A History of the County of Gloucester: Volume 4, the City of Gloucester. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1988.
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Trade and Industry 1066–1327
The economy of medieval Gloucester was based on its indigenous industries, particularly ironworking, clothmaking, and the leather trades, and on a local trading area confined principally to neighbouring villages in the Vale of Gloucester but extended by connections with lesser market towns. An extra dimension was provided by the river trade on the Severn, and the town also benefited from some of the main currents of overland trade, particularly that from South Wales into England, and had a limited share in the overseas trade in wine, wool, and corn. During the two and a half centuries following the Norman Conquest those varied functions, together with the intermittent stimulants of the use of the town as a supply base for military operations and the frequent visits of king and government, brought Gloucester fairly steady prosperity. (fn. 1)
Such evidence as survives for Gloucester's involvement in overseas commerce in the 12th and 13th centuries suggests that, as with other towns, the Gascon wine trade played an important role in enriching its leading merchants. Ailwin the mercer, the wealthiest burgess of his day and the man who took the lead in the town's political aspirations, was trading in wine in 1183, (fn. 2) and another leading burgess of that period, Wascio (Gascon) the cook, whose daughter or close kinswoman married Ailwin, (fn. 3) was probably also involved in that trade. Richard the burgess the younger, who was selling wine in Gloucester in 1200, (fn. 4) was possibly the man who later became mayor of the borough. (fn. 5) Three others mentioned as dealing in wine in the early 1220s (fn. 6) all served as bailiffs of the borough, among them David Dunning who served the office in at least four years and was a considerable property-owner in the town. (fn. 7) Nine men of the town were presented for offences against the assize of wine in 1287; (fn. 8) six of them served as bailiff at some time, including Alexander of Bicknor, Walter Sevare, and Philip the spicer (or apothecary) who were regularly re-elected to the office. Another who traded in wine in the late 13th century was presumably the Gascon merchant William de Riouns who settled in the town, (fn. 9) probably by 1295 when he took a long lease of property there. (fn. 10) The town's wine merchants in the 13th century frequently had their business disrupted by having to give up their wine to stock the castle cellars against the king's coming, (fn. 11) though presumably the regular needs of the royal household ultimately benefited the trade.
Some Gloucester men were also involved in the export of wool in the 13th century and the early 14th. Philip the spicer was among four Gloucester merchants recorded as sending wool overseas during the early 1270s when a licensing system was in force. (fn. 12) Alexander of Bicknor was probably another with a share in that trade, for he was employed by the Crown to buy wool in 1297. (fn. 13) The import of cloth from Flanders concerned other Gloucester men, including probably William Payn who was recorded as selling cloth in the town in 1287 (fn. 14) and trading with Flanders in the 1290s. (fn. 15) Robert de Honsum was mentioned as bringing two boatloads of cloth, wine and fish up river from Bristol to Gloucester in 1284, (fn. 16) and Adam Honsum, presumably of the same family, was importing cloth and silver from Antwerp in 1303. (fn. 17) The reference from 1284 suggests that, as later, much of Gloucester's overseas trade was done through Bristol, the goods being transhipped to smaller vessels there or else carried overland.
Gloucester men were apparently trading with Ireland in 1130; (fn. 18) Thomas Myparty of Gloucester was engaged in that trade in 1234; (fn. 19) and in 1301 John the Cornishman (le Cornwaleys) of Gloucester, described as a king's merchant, was ordered to transport victuals from Ireland to Scotland for Edward I's army. (fn. 20) Opportunities nearer at hand were provided by the Welsh campaigns of the 13th century; four Gloucester men were victualling the army there in 1277 (fn. 21) and such activities may have helped to lay the basis for the penetration of South Wales by merchants of the town in later and more peaceful times. One trade that was to remain a feature of Gloucester's connections with Wales was already established before the Edwardian conquest: by the 1250s Welsh cattle were brought regularly for sale in the town or neighbourhood or to be driven on towards London. (fn. 22)
For the part that Gloucester played in long-distance trade within England in the early Middle Ages evidence is almost entirely lacking. Men from Salisbury were apparently regular traders in the town in 1229, (fn. 23) possibly helping to maintain trading links with Southampton, which were important in the late Middle Ages. A smith from Northamptonshire recorded in the town before 1287 (fn. 24) was perhaps involved in the trade in iron, which, as mentioned below, was one Gloucester product that was widely dispersed throughout England.
