A History of the County of Northampton: Volume 3. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1930.
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The fact that leather clippings were found with a coin of Edward the Confessor at the bottom of a well covered by the Norman earthworks of the castle (fn. 1) has been adduced in proof of the existence of a pre-Conquest leather trade. There is, however, no early evidence of any outside market for Northampton leather goods and all the medieval sources suggest that textile industries took the first place in the days of the town's early prosperity. The earliest custumal (c. 1190) mentions no craft but that of the weaver, who is classed with the nurse as a domestic servant not to be enticed away by a rival employer. (fn. 2) It also refers to the sale of wool, thread, fresh hides, honey, tallow, cheese and flesh by the burgesses at the fair. In 1202 Northampton was one of eleven towns which purchased the right to buy and sell dyed cloth as they were wont to do under King Henry, that is, without keeping the assize of 1197. (fn. 3) We have seen that the Northampton fairs were noteworthy for the sale of cloth and of furs in the reigns of John and Henry III, and the petition of the burgesses to Parliament in 1334 indicates that some of this cloth at least was home made. 'In the time of King Henry . . . when the staple of wool was at divers places in England . . . there were at Northampton 300 workers of cloths, who paid on every cloth a fixed sum towards the farm of the town, as well as a fixed rent from their houses where they used to dwell in the said town, which are now fallen to the ground.' (fn. 4) The 13th century custumal contains regulations as to dyeing, and regulations as to the weaving of cloth, dated 1251, which bear out the other evidence as to the importance of the trade.
24. Si pannus inueniatur terra tinctus, et proprius pannus fuerit tinctoris, amittatur, et si alienus et ex consensu ipsius fecerit, similiter amittatur. Et sinon de consensu ipsius tinctor abjuret officium suum per annum et diem. . . .
36. Provisum est quod quilibet pannus albus sit de triginta et triginta porteriis et imperiale de viginti et sex et viginti septem. Albus stragulatus eius latitudinis. (fn. 7)
These regulations indicate advanced development both in technique and in organisation; both dyers and weavers are represented as working with other men's material. Other regulations provide that woaders from outside the town may only bring in woad and sell it by licence of inspectors, (fn. 8) and forbid dyers to throw their waste products into the streets. (fn. 9) Scarlet Well is mentioned as early as 1239, (fn. 10) and local tradition, according to Morton, asserted that London cloth had formerly been sent to Northampton to be dyed, (fn. 11) and that cloth miscoloured at Nottingham was brought to a good scarlet here. (fn. 12) The eyre roll of 1247 records the death of a dyer, scalded by falling into a vat of his own dye. (fn. 13) The Fullers' Street is mentioned in a deed of 1250–60, (fn. 14) the Drapery 1202– 1220, (fn. 15) the Wimplers' Row as early as 1189–94. (fn. 16) Northampton burgesses were employed as experts by Henry III to buy cloth for him at Lynn and Stamford. (fn. 17) In 1274 the jurors giving a list of the craftsmen (menestralli) who have left the town to escape the heavy tallages, mention fullers, weavers, dyers, drapers, glovers and skinners, (fn. 18) and mention burgesses with the surnames Waydour (or woader) Mercer, Comber, Tinctor, as well as a linarius. The estreats of the town court, c. 1290, mention a taverner, a carpenter, a baker, a fisher, a maltmongere, a miller, a knyfsmith, a carter, a peyntour, a skynnere, a woman maker of cords, a catour, a laver, a latoner, a tailor, and a plomer. (fn. 19) Pentecost de Kershalton, mayor of Northampton in 1297, 1301, 1302, 1304, 1307 and probably some other years also, was a 'deyster.' (fn. 20)
The petition of 1334 testifies to a decline in cloth working in the 14th century, shared by Northampton with Leicester, Oxford, Stamford and Nottingham. (fn. 21) Nevertheless, Northampton, as we have seen, had its own seal for the cloth subsidy. James Hart, writing in 1633, speaks of the ruins of great buildings once employed in the clothing trade, (fn. 22) but the only building recorded is the Wool Hall, and 14th century notices of Northampton refer rather to the wool trade than to the cloth industry. In 1274 six burgesses had been presented for exporting wool to foreign parts, contrary to the king's prohibition, one being responsible for 68 and another for 80 sacks. (fn. 23) Northampton sent four of its merchants to the merchants' assembly of 1337 which formed the syndicate that cornered the wool of England for the benefit of Edward III, (fn. 24) and there are other indications of a wool trade of some importance. (fn. 25) But in its wool trade no less than its cloth trade it was completely outdistanced by other towns and counties of England. (fn. 26)
