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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Topography and Growth
The early topographical development of Beverley cannot be reconstructed in detail. The first line of expansion from the settlement around the minster is likely to have been east and west, along the clay ridge on which the minster itself was built. The most fruitful direction for growth was, however, northwards, towards the higher, drier ground. Documentary sources shed no light on the beginning of the process, but archaeological evidence suggests that the low-lying land immediately north of the minster was not reclaimed until the 10th century at the earliest. As that was the necessary prelude to any significant northern expansion it is likely that such expansion did not get fully under way until the nth century. It is only in the 12th century that the town's growth can begin to be traced in detail. By the archiepiscopate of Gerard, at the beginning of the century, the northern market was in existence, (fn. 1) and that end of the town was sufficiently developed to have its own chapel, St. Mary's, by the second quarter of the century. (fn. 2) Development east of the minster also becomes visible at around that time. Flammengaria, the later Flemingate, is mentioned in a charter of the period 1131-89. (fn. 3) The street almost certainly existed earlier, however, since some property there was held by the obligation of carrying the shrine of St. John, and the procession is said to have been initiated by Archbishop Aelfric (1023-51). (fn. 4) There was building around Ragbrook by the later 12th century, when Meaux abbey acquired property there. (fn. 5) The three mills mentioned in Domesday Book are also likely to have been in that area, on Mill beck. (fn. 6) That part of Beverley had its own church by c. 1160, when a priest of St. Nicholas was mentioned. (fn. 7)
By the end of the 12th century, therefore, and probably earlier, the three foci of settlement which gave Beverley its distinctive elongated street plan were all present: the minster, the northern market, and the waterhead. They were linked by a central spine of streets which curved sinuously through the medieval town from north-west to south-east. From the northern edge of the town to the minster that spine was consistently referred to in the earlier Middle Ages as alta via, the high street. The modern North Bar Within was indeed regularly Anglicized as Highgate until the early 15th century, but both before and after that date houses there were sometimes described instead as 'lying within the North bar'. The high street followed the edge of the northern market towards Cross bridge, and continued through the fish market along the line of the modern Butcher Row and Wednesday Market. The identity of the final part, from Fish Market to the minster, is the least well defined, probably because the road originally debouched into open ground north of the minster. As buildings were erected in the centre of that area, a process under way in the 13th century, two streets were created. It was the street on the western side of the former open space which led directly to the minster and was therefore considered part of the high street, although the English form, Highgate, was not recorded until the 15th century and seems not to have been in common use until even later. Its importance as the direct approach to the minster from the town is reflected in the construction of the minster's elaborate north porch at the turn of the 14th and 15th centuries, (fn. 8) which provided a ceremonial entrance facing up Highgate in place of the former north entrance in the transept. In other respects, however, the eastern road, Eastgate, was the more important of the two. First mentioned in the 13th century, it skirted the end of the minster to join Flemingate and its eastern continuation Barleyholme. It was thus Eastgate, rather than Highgate, which carried traffic between the waterhead settlement and the rest of the town.
The high street and its continuation was only one component, although a major one, in an elaborate street plan which existed in its essentials by the mid 13th century. The central core of the town, between the minster and St. Mary's church, can be seen as two uneven triangles, the apexes of which met at Cross bridge. The northern triangle, with Corn Market as its focus, was defined by Hengate, Walkergate, and the high street. The southern triangle, more attenuated, consisted of the fish market and its derivatives, Highgate and Eastgate, with the minster at its base. Although the area near the minster was probably the first to be developed, by the time documentary evidence survives in any quantity the town's commercial centre of gravity had moved northwards and the more intensive development is to be found around the northern market and its church. By the mid 13th century occupational divisions within the market were beginning to be formalized as lanes or rows, (fn. 9) and there was some infilling around it, reflected in the proliferation of subsidiary streets. Ladygate, which marked the effective eastern edge of the market, was in existence then. So was Bowbridge Lane (now Dyer Lane), which linked Walkergate and the market, and Dalton Lane, later Spynes Lane, which led from the southern end of the market to Walkergate. Bolox Lane, which was near Walkergate, was in existence by the early 14th century.
