damages were done to the ports, upon the sea
coast, as far as Shoreham and Portsmouth, by the people of Yarmouth,
for which they were fined 1000l. nor does this appear to be the first
instance of that nature.
Fresh differences and controversies afterwards arising, and many
other outrages continuing to be committed, a new charter was granted
to each party in the 26th of that King, and in his 33d year another
ordinance was made for the better accommodating of differences between them. This seems to have been in consequence of an inquisition taken before two of his majesty's justices, appointed by special
commission, in the 31st of that King, by which it appears, upon the
oath of twenty good and lawful men, that Yarmouth had sustained
damages by the Ports-men to the enormous amount of £20138.; a
prodigious sum at that time.
It was also recorded by Hollingshed, in his Chronicle, that in the
25th of the said King, "That King passing into Flanders, to the
assistance of the earl thereof, being no sooner on land, but the men
of the Ports and Yarmouth, through an old grudge long depending
between them, fell together and fought on the sea with such fury,
that, notwithstanding the King's commandment to the contrary,
twenty-five ships of Yarmouth, and their partakers, were burnt, &c."
But Manship observes that in the town's record of that year, he did
not find that so many were burnt; but by a complaint and presentment made to his majesty, it appears that thirty seven ships were
greatly damaged by the Ports-men, 171 men killed, and goods to the
value of £15350. were spoiled and taken from them, "of which,"
continues he, "a grievous requital was not long after made by the
men of Yarmouth, against the Ports-men."
These disturbances continuing till the reign of Edward III. that
King, in his 10th year, made another ordinance for the preservation
of peace between them; which proving yet ineffectual, further agreements were made in his 31st and 33d years. These still had not the
desired effect. The calms of peace succeeded the storms of riot and
confusion, only to make way for a succeeding one, often more fatal
than the former, till the 10th of Richard II. when these enormities had
arisen to such a height, that they not only involved whole families in
all the calamities of ruin and distress, deprived the poor of their comfort, and the rich of their possessions, but interrupted the affairs of the
public, and were alarming to the whole nation. In that year, therefore, the King made another agreement between them, which he
commanded to be proclaimed throughout all his dominions, both at
home and abroad, and to be kept under a grievous penalty to be
inflicted on the first offender. By means of this proclamation, a more
peaceable conduct was observed to each other for some time; but
scarce a year passed without some little contest or petty disturbance,
till matters were finally settled, to their mutual satisfaction, in the
reign of Queen Elizabeth, at least for that time. But to return:
In the 31st of Edward III. the statute of herrings was enacted; at
which time we find the whole legislature interested in these alarming
disputes: and deliberating on, and making laws and ordinances for
their better government. The original of this statute is in French, a
translation of which is as follows:
"Forasmuch as the commons of the realm of England, at the parliament holden at Westminster the Monday next after the week of
Easter, the year of the reign of our lord the King, Edward the Third,
of England xxxi, and of France xviii, have complained them to our
lord the King, because the people of Great Yarmouth do encounter
the fishers bringing herring to the said town in the time of the fair,
and do buy and forestall the herring before they do come to the town.
And also the hostelers of the said town, that lodge the fishers coming
thither with their herring, will not suffer the said fishers to sell their
said herring, nor meddle with the sale thereof, but sell them at their
own will, as dear as they will, and give to the fishers that pleaseth
them, whereby the fishers do withdraw themselves to come thither,
and so is the herring set at much greater price than ever it was, to
the great damage of our lord the King, of the lords, and of all the
people. Wherefore our lord the King, seeing the mischiefs in this
behalf, by the assent of the great men and all the commons, hath
ordained and stablished remedy upon the said mischiefs, in the
form as followeth.
"First, That no herring be bought or sold in the sea, till the fishers
be come in the haven with their herring, and that the cable of the
ship be drawn to land.
"Item, That the fishers be free to sell their herring to all that
come to the fair of Great Yarmouth, without any disturbance of
their hostelers or any other. And when the fishers will sell their
merchandizes in the port, they shall have their hostelers with them,
if they there will be, and in their presence, and in the presence of
other merchants, openly shall sell their merchandizes.
"And that every man claim his part for the taking (i. e. the price)
after the rate of the same merchandizes so sold; and the said sale
shall be made from the sun-rising, to the sun-setting, and not before
nor after, upon forfeiture of the same merchandizes.
"And that the said fishers be free to buy their victuals, and that
which they need, where it shall please them. And that no hostelers,
nor other, buy any for to hang in their houses, by covin, nor in
other manner, at an higher price the last than 40s. but less in as
much as he may, according as he may agree with the seller.
