Early modern Chester 1550-1762: Economy and society, 1550-1642

Pages 102-109

A History of the County of Chester: Volume 5 Part 1, the City of Chester: General History and Topography. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 2003.

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Chester's economy grew steadily from 1550 to c. 1600, not least because in the early 1580s and later 1590s the passage of troops bound for Ireland created more demand for goods and services. Recovery from the plagues of 1603-5 was hampered by national economic difficulties and by recurrent, though limited, local epidemics, but from the mid 1620s prosperity returned. (fn. 1)


From the mid 16th century the Assembly was more closely involved in economic regulation, both through the guilds and directly. It confirmed that only freemen could trade in the city, and in 1557 fully recognized admission to the freedom by purchase or apprenticeship, allowing outsiders to purchase their freedom especially when they followed a useful occupation. (fn. 2) Among those admitted in that way were victuallers, a currier, and weavers, but a scheme in the early 1580s to promote woollen textiles by instituting a staple for Lancashire or Welsh cottons was strongly opposed by the authorities of Shrewsbury and failed. (fn. 3)

From 1540 to 1644 at least 3,440 freemen were admitted. There were probably c. 500 in 1567 and more than 900 in 1641, (fn. 4) and the average annual rate of admissions increased from 25 in 1540-59 to 42 in 1620-44. High admissions of newcomers in 1573 to satisfy a demand for labour, and in 1601-2, when there were large troop movements to Ireland, suggest that the Assembly tried to match the level of enfranchisements with the opportunities for skilled employment. (fn. 5) There were more than sixty crafts and trades in the city by 1600. (fn. 6) Between 1550 and 1649 in all 53 per cent of admissions were in the manual crafts, 27 per cent in services, and 20 per cent in the wholesale and distributive trades. Services took an increasing share and the distributive trades less. The three basic occupations - catering, clothing and textiles, and building - accounted for some 40 per cent of admissions. Purveyors of food and especially drink became more numerous, mainly after 1600. In the clothing trades, weavers and cloth finishers declined steadily, but feltmakers multiplied before 1600 and again after 1620. (fn. 7)

Leather was the most important manufacturing industry, employing perhaps more than 250 workers in the late 16th century. Shoemakers, glovers, tanners, saddlers, skinners, and curriers together formed more than a fifth of the freemen admitted between 1558 and 1625, with shoemakers first, glovers second, and tanners fourth among all occupations. The tanners, curriers, and wealthier glovers sold wholesale, whereas poorer glovers and the shoemakers and saddlers bought tanned leather and sold their products retail. Sources of skins and hides included Ireland as well as butchers and graziers in the neighbourhood, and some tanners had their own farms. One of the most successful leather manufacturers was Robert Brerewood, who died in 1601 with goods valued at almost £1,600: he worked as both a glover and a tanner, was (untypically) also a retailer, and also dealt in wool from sheepskins and timber purchased for the bark. (fn. 8)

Other rich Cestrians included William Dodd (d. 1598), a mercer worth £1,840; Robert Bennet (d. 1616), another mercer worth £1,288; Alderman Edward Button (d. 1618), an innkeeper worth £713; George Warrington (d. 1640), a brewer worth £940; and Alderman Thomas Thropp the elder (d. 1620), a vintner worth £2,475. Butchers who also grazed their own livestock were a particularly affluent group. (fn. 9) So, too, were the lessees of the Dee Mills, which remained vital to the city economy and highly profitable. The lessees' attempt to enforce a monopoly of grinding corn led to a lengthy dispute with the citizens. (fn. 10)

The city had an important role as a distributive centre, (fn. 11) and its shops, markets, and fairs all throve in the century after 1550. The staples traded in the city were wool, linen yarn, iron, lead, leather goods, corn (chiefly barley, rye, and oats), livestock (especially cattle), fish, and cheese. Fine fabrics and other light luxury goods, dyes, hops, and supplies for troops bound for Ireland were brought from London in return for cloth, skins, and salmon. Customers from gentlemen's households in Lancashire and Cheshire bought silk, soap, hair powder, spices, sack, wine, and other luxuries. (fn. 12) Clay tobacco pipes began to be made in Chester (at a kiln in the Crofts), rather than imported from London, in the 1630s. (fn. 13) Chester's fairs already had a reputation for the sale of horses, drawing local dealers and customers from as far as Yorkshire. Sellers from Shropshire and north Wales dominated the fairs, which specialized in the small Border horses used in transport. (fn. 14)