There was also infilling on the western side of the market, between the high street and Lathegate (now Lairgate). Lathegate, which was recorded in the mid 13th century, ran almost due south from the northern end of the market to join Keldgate. The latter street was also recorded in the 13th century although it is likely to have existed considerably earlier, since it constituted the approach to the minster from the west. The importance of Keldgate is suggested by the fact that, as early as the 13th century, some of the houses along it were of stone. (fn. 10) Lairgate and the west side of the market were connected by several lanes which were probably made when that area began to be infilled in the 13th century (fn. 11) but were not referred to by name until later. Narrow Lane was mentioned in 1409 and Mercer Row in 1421. Further south Lairgate and the high street were linked by the two streets that led towards Westwood: Minster Moorgate and Fishmarket Moorgate. Minster Moorgate was the earlier, and for much of the 13th century was known simply as Moorgate. By the end of the century it had begun to be distinguished as South Moorgate or Kirk Moorgate, which presumably marked the appearance of the second street. That was known in the late 13th century as North Moorgate, a name superseded in the following century by Fishmarket Moorgate and in the course of the 15th century by Well Lane. It seems never to have become an important thoroughfare and surviving references suggest that there was relatively little building along it except at its eastern, or market, end. (fn. 12) Minster Moorgate and Keldgate, by contrast, appear to have had buildings along their full length, although the houses were interspersed with open ground.
Keldgate marked the effective southern limit of the town's built-up area throughout the Middle Ages and beyond. There is no evidence of development along the lanes which gave access to the crofts between the edge of the town and the archbishop's park. The most important of these was Braithwell Gate or Bradwell Lane, which led to the marsh of Bradwell. It lay towards the western end of Keldgate and may now be represented by Kitchen Lane. Another was Fangfoss Lane, which in the 13th century was said to have belonged to John Folk. (fn. 13) Further east, in Flemingate, the lanes which gave access to land behind the street frontage also remained undeveloped and most of them had been absorbed into adjoining properties by the 15th century. (fn. 14) The only exception to that pattern was immediately south of the minster itself, where Lurk Lane, although never an important thoroughfare, had plots fronting it by the late 13th century and was built along in the course of the 14th and 15th centuries. (fn. 15)
On the other sides of the town the extent of medieval building was less clearly defined. There was some development west of North Bar Within and Lairgate, particularly near St. Mary's church and the market, where the pressure on building land led to the early opening up of ground behind the street frontage. Waltheue Lane (now Waltham Lane) was mentioned in 1202. (fn. 16) Newbegin is likely to have been another 13th-century development and, unlike Waltham Lane, was a major street from the outset, being decribed in the 13th century as magna via in le Neubigging. (fn. 17) Further away from the market area westerly development was rather slower. Jordan Lane (now Vicar Lane) was first mentioned in the early 14th century, (fn. 18) as was Catfoss Lane (now Grayburn Lane). (fn. 19) It is likely that none of those lanes extended far to the west, since it was not considered necessary to block their ends in the unrest of the 1440s, the usual precaution in the case of lanes extending to the town ditch. (fn. 20) Towards the southern end of Lairgate, building behind the street frontage appears to have been negligible, although several lanes gave access to the land there. The earliest of them was probably St. Giles's Lane, which led from Lairgate, as a continuation of Fishmarket Moorgate, to the hospital of St. Giles. (fn. 21) The lane presumably dates from the hospital's foundation and was first recorded in 1202. (fn. 22) Nearby was the 15th-century Barker Lane, which led from Lairgate towards the Franciscan friary. (fn. 23)