From an early date the river trade on the Severn played a significant, though never a dominant, role in the town's economy. The use of the river was well established by the late 12th century when cargoes of military and other supplies were regularly shipped to and from Gloucester. (fn. 25) The importance of the Severn for carrying fuel for Gloucester's smithies is reflected in Henry II's grant c. 1170 of free passage to men of the town bringing wood and coal downstream, (fn. 26) and in the 13th century the river was apparently the usual means of bringing to Gloucester the Forest of Dean oaks that the Crown donated to religious houses of the town for their building operations or assigned for the works at Gloucester castle. (fn. 27) The timber trade on the river appears to have involved a number of the leading burgesses at the period, for Philip the spicer and Robert of Putley (fn. 28) were among those who supplied timber for the works at the castle in 1264. Stone for the same works was brought by boat, some of it from Denny, in Minsterworth, (fn. 29) and that was another commodity for which river transport was naturally used where possible; in 1298 and 1302 stone was shipped from Elmore for use by the town muragers. (fn. 30) Any obstruction to free passage on the river was a matter of concern to the town: in 1247 complaints were made that a monk of Gloucester Abbey had placed obstructions in the river, apparently for a fish weir, stopping boats from reaching the town, (fn. 31) and in 1277 two Gloucester men were appointed together with two Worcester men to supervise the alteration of weirs that were impeding navigation. (fn. 32) There are occasional references to mariners and watermen among the 13th-century inhabitants of Gloucester (fn. 33) but their rarity suggests that, as in later centuries, the bulk of the trade that came to the town's quay was carried in boats belonging to other towns on the river.
Evidence for the extent of the local market area that Gloucester served is not forthcoming until the late 14th century and is discussed below. (fn. 34) It is possibly not a reliable guide for the situation in earlier centuries, for the establishment of other markets nearby during the 13th century and the early 14th must have gradually restricted Gloucester's role as a mart for agricultural produce. The two nearest places to be successfully established as markets at that period were Painswick and Newent, which both had charters in 1253, (fn. 35) and the impact of Newent was being felt by 1258 when complaints were made that it had taken from Gloucester market the corn trade of the Newent area. It was, however, also noted that the chapmen of Newent still went to Gloucester to buy fish, hides, and salt (fn. 36) and later evidence shows that Painswick and Newent, as well as more distant market towns, remained important customers of Gloucester for its manufactured goods and for goods it imported from Bristol, London, and elsewhere.
In the 12th and 13th centuries an important factor in extending Gloucester's influence as a market centre was the network of Gloucester Abbey manors scattered throughout the county. When the abbey cultivated its manorial demesnes and brought much of the produce to supply the abbey or sell locally, services of carrying to Gloucester, sometimes as regularly as 15 times a year, were owed by the tenants of manors as far distant as Clifford Chambers and Eastleach Martin, and some carrying services continued to be required even when local markets could be used more conveniently for some of the produce. (fn. 37) Those tenants would tend to look to Gloucester as a source of manufactured goods as well as a market for the produce of their own holdings, while tenants from closer at hand, particularly from the compact group of abbey manors that lay just across the Severn, were even more firmly orientated towards Gloucester. The Gloucester Abbey tenants were evidently an important element among Gloucester's market traders in the 1240s when a dispute over their tolls arose between abbey and town. (fn. 38)
The produce brought in from the surrounding countryside to the market in 1273 included apples and pears from the Severnside orchards. (fn. 39) Honey was another product of the immediate neighbourhood which was brought in considerable quantities; on the Gloucester Abbey manors across the Severn, Churcham, Hartpury, and Upleadon, there were tenants in the 1260s who held their land in return for renders of honey. (fn. 40) Another regular item of the incoming trade, from rather further afield, is suggested by the abbey records: the monks owned rights in a salt well at Droitwich and carrying services were required from some tenants of manors near Gloucester. (fn. 41) Robert the Salter, a Gloucester man who was among those who supplied timber for the castle works in 1264, (fn. 42) may have combined the carriage of Droitwich salt with the trade in timber on the river.
An important item in Gloucester's local trade was fish, supplied both from fishing weirs adjoining the town and by villagers from riverside parishes downstream. Local fisheries included royal weirs, which were held with the castle in the 1250s, (fn. 43) Cokeyn weir and Castle weir just below the town, owned by Llanthony Priory, and Gloucester Abbey's Pool weir above Westgate bridge. (fn. 44) Fishermen or fishmongers (the distinction was not usually made at the period) were recorded fairly regularly in the town (fn. 45) and included a man who was bailiff at least three times in the mid 13th century. The regular supply of lampreys for the royal table by the burgesses had begun by King John's reign (fn. 46) and continued under his successor, (fn. 47) to be eventually formalized in the presentation of lamprey pies to the Crown. (fn. 48) The bailiffs were also regularly called upon to provide Henry III with Severn salmon and shad. (fn. 49) The fish trade was also stimulated by the requirements of the local religious houses. In 1277 a leading burgess Walter Sevare made an agreement with Gloucester Abbey to act as their buyer of fish; (fn. 50) Walter appears to have been a merchant involved in overseas trade (fn. 51) and so was probably expected to supply not only fish from local sources but also the salted fish which was imported to the Severn from Ireland and elsewhere.