The markets and fairs were closely supervised respectively by the mayor and sheriffs. (fn. 15) Concessions to merchants who were not freemen were rare, but in 1607 non-free importers of Irish yarn were permitted to sell it without restriction in an attempt to divert them from Liverpool. (fn. 16) At fair times London dealers were accused of abusing the privilege of unrestricted trading, but local traders apparently benefited from the willingness of some Londoners to extend credit from fair to fair. (fn. 17) In the retail markets new regulations reflected continuing concerns to keep basic foodstuffs freely available, reasonably priced, and wholesome, especially when bad harvests or the presence of expeditions bound for Ireland in the 1580s and 1590s threatened to raise prices. (fn. 18)

Close supervision of the sale of ale, bread, and meat brought the mayor and Assembly into conflict with brewers, bakers, and butchers. In 1557, after a year of tight price regulation, the Bakers' company defied the assize of bread and refused to bake, whereupon the mayor threw the trade open, confiscated the guild's charter, and briefly disfranchised its members. Disputes continued until 1586, when finally the Assembly allowed anyone to sell bread on the two market days. The bakers continued to be aggrieved about innkeepers who baked their own bread and about unfree bakers at Gloverstone, an enclave in front of the castle which lay outside the city's jursidiction. (fn. 19) Butchers were frequently in trouble for bad meat and high prices. In 1578 the Assembly therefore opened a new flesh shambles for country butchers, and kept it open in the face of persistent hostility from the city butchers. (fn. 20) There was also conflict about brewers breaching the assize of ale. (fn. 21)

One means of alleviating shortages was the 'common bargain', whereby imported bulk supplies had first to be offered to the city for up to 40 days, during which time the mayor could purchase them for resale to the citizens at reasonable prices. It was apparently first used in the iron trade, but by 1550 had been extended to wine, oil, corn, fish, and other commodities. The procedure was followed for corn supplies in 1585 and 1597 to counter a dearth. In 1587 the time allowed for the bargain was reduced to 10 days. (fn. 22) The levying of tolls at the gates caused difficulties with outsiders, among the officers responsible, and between the city and Sir Randle Crewe, owner of those at the Eastgate. Some tolls were very small, there were exemptions, and collection often proved difficult. (fn. 23)


Throughout the 16th century Chester was the largest port in north-west England, although it carried only a small proportion of the country's trade, ranking 12th in a list of 18 provincial ports in 1594-5. It had few, if any, ships of over 100 tons, and was unfavourably located for trading with England's main markets overseas. Although well situated for trade with Ireland, its hinterland was not heavily populated or industrially developed, and competition from Liverpool gradually became more serious. (fn. 24)

Chester was the head port of the North-West, with Liverpool, the north Wales ports, and Lancaster as its members, but the silting of the Dee put it at a disadvantage even after the New Haven at Neston came permanently into use c. 1570, since the river channel was not improved. (fn. 25) Most ships, and all the larger ones engaged in Continental trade, either discharged their cargoes downstream or transhipped them into lighters which could sail up to Chester, either way incurring extra charges. (fn. 26)

The Irish trade was already the backbone of the city's commerce in 1550, and grew from a third of Chester's imports and three quarters of its exports by value in 1582-3 to two thirds of imports and nine tenths of exports a decade later. The balance of trade, initially in Ireland's favour, quickly reversed, and Chester's exports far outstripped its imports by value. Chester and Liverpool at first had complementary roles, Chester handling most exports and Liverpool most imports. Chester's exports were increasingly diverse: cloth above all, but also Welsh coal, re-exported iron and soap, salt, miscellaneous manufactured goods, foodstuffs, and wine. The most important imports from Ireland were raw materials: skins and hides for the local leather industry, wool, linen yarn, small amounts of tallow and timber, and large quantities of fish, especially herring. Between 80 and 90 per cent of the Irish trade was with Dublin, and Dublin merchants dominated it, numbering more than 100 by 1592-3. Chester's own merchants were more involved with other Irish ports, especially those in Ulster in the late 16th century. Some Cestrians, including the very successful Thomas Tomlinson, acted as factors for merchants from elsewhere. (fn. 27)