The development of the east side of the town was more complex, in part perhaps because of the constraints imposed by poor drainage in the river valley. The main body of building followed the line of the high street, Flemingate, and Barleyholme. The most important development beyond that line was to be found north of the beck, around St. Nicholas's church. Otherwise, the area north of Flemingate was traversed by several lanes which do not appear to have encouraged building, and most of the area was given over to closes. Its undeveloped nature is implied by late medieval descriptions of land there as lying behind the town. (fn. 24) Further north again there was at least one road linking Beverley with the staith at Grovehill. The present Trinity Lane was in 1338 described as anciently called Groval Lane and evidently led from the fish market to the staith. (fn. 25) Friars Lane, which led from the minster to the Dominican friary, probably continued to join the Grovehill road. It is likely that other easterly streets, including the modern Morton Lane and Wilbert Lane, also gave access to the Grovehill road, so that heavy goods unloaded at the staith could be taken into the town without carrying them along the high street. Few of the lanes were much developed in the Middle Ages. Building behind the street frontage on much of the east side of Eastgate was blocked by the Dominican friary, but there also seems to have been little building along either Trinity Lane or Wilbert Lane, where land was available. The latter, known in the late Middle Ages as Hayrar Lane or Oswaldgate, appears to have been lined mainly by gardens. (fn. 26) There is also little evidence of development east of Walkergate, although some was evidently planned for there is a 13th-century reference to Newbegin in Walkergate, probably now Morton Lane. (fn. 27) By the mid 14th century, after the making of Newbegin in Lairgate, it had become known as Old Newbegin. In the 15th century it had the status only of a common lane, an indication of its undeveloped character. (fn. 28)
The built-up area of the town was not effectively encircled by defences. (fn. 29) Substantial gateways, Keldgate, Newbegin, and North bars, were built on the approach roads from the north, south, and west, and those gates were linked by a ditch known as Bar dike. On the east and south there were no gates and the numerous watercourses there were apparently not formed into a single defensive ditch. Bar dike and the other streams were fed by springs on the western side of the town, among them 'Wlfkeld' or 'Wolffkeld'. (fn. 30) The chief watercourse flowing through the town was Walker beck, which ran beside Walkergate to Cross bridge, where it passed under the high street. It probably continued west of the minster (fn. 31) and joined the stream now known as Mill Dam drain, on the south side of the town, which eventually fed Beverley beck itself. A minor ditch ran from Saturday Market, near the cuckstool or pillory, to join Walker be9k near Cross bridge. (fn. 32) Another ditch lay behind the east side of Fishmarketgate and Eastgate, (fn. 33) continued north of Flemingate, (fn. 34) and flowed into Beverley beck. In the late 13th and 14th century it, too, was known as Walker beck, (fn. 35) a name which had an occupational significance but which may also imply that it was regarded as a continuation of the main Walker beck.
The land enclosed by the town ditch on the west side of the town was largely parcelled into closes and gardens by the late 14th century. The west side of Lairgate, for instance, was the site of Castle croft and Paradise garth, as well as other unnamed tofts, in the mid 15th century. (fn. 36) Some of the land there may originally have been held in common. In 1391 the garths within the southern part of Bar dike at the west end of Keldgate included ground which was defined as two selions, and several 15th-century properties on the south side of the road had selions at their back. (fn. 37) More selions lay nearby outside Keldgate bar, suggesting that the defensive circuit had there cut through what was once open-field land. There were also many vacant plots within the built-up area itself, with relatively little infilling behind the frontages of even major streets. At the end of the 14th century there was still room for building on some of the street frontages themselves. At his death in 1400 William Plomer instructed his executors to sell his undeveloped plot in Minster Moorgate, together with the stock of timber bought for a building on it. (fn. 38)