"And that no hosteler, nor any of their servants, nor any other,
whosoever he be, coming to the said fair, shall go by land, nor by
sea, to forestall herring, privily nor openly, but the herring shall
come freely unsold unto the haven. Nor that any pyker make
buying of fresh herring in the haven of Yarmouth, betwixt the feasts
of St. Michael and St. Martin, upon pain of imprisonment at the
King's will, and to forfeit all the herring so bought. And that no
vessel, called pyker, of London, nor of none other place, shall enter
into the said haven, in order to enhance the fair, in damage of the
people, upon the pain of forfeiture of their vessel, and all their
chattels found therein.
"And that all the hostelers be sworn before the wardens of the
said fair, and enjoined, upon a great forfeiture to the King, to receive their guests well and conveniently, and to aid and ease them
reasonably, taking of every last that shall be sold to other merchants
than to the said hostelers 40d. And that of herring sold to the same
hostelers to take into their own houses, the same hostelers shall take
nothing. And because of the profits which they shall have of victuals sold to their said guests, and of the advantages that they have
more than other of curage of herring so by them bought, and
hanging in their houses. And that the hostelers, because of this
ordinance, do not refuse their guests, but receive them, and intreat
them in good and friendly manner, as they have done before time.
And that they, for the advantage of 40d. the last, take upon them
for the payment of all the herring that shall be sold by their assent
to any persons. And the hundred of herring shall be accounted by
six score, and the last by ten thousand. And that the merchants of
Yarmouth, of London, or elsewhere, sell the thousand of herring to
the people at the rate of the price of the last. And that the people
of Yarmouth sell the last of red herring bought for 40s. fresh within
40 days, for half a mark of gain, and not above. And that the
people of London, at such fair, shall bring the last from Yarmouth
to London for one mark of gain, and not above. And also two
lasts of shotten herring fresh, shall be sold for the price assessed of
the buying of a last of full herring, and so of more and less after
the same rate; and of shotten herring red, the two lasts shall be
sold dearer by a mark than the last of herring full red, and that because the curage of the last of shotten herring, draweth to as much
as the last of full herring; and so of more and less, according to
the same rate.
"And that the ships called the pykers shall freely buy fresh herring, and all other merchandizes of fishes, in Kyrkly, and elsewhere
upon the coasts of the sea, without impeachment or disturbance of
the hostelers of Yarmouth, or of any other; so always than no
more herring be discharged in the road of Kyrkly out of the fishers
ships, but as much as may reasonably suffice to the charge of the
pykers that thither shall come for the same cause. And that the
fishers be compelled to bring all the remnant of their herring to the
said fair, to sell there, so that none sell herring in any place about
the haven of Yarmouth, by seven miles, except in the three towns
of Yarmouth; that is to say, Eston, Weston and Southton, unless it
be herring of their own fishing. And our lord the King doth will,
that the Barons of the Five-Ports shall cause to be kept and governed the said fair, according to the composition late made
between them and the people of the town of Yarmouth, confirmed
by the King's grandfather, and that the said Barons, and the bailiffs of Great Yarmouth, cause to be kept these present ordinances,
in all points, and to be cried in every Sunday between St. Michael
and St. Martin, upon the pain to lose their franchise, and to be
punished at the King's will. And that the people of Yarmouth
suffer the said Barons of the Five-Ports to govern and rule the said
fair, after the purport of the said composition, and due execution
to be made of this ordinance, upon the pain last aforesaid.
"And these ordinances, in the right of buying and selling of herring, shall be holden in all the towns of England where herring is
taken and searched (i. e. dried) upon the pains aforesaid.
In the 17th year of Queen Elizabeth, a fresh contest arose between
Yarmouth and the Cinque Ports, concerning prenomination in the
proclamation and stile of the court. To determine which, with some
other controversies, both parties had agreed to a deputation in London; but that of the Cinque Ports not appearing according to agreement, the burgesses write to them a letter, which concludes thus:
"Trulie the cawses whereuppon theis quarrells doe rise, doe brede
of yourseltes, and that within theis fewe yeres wherin you onelye
seke superioritie over us, whiche before your predecessors never
challenged, that is prenominacion in the proclamacion and in the
style of the courte, whiche we alweis have had, as appereth by oure
auncient records, at whiche tyme if yow of righte oughte to have
had the prenominacion, neither were we then of habilitie to witheholde it from yow, neither were yow of that weakness to forbeare
in, and therefore in common reason you should knowe youre privileges as well then as now; and for the effecte of the proclamacion,
you knowe that time hath so changed all things, as not one article
thereof is performed, no not that whiche youre owne people may
very well performe, and are thereunto, bothe by statute and proclamacion, commanded; that is, in the delivere of ther herrings withe
us; for if they can delyver at Lowestofte, they will bringe verye
fewe or none to us, notwithstanding many promises yerely made by
youre baylives for the reformacion thereof. And althoughe we
have lately tollerated youre baylives to have prenominacion, to oure
discredytt, wherbye yow seak advantage against us, we meane not
to contynewe soche injurye against ourselfes; but if yow shall be
contented with the use of soche privileges here, as youre predecessors of olde tyme, and till of late have frequented, we will accepte
yow as oure frends, and use yow with that frendshippe and curtesye
as apperteynethe, as knowethe God, who assiste you in all youre
counsells. At Yarmouth the 20th day of August, anno 1575.