The frequent presence of the king and court must have stimulated various other crafts besides the textile. In 1224, when besieging Bedford, Henry was able to call on the smiths of Northampton for 4,000 quarrels, well headed and feathered, and for 150 good pickaxes. (fn. 27) Two cartloads of Gloucester iron were also to be sent from Northampton to Bedford for the king's works there. Hides, both white and tanned, were demanded, and with them two saddlers with their craftsmen for making targes. (fn. 28) The trades mentioned in 1274 not concerned with the clothing or leather industries were mostly victualling; vintners, spicers, mustarders, fishmongers. (fn. 29) A goldsmith is mentioned in 1233; (fn. 30) a tanner and a parchment maker in 1247. (fn. 31) In 1325 37 pairs of shoes and two of boots were stolen from one shop; (fn. 32) and there were a Tanner's Street, a Glovery, a Saddlery and a "Cordwauria" near All Saints' in 1332. (fn. 33) In the eyre roll of 1329 there is mention of weavers, skinners, barbers, dyers, tailors, shearmen, brewers, taverners, garlic-mongers (or aillours), masons, cordwainers, cobblers, curriers, and a romongeour. (fn. 34)
Amongst the economic ingredients of medieval Northampton, the Jews ought not to be overlooked. Jews of Northampton occur on the Pipe Rolls from 1170, (fn. 35) and there was an anti-Semitic riot here in 1190 which St. Hugh intervened to check. (fn. 36) In 1194 Northampton with 39 Jews comes fifth on the list of English towns with Jewries, after London (112), Lincoln (82), Norwich (42), and Gloucester (40). (fn. 37) In that year a chest was set up at Northampton, as elsewhere, for the deposit of Jewish bonds and deeds, and two Jews and two Christians appointed as custodians. Henry III commanded in 1237, not for the first time, that no Jew should live in Northamptonshire outside the king's town of Northampton, (fn. 38) and showed his sense of responsibility for them by his command to the leading burgesses in June 1264 to protect the Jews who had taken refuge in the castle during the disorders of the spring. (fn. 39) Some of the Jews who had deposited their chattels with Christians for safe-keeping in the emergency found it difficult to recover them later. (fn. 40) The Plea Rolls of the Jewish Exchequer shew us the Jews of Northampton acting as bankers for both town and county. Burgesses like Robert son of Henry or Robert of Leicester borrowed money from them at the illegal rate of 10d. a week in the pound; (fn. 41) knights of the shire, like Robert de Pavely of Paulers Pury or Hugh de Chanceaux of Upton, pledged their manors to them. (fn. 42)
In the 13th century the Jewish community in Northampton must have been shrinking steadily. A number of houses once possessed by Jews in Northampton are mentioned as being granted by the king to other persons, such as to the Master of the Temple in 1215, (fn. 43) the earl of Winchester in 1218, (fn. 44) Philip Marc in 1219, (fn. 45) Stephen de Segrave in 1229, (fn. 46) and Robert de Mara in 1248. (fn. 47) In 1277 the Northampton Jews were charged with a ritual murder, (fn. 48) and in 1278 a general attack on them for clipping and forging coin led to the execution and forfeiture of many Northampton Jews. (fn. 49) A series of grants of houses once belonging to Jews are enrolled on the Charter Roll 1280– 1286. (fn. 50) When the Jews were finally expelled in 1290 the inquest into their houses, rents and tenements showed that 5 houses were held in Northampton by five separate Jews, and the community of the Jews held a synagogue, two houses near its entry, two houses outside the north gate and a burial ground. (fn. 51) A later document suggests that the synagogue of the Jews, granted to the Abbot of St. James in 1291, (fn. 52) lay in Silver Street. (fn. 53) Other Jews' houses are described as lying in the Corn Row, (fn. 54) in the market place, (fn. 55) in Larttwychene, (fn. 56) in Berewardstrete, (fn. 57) in the Cornechepyng, (fn. 58) whilst Henry Lee describes as Jewish three houses standing before the fire of 1675, one near the Red Lion in the Horsemarket, one near the Ram in the Sheepmarket, and one in Silver Street. (fn. 59) The Jewish community then were not confined to one Jewry, though they seem to have preferred the northern and western parts of the town.