There was relatively little suburban development along the approach roads to the town. Outside Newbegin bar there was only the first site of the Franciscan friary, and outside Keldgate bar little more than the second Franciscan site and St. Thomas's chapel. The only suburban settlement of any size lay outside North bar, the most important entry to the town. Ribbon development along the Molescroft road was apparent by the end of the 14th century. The land on either side of the road seems originally to have been open fields, and building along the street frontage took place only after they had been inclosed. (fn. 39) In the 15th century the characteristic properties there still consisted of a house with an adjoining close, although some of them were beginning to be split up among several tenants. (fn. 40) In the same period there was more intensive development immediately outside the bar, with the construction of at least two rows of cottages. One row stood in Asger Lane, mentioned from the 14th century, on the east side of the main road. (fn. 41) The other cottages, which belonged in the 15th century to the Kelk chantry, were at the Willows or the Willow Row, possibly west of that road. (fn. 42) There was more modest development in Norwood, along the Holderness road. This area was in the provost's fee and the extant 15th-century rental, which lists holdings from the town end eastwards, shows tenements giving way to crofts. (fn. 43) The buildings there included a windmill, (fn. 44) and there were two other mills in Riding fields, to the east of Norwood. (fn. 45)
Beyond the built-up area of the town and the modest suburban growth along the approach roads lay the extensive farmlands and common pastures which occupied the rest of the ground within the borough boundaries. (fn. 46) There were few scattered houses but a small hamlet evidently stood near the riverside staith at Grovehill. The place was first mentioned in 1156 as Gruvale and was later usually called Groval or Grovel, perhaps meaning 'nook of land formed by the hollow of a stream'. (fn. 47) The stream may have been Groval dike or 'Aldbeck', both of which provided soil for brickmaking. The hamlet may have stood around Groval green. (fn. 48)
The 14 wards of the town included North Bar Without and Norwood, the two suburban areas. Norwood was the least populous of the wards, smaller even than the scattered and, in topographical terms, artificial chapter fee. In 1436, when each ward had to pay for one archer, contributions were collected from 18 Norwood taxpayers. (fn. 49) North Bar Without had 33 taxpayers, a number not much smaller than that of some of the central wards. North Bar Within, which extended to the northern limit of the market, had 40 taxpayers. Corn Market itself had only 35, an indication perhaps that much of the building around the market was nonresidential. The short stretch of the high street between the cuckstool at the southern end of the market and Cross bridge (fn. 50) was, for its size, the most densely populated of the wards, with 50 taxpayers. Fish Market, between Cross bridge and the minster, had 44. Flemingate had 73, the highest figure for any single ward and almost as many as the 79 in the two Beckside wards combined. The peripheral wards were on the whole larger and their taxpayers are likely to have been more thinly spread. Walkergate was probably the most densely populated of them, with 36 taxpayers. Lairgate had 41 and the two wards in Keldgate 54 between them.
The most populous wards were not necessarily the most wealthy. In the same year as the wards had to find money for archers, a parliamentary tax was levied on the town, assessed on the wealth of the inhabitants of each ward. (fn. 51) The resulting figures reveal that Corn Market, one of the smallest wards in terms of population, was far and away the wealthiest, yielding £1 19s. 10d. By contrast North Bar Without, which had only two fewer taxpayers, yielded only 12s. 4½d. The two Beckside wards together exceeded Corn Market's yield by about 45. but their contribution came from over twice as many taxpayers. The high population of Flemingate was also not matched by its wealth. The ward yielded £1 7s. 6½d., a slightly smaller sum than that produced by either North Bar Within or Lairgate from a significantly smaller group of taxpayers. It would be dangerous to read too much into these figures, since a single wealthy resident could seriously distort the figures for a particular ward. They do suggest, however, that the poorest area of the town was North Bar Without, and that dense but relatively poor housing was also to be found in Flemingate and in the central stretch of the high street; in the last mentioned, 50 taxpayers produced just £1. A similar situation is to be found in Keldgate, where 54 contributors to the town's archers also produced £1 for the Crown. The figures there may be distorted by the fact that several Keldgate residents were clerics; as such they were exempt from the grant to the Crown but may have been expected to help with the town's defence costs. The situation in the chapter fee, where 22 contributors to the cost of an archer raised a mere 4s. 11d. for the Crown, can probably be explained in the same way.