Trade with the Isle of Man and south-west Scotland, the latter beginning in the 1580s, was on a very small scale and essentially similar to that with Ireland: imports of skins, hides, wool, and fish in exchange for cheap basic manufactures. Most of it was conducted by Manx and Scots merchants, but in the 1580s several Chester craftsmen began importing raw materials from Man for their own use. (fn. 28)

Chester was central to the coastal trade of the NorthWest and north Wales, sending out large amounts of grain (except in years of local scarcity), but also wine, foreign fruits and other re-exports, and manufactured and household goods. Coastal imports to Chester included Irish merchandise transhipped from Liverpool, grain from Lancashire, and fish from southwestern England. Chester merchants regularly brought from London large miscellaneous cargoes of wine, chalk, iron, fuller's earth, and other commodities. (fn. 29)

During the later 16th century there was a small trade with the Baltic, chiefly imports of naval stores, and rye in times of scarcity, but Chester's Continental trade remained mainly with Spain and France. From Spain came some large cargoes of train oil, but the main import was iron, as much as 363 tons in 1562-3. Regular imports from France included fruits, spices, and above all wine. Exports to France and Spain included cloth, coal, and lead, but at first consisted mainly of the woollen cloth known as Lancashire cottons to Spain. From the mid 1580s cottons were overtaken by tanned calfskins, exported under a royal licence of 1584 which permitted Chester merchants to ship 10,000 dickers (i.e. 100,000 skins) over 12 years. On the outbreak of war with Spain in 1585 the trade switched to Saint-Jean-de-Luz (Pyrénées-Atlantiques), from where calfskins could be taken into Spain to exchange for iron; even so, fewer than 3,000 dickers had been exported by 1598 when the licence was renewed for nine years. Much of the trade was carried in Chester-owned ships, which normally made two round voyages a year. From the 1570s many were lost through shipwreck, piracy, and enemy attack. As their capacity averaged only c. 40 tons, larger vessels from other ports were also used. Trading prosperity was high during the early 1560s with flourishing wine and iron imports, and lower during the later 1560s and the 1570s because of the loss of ships and an embargo on trade with Spain. During the early 1580s a boom was fed by imports of French wine, and difficulties accompanying the war with Spain were overcome to prolong prosperity into the 1590s. (fn. 30)

Between 1600 and the Civil War there was little change in the city's maritime commerce. Wine imports from France and to a lesser extent Spain expanded rapidly in the 1630s to 1,053 tuns in 1638, but then fell sharply. (fn. 31) Iron imports from Spain did not recover in the same way. (fn. 32) Exports were still dominated by calfskins, but also included cloth and in good years corn, as well as the beginnings of a large trade in lead. However, no new markets were opened until the 1630s. Chester's coastal trade continued, but Ireland remained the city's main commercial outlet. (fn. 33) Exports included growing quantities of coal and cloth. Imports of sheep and cattle surged from the 1620s, reaching 18,000 animals, chiefly cattle, in 1639. (fn. 34) Coal exports and livestock imports had little direct effect on the city: both were shipped at anchorages in the estuary, mainly by Irish merchants in vessels not owned locally. Nevertheless, Chester in 1640 was still more important in overseas trade than Liverpool, especially in exports.