There is no clear reference to any craft organisation till the 15th century, though the 13th century custumal refers to master butchers, (fn. 60) and the expression bachelerie de Northampton has been interpreted to mean associations of journeymen, (fn. 61) the economic equivalent of the political bacheleria. The economic regulations of the 13th century custumal show the prepositura as the authority regulating primarily conditions of buying and selling, (fn. 62) but also, in the case of weavers, dyers and butchers, the quality of the goods offered for sale. The butcher pays a fee to the town, 'as he used to do to his peers,' for the right to become a master. (fn. 63) And when in the 15th century the town records begin, it is noteworthy that the town government takes the initiative, in one instance at least, in forming a craft gild, and keeps throughout a controlling hand on the regulations of the crafts, both assisting in drafting the rules, swearing in the wardens and demanding reports from them, and enrolling the constitutions in the town records. In these craft ordinances the textile industries are still prominent. In 1427 the shearmen are commanded to organise themselves under two wardens, who are to inspect the quality of the work and report to the mayor. (fn. 64) The existence of turbulent organisations of journeymen is indicated in the regulations for the weavers' craft in 1432, (fn. 65) which are designed to put an end to 'many and dyverse unfittyng contestes and debates . . . which have long tyme regned in the Crafte of Englisshe wevers of Northampton bitwene the Maistirs and the jorneymen of the seide crafte.' The ordinances of 1432 refer to old-established customs such as the Easter procession to St. Mary de la Pré outside the town, and the 'customable drinking' that followed the offering of wax tapers there, and further illustrate the cleavage within the craft by the prohibition of ' confederacyes, conventicles and gederyngs.' Supplementary regulations of the weavers' craft were passed in 1439, 1441, 1448 (fn. 66) and 1462, when a six years' apprenticeship was provided for, and a supervision of the licensing of new weavers by the warden of the craft, acting with two of the Twenty Four comburgesses. (fn. 67) In 1511 the inspection of cloths by the ' searchers' was further regulated. (fn. 68) The formation of the Tailors' Craft Gild in 1444–5 is of great interest: the industry was so important to the town as a whole that the town government took the initiative and compelled the tailors to accept a constitution. 'Full many gentilmen and other people of oure lorde the Kynge for the shapyng of theire clothyng and of their servauntes and of theire lyvereys dayly comen to the same town. Nevertheles noo Rule ne order put ne is in the said Crafte betwene thartificers and mynystres of the seide Crafte. . . . Wherefore the seide gentilmen . . . oft tymes for unhable shapyng . . . aren . . . disseived to her prejudice and also sclaunder and detriment to the saide toun. And therefore the saide Maire and his Comburgeis by the comyn Assent of the seide toun wyllen in the saide Crafte ordynaunce and good Rule be putt.' (fn. 69) By this constitution overseers were set up, with power to correct and to call meetings of the craft. The town assembly confirmed the regulations for tailors and woollen drapers jointly in 1588. (fn. 70) In 1452 the fullers' craft was organised on similar lines, (fn. 71) further regulations being added in 1464, 1511 and 1585. (fn. 72) In like manner, constitutions or regulations were made for the corvisers and cordwainers in 1401 and 1452, (fn. 73) the shoemakers in 1552, (fn. 74) the glovers in 1594; (fn. 75) the whittawyers and tanners in 1566 and 1582; (fn. 76) the bakers in 1467, 1518, 1545 and 1553; (fn. 77) the butchers in 1505, 1558, and 1568; (fn. 78) the fishmongers in 1467 and 1574; (fn. 79) the innkeepers in 1383, 1568 and 1570; (fn. 80) the brewers in 1545, (fn. 81) the carpenters in 1430; (fn. 82) the slaters in 1509; (fn. 83) whilst in 1562 the