Although taxation returns give some indication of the relative size and wealth of the town wards, they are much less informative about the town's total population. The first extant return is that of 1297, when a tax of a ninth was levied on those whose goods, with some exceptions, were valued at 9s. or more. There were then 219 taxpayers in the archbishop's fee, 36 in the provost's fee, and 5 in the chapter fee. (fn. 52) The total of 260 excludes not only residents with goods worth less than 95. but also the dependents of those taxed. The poll taxes of the 14th century cast their net more widely, being levied, at least in theory, on everyone over the age of 14 except the indigent. In practice evasion was rife, especially in the last poll tax of 1381. In 1377 contributions were received from 2,663 Beverley residents, (fn. 53) suggesting a total population of over 5,000. The 1381 return is incomplete. The surviving total of contributors is 1,277, giving a figure of around 1,400 if allowance is made for the two wards that are missing. (fn. 54) In the 15th century the evidence consists largely of the lists of contributors to town expenses. In the 1430s about 525 men contributed to defence costs, (fn. 55) and in 1449 the figure was 564; (fn. 56) they are likely to have been the adult males, excluding servants and the poor. In 1456, by contrast, 267 persons were said to pay scot and lot for the maintenance of town liberties, a figure which presumably represents the resident burgesses. (fn. 57)
Because the nature of the evidence varies so greatly it is difficult to chart even relative population movements during the period for which figures survive. Beverley, like the rest of England, suffered in the 'gret dede', (fn. 58) the Black Death of 1348-9. In June 1349 the archbishop ordered the consecration of the churchyard of St. Thomas's chapel outside Keldgate bar as an additional burial ground. (fn. 59) It is possible that St. Mary's churchyard was also extended, since a will of the same year requested burial in the churchyard of St. Mary on 'Bichhill', a name which is otherwise unrecorded. (fn. 60) Another testator, making his will in July 1349, left his land to his son but felt it necessary to make contingency plans in case his son should die a short time after him. (fn. 61) The town's population at the end of the century was thus almost certainly smaller than it had been at the beginning, and it probably continued to fall under the impact of later outbreaks of disease. A falling population is likely to be one factor behind the slump in property values which becomes apparent in the mid 15th century. In 1425-6 the fall was still relatively slight and the archbishop's bailiff accounted for a decay of rent of around 9 per cent of the nominal total. (fn. 62) Rent from the town's own property, about which information is fullest, was still buoyant in the 1430s but then fell sharply, by almost a third, over the next 10 years and remained stagnant for the rest of the century. (fn. 63) A minster fabric account of 1446 shows decayed rents of £17 out of a nominal income of £76 10s., a drop of 22 per cent. (fn. 64)
Much of the decay consisted of reduced rent from still-tenanted property. In the minster fabric rental only £1 14s. of the £17 in decay was explicitly attributed to untenanted properties. (fn. 65) Some property was, however, falling empty. The keepers were aware of the trend by the mid 1430s, although they were clearly exaggerating when they claimed in 1435 that freehold property in the town was three-quarters in decay and that the inhabited tenements were 'so feeble that they might not well pay'. (fn. 66) The small holdings around the edge of the town appear to have been most vulnerable. The additional endowment of the Rolleston chantry in 1461, for instance, included four empty tofts and a piece of waste land on the west side of Lairgate. (fn. 67) The reduced demand for agricultural land had become apparent earlier, at least by the beginning of the century. Initially, however, much of that land had been absorbed by townsmen with capital, who were able to turn the situation to their advantage by buying up small plots to create viable holdings. Thus Adam Tirwhit bought a croft on the east side of the town in 1404 and then proceeded to buy adjoining parcels of land. (fn. 68) It was only in the mid century that small holdings and gardens began to stand empty. Even then demand for houses seems to have been holding up. There are occasional references to empty properties in the 1460s, such as the waste tenement in Keldgate mentioned in 1465, (fn. 69) but there was also rebuilding going on. In 1461 two waste plots were let, the tenants to build two halls, two chambers, and two cellars on the site. (fn. 70) The situation worsened considerably in the course of the next 70 years. The next extant minster fabric account, of 1532-3, reveals a high proportion of untenanted properties. (fn. 71) By that date it is likely that Beverley had lost much ground in relation to other provincial towns; in 1334 it had ranked fifteenth on the basis of its tax assessment and in 1377 tenth. (fn. 72)
The marked deterioration in the position of Beverley in the late 15th century cannot be ascribed simply to a continuing fall in population due to disease. One factor may have been difficulties in the cloth trade in the face of competition from newer centres in the West Riding and elsewhere. (fn. 73) In the 1530s Leland reported that the trade, once important, was 'much decayed'. (fn. 74) The chronology of that decline cannot be traced in detail but it is likely that a major problem arose only at the end of the 15th century. The number of local men involved in the trade appears to have held up until late in the century, although that does not entirely preclude a decline in output and profitability. (fn. 75) It may also be significant that the keepers did not include a decline in the cloth trade among the reasons adduced for their inability to lend money to the Crown in 1435. Although they claimed that the trade of the town was 'greatly enfeebled' they blamed losses at sea due to piracy and natural disasters rather than competition at home. (fn. 76) They seem, in other words, to have been worried about trade in general rather than the cloth industry in particular, and that was a perennial complaint. As early as the reign of Edward III Beverley had claimed that excessive royal taxation was driving away merchants. (fn. 77) In both cases its complaints are likely to have involved an element of special pleading.