Chester's own merchants regularly handled 90 per cent of the cloth and calfskins exported to the Continent and up to 70 per cent of the iron and wine imported. During the later 16th century a small number of merchants came to predominate: 31 traded with France and Spain in 1565-6, for example, but only 15 in 1602-3, and the share taken by the biggest operators grew. Some of the smaller merchants spent time on the Continent as factors for richer ones. (fn. 35)

Two local families were pre-eminent. Six Alderseys traded with the Continent between 1558 and 1603, and family members owned property in and near the city and held civic office. Their wealth became largely concentrated in the hands of the third William Aldersey (d. 1625), who left a personal estate worth over £2,300 and credits of £1,700. The Gamulls, not quite as wealthy, also held civic office and had interests in the Dee Mills and a salt-works. Another rich overseas merchant was Richard Bavand, mayor and M.P., who died in 1603 owning goods worth c. £400, more than 20 properties in the city, and land outside. (fn. 36) Merchants supplemented their profits with advantageous marriages, investment in shipping, farming, property rents, retailing, loans to the Crown, and in some cases smuggling and evasion of tolls. (fn. 37) Nevertheless, even the most prominent were less affluent than their counterparts in the main provincial ports, and Chester was not dominated by a merchant oligarchy. (fn. 38)

In 1554 a group of overseas traders secured the incorporation by royal grant of a company of merchants, to be governed by a master and two wardens and enjoy the privileges normally granted to such companies. Membership was to comprise merchants trading with the Continent ('mere merchants') and exclude craftsmen and retailers. There was immediate opposition in Chester on the grounds that it would exclude some freemen from foreign trade contrary to long-established practice, but the company renewed its charter in 1559 and even came to include a few retailers. (fn. 39) Indeed, after Chester was brought within the national customs system in 1559 the corporation and the company collaborated in opposing higher customs rates on certain goods than were charged elsewhere. (fn. 40)

Such co-operation dissolved after 1577, when some local merchants joined the newly formed Spanish Company in order to share in its monopoly of trade with Spain and Portugal. (fn. 41) By 1581 they were attempting to exclude the city's retailers from the Iberian trade. The corporation, which included many retailers, took a stand against the merchants, and the dispute became bogged down in a welter of petitions, legal opinions, and abortive adjudications. (fn. 42) In 1584 the grant of a royal licence to export calfskins complicated the dispute, for it was granted to the merchants alone, and there were allegations that it had been obtained by deceit. Finally, in 1589 the privy council settled matters: the charter of the Merchants' company was confirmed, retailers were allowed to join it and trade overseas, and in return merchants were permitted to retail (in one trade only) and join the appropriate guild. (fn. 43) At first the compromise had limited effects, since the war had restricted direct trade with Spain. Most Chester merchants lost interest in the Spanish Company, and only four were members in 1605. (fn. 44)

Disputes continued, however, over other privileges sought by leading merchants. In 1605 Chester's exemption from prisage on imported wines was deemed to have ended, and competition ensued for the right to collect the tax. At first the corporation was allowed to farm it from the royal grantee, with William Gamull and other prominent merchants as its subfarmers from 1611. In 1624 a new farmer of prisage instead sublet his rights for £650 a year exclusively to five major wine merchants, William and Andrew Gamull, William Aldersey, Thomas Thropp, and William Glegg. (fn. 45) The arrangement had been secured in secret and was challenged by William Edwards, a new councilman already embattled against Gamull's clique for preventing his admission to the Merchants' company. (fn. 46) In 1629 the dispute took another twist when William Gamull and his friends, supposedly negotiating a renewal of the licence to export calfskins on behalf of the city generally, instead secured a monopoly for themselves. The privy council finally ruled that all merchants should benefit, though perhaps only on Gamull's terms. (fn. 47)

In 1630 Gamull and others were still allegedly refusing to allow Edwards to share in the freighting of ships, and two years later Edwards and his associates were accused of diverting cargoes of wine of Beaumaris (Ang.) in order to avoid paying prisage at Chester. Edwards's campaign seems to have won him support, however, for he became an alderman in 1631 and was mayor in 1636-7. By 1640 conflict among the merchants had died down: the corporation had resumed the right to levy the prisage on wines, and negotiations for a new licence to export calfskins were conducted in the name of the mayor and citizens. (fn. 48) The Merchants' company remained in being, with 46 members in 1639. (fn. 49)