ironmongers' constitution was cancelled. (fn. 84) All these regulations are duly enrolled in the Liber Custumarum or, after 1553, the Assembly Books. In 1574 a number of unorganised trades—mercers, haberdashers, linendrapers, grocers, apothecaries, upholsterers, salters and tryers of honey and wax—were ordered to meet at St. Katharine's Hall in the last week of October and choose themselves wardens, with various other regulations to bring them into line with the other tradesmen. (fn. 85) In all these constitutions, drafted by the mayor and the craftsmen jointly, the craftsmen elect their own wardens or searchers, who are sworn in before the mayor at the guildhall on the court day. (fn. 86) Regular fees are payable to the town chamber and fines for breaches of the regulations are divided between the craft and the town. Many of the crafts with constitutions used to meet, as we have seen, in the hall over the great Conduit in the market place. The fullers and slaters used to meet at the Black Friars' House, (fn. 87) the shearmen and the shoemakers at the White Friars. (fn. 88) After the Dissolution the shoemakers used to meet in St. George's Hall. (fn. 89)
Some indication of the comparative importance of different trades in the town is given by the lists of town bailiffs between 1386 and 1461, (fn. 90) in which in many instances, their crafts are named. Nineteen bailiffs were mercers, eleven drapers, eight dyers, six fullers, six hosiers, two weavers, and two woolmen. There were eight bakers and six fishmongers; five glovers and five ironmongers. Other evidence suggests that Northampton continued to be of some importance as a clothing centre. There are frequent references to the fullers and their tenters in the Assembly Books from 1550 to 1630. (fn. 91) The Privy Council notes in 1577 that merchants of Norwich, London and Northampton are in the habit of buying and selling wool at Northampton, driving up the price, to the great decay of clothing in the shire. (fn. 92) The enrolments of apprentices on the town records show the tailors as the most popular industry in the 16th and early 17th centuries, and the clothing trades running the leather trades close for the first place in the town. There is a marked revival in weaving in the second half of the 18th century, and though the shoemaking trade is by now well ahead, the poll books of the elections of 1768, 1784 and 1790 show a large number of woolcombers and weavers. 'A century ago,' says James, writing in 1857, 'the woolstaplers of Northampton were the local magnates, the weavers of serges, tammies and shallons more numerous than the shoemakers of the present day.' (fn. 93) In 1768 the weavers seem to have congregated about the Mayorhold and St. Giles', and the woolcombers in Bridge Street and the south quarter in general, where it may be presumed the fullers would also be found, from the proximity of the Cow Meadow, where their tenters stood in the 16th and 17th centuries. (fn. 94)
The apprenticeship statistics cannot be regarded as exhaustive, but they give some indication of the proportion in which the different industries were pursued in Northampton in the 17th and 18th centuries, and of the extent to which the town population was recruited from the country. (fn. 95) Of the great advance of the shoemaking industry in this period an account has been given in the previous volume. (fn. 96) In 1619 the complaint of the nuisances caused by tanners, glovers, whittawyers and parchment makers washing their hides in the river and the watercourses of the Cow Meadow (fn. 97) suggests that the leather trade was active, but the glovers were still, apparently, as important as the shoemakers. By 1662, however, Fuller could say 'This town stands on other men's legs,' (fn. 98) and in 1689 the shoemakers of Northampton, petitioning against a bill for the free transport of unwrought leather overseas, asserted, 'A very considerable part of the trade of this town has consisted, time out of mind, in the manufacture of boots and shoes, great quantities of which have