The nature of other goods brought for sale in the town was governed by the needs of its principal industries. One of the most regular items of the incoming local trade was presumably iron carried from the Forest of Dean, which was perhaps also the main source of oak bark for the town's tanneries. Packs of leather were among goods being brought to the town in 1273, and the importance of the leather trade is suggested by the fact that the leather market was then held in the Boothall, (fn. 52) though perhaps, as later, sharing the building with the wool market. Wool, both for the town's own clothworkers and for the export trade, was apparently brought to Gloucester in quantity in the 13th century. The disguise as woolmongers adopted by two leaders of the rebels in 1264 in order to gain entrance to the town has been cited as an indication of the commonplace nature of such commerce at the period, (fn. 53) and six men involved in buying or selling wool in the town figure in the trade offences presented in 1273. (fn. 54)
In a mid 13th-century list of English towns and their characteristic products or other associations Gloucester is represented by the phrase 'iron of Gloucester'. (fn. 55) Its control of the land routes out of the Forest of Dean made Gloucester the natural centre for working the iron produced by that region, and ironworking remained one of the town's most important industries throughout the Middle Ages. It was an industry that was stimulated by the military and naval requirements of the Crown, as indicated by the earliest record, the 36 dicras of iron and 100 rods of ductile iron for nails for the king's ships owed as part of the farm in 1066. (fn. 56) In the years 1171–3 equipment supplied to Henry II, mainly for the Irish expedition, and allowed for in the Gloucester reeve's account, included nails, horseshoes, mattocks, ironwork for spades, arrows, 'engines', and kitchen utensils; (fn. 57) in 1212 and 1214 the sheriff of the county acquired for the king, probably from Gloucester craftsmen, anchors and crossbow bolts; (fn. 58) in 1228 the bailiffs of the town sent two smiths and other workmen with axes, mattocks, and iron for making rock-cutting tools to Henry III at Kerry (Mont.) where he was on a campaign against the Welsh; (fn. 59) and in 1242 the king ordered the men of Gloucester to make 10,000 horseshoes and 100,000 nails and deliver them at Portsmouth within 20 days. (fn. 60) Gloucester castle was also an important source of employment in times of unrest: in the early months of 1264 numbers of smiths, as many as eight in one week, were put to work making crossbow bolts for the garrison. (fn. 61) The products of Gloucester's iron industry were also used by the Crown for its building operations. In the 1170s large quantities of nails were sent for use on houses under construction at Winchester; (fn. 62) in 1224 stocks of 'good Gloucester iron', kept at Southampton and Northampton, were ordered for the king's works at Bedford; (fn. 63) and Gloucester iron was used in 1261 for the works at Windsor. (fn. 64)
The strength of the metal-working industry is reflected in the surviving deeds from the late 12th century to the early 14th, which mention numerous smiths and farriers and, less often, representatives of specialized crafts, including locksmiths, (fn. 65) cutlers, (fn. 66) lorimers, (fn. 67) a buckler, (fn. 68) a knifesmith, (fn. 69) and three combmakers (pectifabri), (fn. 70) presumably making combs for use in the town's woollen industry. One of the most famous Gloucester trades is recorded from the later 13th century with mentions of Thomas the bellfounder in 1274 (fn. 71) and Hugh the bellfounder at about the same date. (fn. 72)
By the beginning of the 13th century the smiths' forges had given the name of the smiths' street (fn. 73) to the later Longsmith Street in the south-west quarter of the town, and the sign of the Bolt inn which later gave that street the alternative name of Bolt Lane (fn. 74) presumably recalled the manufacture of crossbow bolts. A street leading off the smiths' street had become known as Broadsmith Street (later Berkeley Street) by the early 14th century, (fn. 75) and a lane off the main market area, formerly Craft's Lane, acquired the name Ironmongers' Row, at least two dealers in iron being resident there in 1333. (fn. 76) Some ironworkers also settled in the suburbs of the town: in the mid 13th century two smiths and three farriers were among inhabitants of the Newland and Fete Lane area outside the north gate. (fn. 77)
Clothmaking was the only industry that came near to rivalling ironworking. It was established in the town by the later 12th century: Wulward the fuller was one of the wealthiest burgesses in 1173 (fn. 78) and a fuller and three weavers were recorded among the inhabitants of St. Nicholas's parish at the same period. (fn. 79) It was in the riverside areas of that parish that the industry naturally became concentrated, a street near the quay becoming known as the fullers' street. About 1230 eight different dyers were recorded as occupying land, or witnessing deeds of land, in that street or the surrounding area, (fn. 80) and in 1247 three dyers were presented for encroachments on the river bank. (fn. 81) At the same period and later, dyers and fullers held land near lower Northgate Street and Brook Street on the north-east fringes of the town, evidently making use of the water of the river Twyver. (fn. 82) The dyers were the most prosperous of the clothworkers, being most often mentioned in the surviving sources, which are mainly property deeds. The weavers of the town were numerous enough to have some collective identity by the 2160s when they were paying an annual sum of 20s. to the bailiffs, (fn. 83) but whether for the right to have a trade organization or for some other trading privilege is not known.