Much of Chester's economic life between 1550 and the Civil War was controlled by the craft guilds, which in theory, and often in practice, prevented any master craftsman or trader from working in the city without first qualifying as a freeman and being admitted to the appropriate guild. (fn. 50) There were nevertheless many disputes about working practices within guilds. Some members of the company of Joiners, Turners, and Carvers, for example, bought partly finished pieces of furniture from country producers and completed the work themselves; having failed to stamp out the abuse, the guild officers licensed it, but then discovered in 1622 that the main culprit was the senior guild alderman. In companies like the Smiths', where men specialized in related crafts, there were repeated demarcation disputes. Rules against guild members' having more than one shop were flouted, notably among the Saddlers and the Shoemakers, one of whom was ordered in 1626 to close his second outlet in Wrexham. (fn. 51) The Tanners maintained stringent rules about the purchase of raw materials in order to prevent stocks from being cornered: each member could make an annual agreement with one country butcher for a supply of skins but was otherwise allowed to buy only one a day. The Brewers' company was divided between large-scale wholesale brewers and small-scale retailers. The former were required to sell beer only in 36-gallon barrels, but after the company was chartered in 1607 some of them began retailing in small quantities, and in 1618 they were ordered to desist. (fn. 52)

There were also rivalries between guilds. The Tailors complained against the Drapers, the Mercers against the Linendrapers, and the Weavers against the Embroiderers. (fn. 53) The monopoly granted to the Brewers' company by its royal charter of 1634 (unlike its charter of 1607 from the Assembly) provoked fierce opposition, and eventually the company had to accept a privy council ruling that innkeepers could brew beer for their guests. (fn. 54)

Two controversies raised points of principle about guild privileges. In 1615 Thomas Aldersey, a 'mere merchant' who wished to carry on the ironmongery business of the widow whom he had married, attempted to take advantage of the privy council's order of 1589 allowing merchants to engage in one retail trade and join the appropriate guild. The Ironmongers tried to insist that he serve a seven-year apprenticeship, but were not supported by the mayor, Aldersey's father. Aldersey's apprentices allegedly assaulted two senior members of the guild, and his shop was picketed, then attacked. Eventually the privy council reaffirmed the order which allowed Aldersey to trade, but he nevertheless moved the business to the exempt jurisdiction of Gloverstone, where he traded for 10 years before being admitted to the company at a much enhanced fee. (fn. 55) A later dispute questioned whether enfranchisement and guild membership were both required for the exercise of a particular trade. An embroiderer who began trading as a mercer was challenged by the Mercers' guild and disfranchised in 1619. The assize judges ruled in 1622 that he should be readmitted only to the freedom, allowing him to work legally only as an embroiderer, and when he persisted in trading as a mercer he was fined and his shop was closed. (fn. 56)

The guilds found it less easy to enforce their rights against competitors based in Gloverstone and the cathedral precincts, not least because the dean and chapter were rarely supportive, (fn. 57) and against country craftsmen who sold cheap wares illegally in Chester, despite privy council support against country feltmakers in the late 1620s. (fn. 58)


Disease was an ever-present threat, and the corporation took action against its spread from the 1570s (when it appointed a city surgeon), aiming to exclude people arriving from plague-infected areas and to isolate citizens who contracted plague. (fn. 59) In 1625, when plague was raging elsewhere, it enforced a 24-hour watch at the gates against persons and goods from infected places, and ordered innkeepers to check their guests. The Michaelmas fair was cancelled during further epidemics in 1631 and 1636. (fn. 60)

Poverty and vagrancy were intractable problems throughout the period. Beggars came from Wales, the Isle of Man, Ireland, and poorer parts of the NorthWest, drawn no doubt by the prospect of alms, pickings, or casual work. (fn. 61) In 1539-40 Chester was one of the first places to regulate them in response to national legislation distinguishing between the deserving and undeserving poor. A census of the indigent was taken, beggars were listed and licensed to beg in only one designated ward, and other workless men were required to present themselves for hire. (fn. 62) In the mid 16th century c. 60 beggars were licensed, and there were further surveys of the poor in 1555 and 1572. (fn. 63) In 1586 and 1591, as their number grew, the Assembly ordered the magistrates to conduct monthly searches for rogues and vagabonds. (fn. 64) Other measures included a ban in 1604 on converting buildings into small separate dwellings. (fn. 65)