been sent abroad.' (fn. 99) The colonial and military demand for Northampton boots and shoes is thus of old standing, and war, from 1642 onwards, has been a marked stimulant to the industry. In 1794 the town was producing from 10,000 to 12,000 pairs a week, as against 7,000 to 8,000 in time of peace, (fn. 100) and its achievements in the war of 1914–18 were in accordance with previous traditions. During the four years of the war Northampton supplied the Allied forces with 23 million pairs, Northamptonshire contributing another 24 million, as against 23 million from the rest of the country. (fn. 101) These included infantry boots for the French, Serbian, Italian, Roumanian and American forces, Russian Cossack boots, Canadian knee boots, ski boots, rope-soled boots for the Tank corps, submarine deck boots, Flying corps boots, highland shoes, mosquito boots, seamen's shoes, and hospital slippers, as well as the standard B.5. British infantry boot. (fn. 102) When the period of Army requisitioning ended, however, the Northants Journal of Commerce observed that the army boot was a far heavier product than Northampton manufacturers and Northampton operatives cared to handle, as they preferred a higher grade boot. (fn. 103)
In the 17th and 18th centuries Northampton was noted as a centre for the purchase of horses. Baskervill refers to the horse fairs in 1673, (fn. 104) and Morton in 1712 says that Northampton is famed for the best horses in England. (fn. 105) The Earl of Moray writes of a friend in 1683: 'He is busy getting horses: he is resolved to have them good or not at all, and if he get them not here (in London) he will go down to Northampton, where the best are.' (fn. 106) The horse fairs were still well attended in 1815. They are now held in the cattle market on the Saturday nearest to June 24. (fn. 107)
The mills of Northampton, though not mentioned in Domesday Book, have a long history. Conches melne or the mill of Conge (fn. 108) is mentioned before 1135, and its tithe was granted to St. Andrew's Priory by Grimbold. (fn. 109) In 1274 there were two mills of that name; (fn. 110) in 1539, if we may identify the Quengions mills of the Court of Augmentations with the Congenes mill of 1320, (fn. 111) there were five, two being used for grinding 'meselyn corn,' one a 'colyn' mill for grinding wheat, and the other two being fulling mills. (fn. 112) Marvells mill is apparently identical with the Merewyns mill of 1253, (fn. 113) the Merthensmylne of the Hundred Rolls (fn. 114) and the Mervyns mylne of the Valor Ecclesiasticus. (fn. 115) It also was held by St. Andrew's, (fn. 116) like St. Andrew's mill north-west of the town and Rushmill (fn. 117) to the south-east. A postern in the town wall and a causeway seven feet wide led to it. (fn. 118) After the Dissolution it was acquired by the town, and a windmill was erected alongside of the water mills. (fn. 119) The mills having been leased to a succession of tenants, (fn. 120) were employed about 1740 for a new venture in cotton-spinning, financed by Edward Cave, the founder and editor of the Gentleman's Magazine and one of the original patrons of the Northampton infirmary. The carding and rollerspinning machinery invented by Lewis Paul, (fn. 121) which anticipated Cartwright's inventions, was set up in them under the management of T. Wyatt, as described in the previous volume, (fn. 122) and for a while Marvell's Mills were known as the Cotton Mills. The venture failed, for lack of capital as much as of good management. The Nuns' mills to the south-east of the town were held by Delapre Abbey. (fn. 123) After the shoemaking and leather currying industry, the town is to-day noted for its flour mills, as well as its maltings and breweries. There are also iron-foundries of some importance.
The Northampton Chamber of Commerce was founded in 1917, and its organ, The Northants Journal of Commerce, began to appear in January 1919, announcing as its aim 'to extend the fame of our members' productions in every market throughout the world.' (fn. 124)