"Your lovinge frends,
the bailyffs, burgesses, and
comynaltye of Great Yarmouth."
Amongst many schemes, for effecting a more perfect and permanent reconciliation between these contending parties, at this time in
agitation, it was proposed to make Yarmonth a member of the Cinque
Ports, as appears by a motion made for that purpose by the bailiffs of
the Cinque Ports, the 16th of October, in the 16th of Elizabeth, to
which the major part of the corporation of Yarmouth assented. And
on the 29th of the same month, it was agreed, at an assembly then
holden, "That the two following things be remembered at the Parliament: viz. to make this town a member of the Cinque Ports, and
that the setts on the waters be granted to the town in fee." But
whether this was ever brought before the house, or by what means it
"was not effected, does not appear.
In the 18th of Elizabeth, however, all matters were finally settled
by commissioners appointed for that purpose, and an award published,
to the satisfaction of both parties, the purport of which is as follows:
I. That the bailiffs of the Cinque Ports, in conjunction with those
of Yarmouth, shall, during the fair, administer justice and keep the
peace, as usual.
II. That the said bailiffs, in conjunction, shall have the holding and
determining all pleas, moved or depending and determinable, during
the fair, according to the lawe-merchaunte.
III. That the prison there shall be kept jointly by the said bailiffs,
for all prisoners committed or remaining there during the fair. And
at their first coming, to view the prisoners and enquire the cause of
IV. That the prenomination of the style of the court be (alternis
vicibus) one year to Yarmouth, the next to the Cinque Ports. And
the nomination of the first turn to be made by two of the commissioners, one on either side.
V. That the bailiffs of the Cinque Ports, as well as those of Yarmouth, with their several usual officers and ornaments, do assemble
together at the usual place, and then, in the name of all the bailiffs
there present, without particular nomination or prenomination of
either party, proclaim the fair, as usual.
VI. That the Cinque Ports bailiffs exert themselves to prevent their
own fishers, and others, from discharging any herrings or other merchandize, during the fair, at any place within seven miles of Yarmouth,
except at Yarmouth, agreeable to the edict made between Yarmouth
and the Cinque Ports
VII. That the usual party inquest, half ports-men and half Yarmouth men, impannelled to enquire into offences committed during
the fair, be continued as before.
VIII. That the composition of six pounds per annum, paid by Yarmouth to the Cinque Ports, in lieu of a toll of four pence for every vessel
arriving during the fair, shall be reduced to three pound ten shillings
only, which shall be considered in full payment and no arrears demanded; no boats or ships belonging to the Cinque Ports being
chargeable with the said four-pence.
IX. That the inhabitants of the Cinque Ports, with their members,
shall be free of all taxes and customs, for their ships and goods, and
enjoy all their customary privileges, not contrary to these articles.
And that they may dispose of their herrings, as usual, without interruption from the bailiffs of Yarmouth.
X. That the bailiffs of the Cinque Ports shall award no supersedeas
of themselves to set any person at liberty, committed by the warrant
of the bailiffs of Yarmouth, without the consent of one or both of the
said bailiffs. And, on the contrary, the bailiffs of Yarmouth shall not
do the like, with respect to any person committed by the ports bailiffs
without a like consent from them. But that every surpersedeus, or
other discharge, shall be by the consent of one or both of the bailiffs
who granted the warrant during the fair.
According to the indorsement of these articles, the first prenomination after, was in the Cinque Ports, determined by the two commissioners appointed, by casting lots.
After this, we do not find any thing material upon record, contrary
to peace and good order, till 1634, when Edward Owner, one of the
bailiffs of Yarmouth, refused the Ports bailiffs their usual seat with
them, and otherwise insulted them, which caused them to petition to
the Earl of Arundel and Surry, then Earl Marshal, who accommodated the difference, and recommended a more courteous carriage,
and friendly demeanor, in future.
All animosities, at least of any import, seem here to have terminated,
there being nothing upon record contrary to that supposition. But
in 1662, for what reason does not appear, the annual composition of
3l. 6s. was not paid to the bailiffs of the Cinque Ports, nor does it
seem that the ports sent any more bailiffs in a public capacity, after
that time. Some of their fishermen, indeed, called by the people of
Yarmouth, West countrymen, did continue to come, in different numbers, as occasion required, till the year 1756, since which time not
one of them has come to the fair.
From sometime in the reign of Queen Elizabeth, till the abovementioned year, when Yarmouth discontinued payment of the composition, the Ports had only sent two bailiffs to the fair; the manner
of whose election, to that office, the order of their procession and
reception at Yarmouth, may not be unentertaining to the reader.