The 'deserving' poor were relieved under an Act of 1563 by compulsory charitable donations, which raised £98 in 1567 from 342 donors. Recipients numbering 121 were mostly paid between 1d. and 4d. weekly. (fn. 66) The needy probably exceeded that number, and the introduction of compulsory poor rates under legislation of 1572 plainly did not solve the problem. The Assembly soon began to supervise the administration of parish poor rates, (fn. 67) and the new poor law of 1598 was implemented after a joint meeting of the mayor, aldermen J.P.s, constables, and parish overseers. (fn. 68)

In 1572 the corporation raised an assessment to pay for a house of correction, with equipment and raw materials for clothmaking, on which the able-bodied poor could be set to work. The house opened outside the Northgate in 1576, under the supervision of three aldermen and the management of two masters. (fn. 69) The Weavers' guild opposed the scheme in vain. In 1577 the master was required to employ 20 poor people and take up to five others named by the magistrates as in need of correction, the numbers later being doubled. (fn. 70) After 1600 difficulties repeatedly arose about the master's terms and the sale of the cloth produced, despite competition for the mastership and a review of arrangements in 1625. In 1638 two new masters, both clothworkers, were appointed to replenish the stock and employ at least 100 people. (fn. 71)

Despite all discouragements vagrants and beggars continued to enter the city. In the early 17th century the Assembly called for monthly, and even fortnightly, searches for lodgers and vagrants, and required aldermen to check their wards for beggars, bone-lace weavers, and other undesirables. In 1638, after a further census of beggars and vagrants, some were given relief, some set to work, and some expelled. (fn. 72) The numbers relieved in the earlier 17th century are not known. (fn. 73) The corporation provided some work by making loans to craftsmen for training the poor, for example in weaving braid and fustians or knitting stockings. (fn. 74) During emergencies in the 1580s the proceeds of common bargains were set aside for the poor, (fn. 75) and in 1603-5 the corporation spent heavily on poor plague victims, in part using a grant from the county magistrates. (fn. 76) Efforts to control grain supplies and prices in times of dearth also benefited the poorest. (fn. 77)

Some parishes were well provided with charitable benefactions, especially from civic families. (fn. 78) More important were those administered by the corporation, mostly established between 1575 and 1620 by wealthy citizens or successful Londoners with local connexions, such as John Vernon and three members of the Offley family, Hugh, Robert, and William. As well as direct poor relief they provided loans to give work to the poor and working capital for newly qualified traders and artificers. The sums for poor relief amounted to almost £84 a year. (fn. 79) The mayor and Assembly considered requests for grants or loans, and competition was often keen: in 1612, for example, 127 applicants petitioned for the 24 portions of Robert Offley's charity. (fn. 80) Sometimes there were difficulties in obtaining the interest payable on loans or recovering the principal, and some funds were lost through default or mismanagement. (fn. 81)

A few small charitable grants provided for civic junketing and anniversary sermons, but there was no large bequest for religious purposes and only one for education, Robert Offley's exhibition at Brasenose College, Oxford. There is no other evidence of civic concern with education during the period, when the King's school was administered by the dean and chapter. (fn. 82)