In 1287 ten people recorded as having sold cloth in Gloucester were said to have also made it. Little is known of those named. The absence of trade surnames among them suggests that they were not themselves dyers or fullers; nor did they include any men who can be identified as leading merchants or drapers and only one, James of Longney, attained the office of bailiff. They may represent a class of small capitalists which controlled the industry, contracting with the dyers and other clothworkers. Five others recorded at the same time as selling cloth but not making it seem to have been from a rather wealthier class of tradesman, for they included William Payn, mentioned above as being involved in the Flanders trade, John the draper, who served regularly as bailiff at the period, and Henry the draper, who also traded in wine. (fn. 84)
Among other industries in the town leather working was strongly represented. A part of Northgate Street was established as the cordwainers' quarter by 1223, (fn. 85) and Hare Lane was known as the tanners' street in the 1230s. (fn. 86) Leather working produced a number of fairly wealthy men. In 1327 (fn. 87) the tanner John of Boyfield, assessed at 7s., (fn. 88) was the 13th highest payer of the subsidy and two tawyers, paying 5s. each, (fn. 89) were also fairly prosperous. At least four other tanners, less wealthy men, were listed for the subsidy that year. Other leather workers, recorded in the mid 13th century, were sheathers, (fn. 90) skinners, and beltmakers, the last two groups being sufficiently numerous to have areas of the town named from them. (fn. 91)
Masons, plumbers, (fn. 92) soapmakers, (fn. 93) a horner (c. 1200), (fn. 94) a parchment maker (c. 1260), (fn. 95) and a potter, who had land at Fete Lane outside the north gate in the mid 13th century, (fn. 96) were among other varied trades recorded in the town during the period. Of the masons the most significant was the king's mason John of Gloucester (d. 1260), who was employed on works at Westminster Abbey, the Tower of London, and Gloucester castle. (fn. 97) Martin of Spoonbed, a mason who took a lease of property in the town from Llanthony Priory in 1319 or 1320, (fn. 98) may, his name suggests, have worked quarries in Painswick parish for the priory. (fn. 99)
The fragmentary nature of the surviving records makes it impossible to establish satisfactorily what trades provided the governing class of Gloucester at the period. The merchants, though few in number, played a prominent role: most of those men recorded as trading in wine and wool in the 13th century and the early 14th figure as bailiffs of the town and some, like Alexander of Bicknor and Walter Sevare, held the office in as many as eight years. The men who distributed cloth, fabrics, and other goods locally appear to have also enjoyed a consistently prominent position. John the draper was bailiff at least four times in the early 13th century and another man of that name at least seven times in the later years of the century. The mercers of the town, whose shops occupied one of the prime trading positions, adjoining the main market area in upper Westgate Street, (fn. 100) included a number of wealthy burgesses who served as bailiffs in the mid 13th century: among them were Herbert the mercer, whose property at his death c. 1268 included 5 houses and 11 shops, (fn. 101) Richard Francis, described variously as mercer and merchant, who acquired much property in the town and gave some of it to Llanthony Priory and St. Bartholomew's Hospital, (fn. 102) and Robert of Putley, a benefactor of Gloucester Abbey. (fn. 103)
In 1327 when the subsidy assessment (fn. 104) provides the earliest complete list of the leading men of the town there can be identified among the 21 highest payers (those assessed at 6s. or more) 3 merchants, (fn. 105) the tanner John of Boyfield, a tavern keeper, (fn. 106) a dyer, a goldsmith, and a draper. The highest payer, Robert Pope assessed at 20s., was presumably a draper, for in that and the following year he supplied Winchcombe Abbey with cloth to the value of £76, (fn. 107) and the second highest, Peter of the hill assessed at 13s. 4d., had a son who was a draper. (fn. 108) Another leading payer, Robert of Goldhill assessed at 10s., is one of the few Gloucester burgesses known to have owned property outside the town at the period. Before 1327 he bought the wardship of Lasborough manor during the minority of the heirs, (fn. 109) and in 1334, when he made a will which benefited many religious institutions and many individuals including his two apprentices, he also occupied farmland at Down Hatherley. (fn. 110)