A History of the County of York East Riding: Volume 6, the Borough and Liberties of Beverley. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1989.
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Before the end of the 16th century Beverley had successfully claimed remission of taxation because of the town's comparative poverty, and a further discharge was granted in 1626. (fn. 1) The decayed condition of the town cannot have been improved by outbreaks of plague in 1604 and 1610. The ship money assessments of the 1630s ranked the taxable capacity of Beverley below that of Doncaster and Leeds, (fn. 2) and during the early 1640s local warfare may have caused further impoverishment.
The main continuing problem was the absence of industry. Instead of a predominant manufacture Beverley had a host of small handicrafts and trades, some of them reduced in strength during the preceding century. Nominal control of the occupations of the townsmen rested with at least a dozen guilds, some already amalgamations of guilds which had formerly been separately organized. Following the thorough codification of guild ordinances in 1596, several guilds confirmed and amended their rules during the earlier 17th century, submitting them to the king's judges from 1628 onwards, after the issue of the new charter. The ordinances were intended to strengthen guild control in the town; they placed more emphasis, perhaps, on the exclusion of competition from unfree strangers, less on the quality of workmanship, although they paid some attention to the protection of the customer. (fn. 3) There is little evidence for the enforcement of the ordinances, apart from the receipt of the corporation's share of fines paid for infringements and of the fees for 'upsets' or 'contributions'. (fn. 4)
The rate of recruitment to particular occupations cannot be determined, but there was a steady flow of admissions to the freedom and the economic and other privileges associated with it, although the figures available show that the annual total rarely exceeded 20. (fn. 5) Throughout the 17th century the weekly fine on tradesmen and craftsmen who did not become freemen was 10s., an amount which some of them were prepared to pay; (fn. 6) townsmen and strangers alike were thus able to follow their occupation outside a guild. On at least one occasion, when a farrier was admitted in 1670, freedom was offered gratis to a craftsman whose services were required. (fn. 7) To the old established occupations some newer ones were added after 1660, including bookseller, clockmaker, coffeeman, gunsmith, linen draper, milliner, physician, soap boiler, tobacco pipe-maker, and vintner. (fn. 8) The town clearly catered for both the basic and the luxury needs of the inhabitants of Beverley and the surrounding countryside. Agricultural activities were also prominent in the economic life of the town. The large number of closes within the borough boundaries presumably provided a livelihood for some townsmen, and the town's common pastures, together with rights of average in some of the closes, allowed all burgesses, whatever their callings, to keep a few animals. The common pastures were maintained by the corporation, which drew income from breaches of regulations, the sale of timber, leases of fishing and fowling, and the like. (fn. 9)
A major element in the town's economy remained the processing of agricultural products, especially malting, oatmealmaking, and tanning, (fn. 10) together with some corn-milling. The manorial water mills continued to grind, and the corporation built a second windmill on Westwood in the 17th century; by the mid century, however, the windmill near Grovehill had evidently been demolished. (fn. 11) Brickmaking continued, too, at brickyards on Swine Moor, near the beck, and at Grovehill; a Beverley man was employed to make bricks at Elmswell, in Driffield, in 1635, and a brickmaker was admitted to the freedom in 1652. (fn. 12) A little cloth making was still carried on: a few dyers and weavers were admitted to the freedom, a fulling mill existed at the beginning of the century, and a bleaching place was mentioned from 1660. (fn. 13)
The twice-weekly markets and the fairs played a prominent part in the town's economic life. The traditional Cross fair in particular attracted dealers from many towns in northern England, besides those from London who brought grocery, haberdashery, and mercery. For one week the fair was for wholesale dealing and it was a source of supply for many traders and shopkeepers in Beverley and elsewhere. (fn. 14) The fair was held in Highgate, and shops there belonging to the Crown, the corporation, and individual burgesses were let during the fair. Attempts by the farmer of the Crown shops, Christopher Dickinson of York, to monopolize lettings led to a prolonged dispute: it began in 1625 and was settled in 1650 by an Exchequer decree which the corporation still had difficulty in enforcing in the 1670s. (fn. 15) Much livestock was sold elsewhere in the town during the fair. In 1666, following the Great Plague, the mayor invited Londoners to come as usual. (fn. 16) During the second half of the century, however, the fair declined. The rent paid for carrying the Londoners' wares from the river and beck to Highgate was c. £12 a year in the first half of the century, rising to £17 in the early 1650s; it then fell to £10—£11 a year in the early 1660s and to £7 4s. in 1668, when 237 loads were led, 41 of them apparently unsold after the fair. Though the rent rose to £13 6s. 8d. a year in 1673-4, it had fallen to only £4 by the end of the century. (fn. 17) It was perhaps because of the decline of the Cross fair that the corporation sought gentry support for a new livestock and mixed goods fair, to be held in February, and that fair was instituted by the charter of 1685. (fn. 18)
The value of the markets and fairs to local farmers is indicated by the comments of Henry Best of Elmswell in 1642. He took barley to Beverley in winter and supplied the bakers there with wheat, some to make good white meal, some to mix. into rye bread. In spring he could usually get a better price for barley at Malton, but that year Beverley had the advantage. A Beverley deafer bought wool at 8s. a stone, collecting it from Best's farm and expecting to sell it at 12s. or 14s. in the West Riding. Best prepared fat wethers in time for the Cross fair, where prices would be good. He sent oats to the market and bought oatmeal there, and he noted that dealers crossed the Humber to buy much oatmeal in Beverley for resale in Lincolnshire. Best also bought tobacco in the town and hired labourers; and he, like others, used the occasion of the fair to arrange business deals and settle debts. (fn. 19)
By the closing decade of the century the variety and character of the occupations found in the town suggest a greater measure of prosperity among part of the population. Moreover, the new fair was intended to generate more trade, which benefited also from meetings of quarter sessions and from the conduct of local administration in the town. For its part the corporation welcomed militia musters which brought in customers, and before the end of the century attempted to make Beverley more attractive to prosperous farmers, professional men, and gentry by supporting the establishment of such amenities as a bowling green and race meetings. (fn. 20)