The presence in Chester of many clergy, teachers, lawyers, palatinate officials, gentlemen, and other educated people stimulated literary interests. By the early 17th century there were stationers and a printer, but as yet apparently no bookseller. (fn. 83) Local authors included clergy who published religious tracts, and Robert Rogers (d. 1595), archdeacon of Chester, who collected materials for a history of the city, the 'Breviary', which was completed by his son David in several versions. Civic pride was also reflected in Alderman William Aldersey's list of mayors and sheriffs, augmented by annalistic entries; by an account of the city's institutions by William Webb (fl. c. 1580-1620), a clerk in the mayor's court; and by the copies of the plays, mayoral lists, annals, and other documents made by George Bellin, a parish and guild clerk. Particularly important were the antiquarian labours of members of the Chaloner and Holme families, heraldic painters. Thomas Chaloner was a deputy herald, whose widow married Randle Holme I (c. 1571-1655). Holme and his son, Randle II (1601-59), both served as churchwardens at St. Mary's, aldermen of the company of Painters, Glaziers, Embroiderers, and Stationers, deputy heralds, and mayors; industrious and accurate, they amassed large collections from the city records, monumental inscriptions, genealogies, and gentlemen's papers. Their work preserved records of Chester's institutions, officials, ceremonies, and customs, promoted a sense, partly artificial, of the antiquity of its liberties, and established a tradition of local scholarship. (fn. 84)

Creativity in the arts was otherwise almost confined to a few goldsmiths who produced domestic and church plate, the busy heraldic painters, and above all musicians and actors. Among musicians Francis Pilkington had a family connexion with the service of the earl of Derby, chamberlain of Chester; he became a singing-man at the cathedral c. 1602, and wrote madrigals and other compositions. His contemporary Thomas Bateson was cathedral organist from c. 1599 to 1608; among his works were an anthem, an important group of madrigals, and a setting of a cathedral service used until the early 18th century. (fn. 85) The city waits performed the music at official and private events and gave public recitals; some also taught music and dancing. Their rivals locally were the minstrels licensed by the Dutton family, and there was a fracas between the two in 1610. (fn. 86) The city's dramatic traditions were upheld most spectacularly in a staging of 'Aeneas and Dido' in 1564 and a pageant in 1610 in honour of Henry, prince of Wales and earl of Chester. (fn. 87)

Official disapproval in a changed religious climate ended the Whitsun play after 1575 and modified other traditional public spectacles and observances. The Midsummer show was shorn of its more unseemly features after 1600 but continued as a popular carnival. (fn. 88) In the 1550s Christmas mumming and the Christmas breakfast for the poor were prohibited as the cause of unbefitting levity; the Christmas watch, with its torchlight procession and fireworks, survived only with less eating and drinking. (fn. 89) Participation in the Sheriffs' breakfast on Easter Monday was severely restricted in 1640. (fn. 90) Even in their modified form, however, the popular shows and celebrations promoted a sense of civic community and counteracted the social frailty caused by tensions and hardship.

Other public entertainments included occasional days of national rejoicing, an annual round of civic and guild ceremonies, and from 1609 the St. George's Day horse race on the Roodee. (fn. 91) Visiting dignitaries were welcomed with pomp and merry-making; Robert Dudley, earl of Leicester, for example, in 1584; Charlotte de la Trémouille, dowager duchess of Thouars and mother-in-law of James Stanley, Lord Strange (the heir of William Stanley, earl of Derby), in 1630; and James I himself in 1617. (fn. 92) Everyday pastimes included football, bowls, cock fighting, and bull and bear baiting, the last of which the authorities tried in vain to suppress. (fn. 93) The quality of Chester's beer was commended by the poet John Taylor (d. 1653). (fn. 94) Chester's public spectacles, entertainments, and races enhanced the position it already enjoyed as a social centre for the region.


  • 1. Above, this chapter: Demography.
  • 2. C.C.A.L.S., ZAB 1, f. 91; Morris, Chester, 386-8, 403-4, 437, 443-4; D. Woodward, Men at Work: Labourers and Building Craftsmen in Towns of N. Eng. 1450-1750, 54-7.
  • 3. C.C.A.L.S., ZAB 1, f. 91; Cal. Chester City Cl. Mins. 1603- 42, 189; Morris, Chester, 446-7; Tudor Chester, ed. Kennett, 17; D. M. Woodward, Trade of Elizabethan Chester, 88-94; T. C. Mendenhall, Shrewsbury Drapers and Welsh Wool Trade, 133-5; Salop. R.O., 1831, box 21.
  • 4. N. J. Alldridge, 'Loyalty and Identity in Chester Parishes, 1540-1640', Parish, Church, and People: Local Studies in Lay Religion, 1350-1750, ed. S.J. Wright, 106; Morris, Chester, 448-50.
  • 5. Rolls of Freemen of Chester, i (R.S.L.C. li), pp. xiii-xvi and passim; Johnson, 'Aspects', 9-10; Eng. Towns in Decline, 1350- 1800, ed. M. Reed, table 7.
  • 6. T.H.S.L.C. cxix. 96-7; P. M. Giles, 'Felt-hatting Ind. c. 1500-1850', T.L.C.A.S. lxix. 106-7; F. Simpson, 'City Gilds of Chester: Barber-Surgeons', J.C.A.S. xviii. 171, 174; A. M. Kennett, Loyal Chester, 10; Johnson, 'Aspects', 27, 277.
  • 7. Analysis based on figures compiled from Rolls of Freemen of Chester, i, by Miss S. Richardson; T.H.S.L.C. cxix. 67.
  • 8. T.H.S.L.C. cxix. 65-111; Woodward, Men at Work, 47; Johnson, 'Aspects', 26-7.
  • 9. Probate inventory transcripts from C.C.A.L.S. kindly supplied by Mr. A. H. King.
  • 10. V.C.H. Ches. v (2), Mills and Fisheries: Dee Corn Mills.
  • 11. Ibid. Roads and Road Transport: Long-Distance Road Transport.
  • 12. T.S. Willan, Inland Trade, 5-6, 29, 39; Woodward, Trade of Eliz. Chester, 69-72; T.H.S.L.C. cxix. 75-8; Agrarian Hist. of Eng. and Wales, iv. 80-4, 470.
  • 13. Past Uncovered: Quarterly Newsletter of Chester Arch. Autumn 1998.
  • 14. P. Edwards, 'Horse Trade of Chester in 16th and 17th Cent.' J.C.A.S. lxii. 91-8.
  • 15. C.C.A.L.S., ZAB 1, ff. 76v.-77, 79, 106-7, 112; Cal. Chester City Cl. Mins. 1603-42, 63-4, 79; Morris, Chester, 394-5.
  • 16. Cal. Chester City Cl. Mins. 1603-42, 30-1; C. Armour, 'Trade of Chester and State of Dee Navigation, 1600-1800' (Lond. Univ. Ph.D. thesis, 1956), 47-8.
  • 17. P.R.O., PC 2/47, ff. 366-7, 451; Johnson, 'Aspects', 233.
  • 18. C.C.A.L.S., ZMMP 2, 8-9, passim; ZMB 28, passim; Morris, Chester, 395-400, 437-8, 442; Cal. Chester City Cl. Mins. 1603- 42, 173; Tudor Chester, ed. Kennett, 18; Johnson, 'Aspects', 235-6.
  • 19. C.C.A.L.S., ZAB 1, ff. 88v.-90, 207; Morris, Chester, 415- 22; Johnson, 'Aspects', 235, 237-8.
  • 20. C.C.A.L.S., ZAB 1, ff. 174, 207, 230, 277v.; ZAB 2, f. 124; Morris, Chester, 438-42.
  • 21. C.C.A.L.S., ZAB 1, ff. 97v.-98; ZAF 15/33; Acts of P.C. 1600-1, 24-5; Cal. S.P. Dom. 1636-7, 374, 406; 1637, 110-11; Johnson, 'Aspects', 238-9.
  • 22. C.C.A.L.S., ZAB 1, ff. 68, 121v.-122, 203-4, 208v., 251; Morris, Chester, 390-3, 399-400; Woodward, Trade of Eliz. Chester, 49-51; Cal. Chester City Cl. Mins. 1603-42, 40, 57, 59, 76, 173; Armour, 'Trade of Chester', 46-7; Kennett, Loyal Chester, 14-15.
  • 23. C.C.A.L.S., ZML 6/81; Cal. Chester City Cl. Mins. 1603-42, pp. xxv, 160-5; Johnson, 'Aspects', 240-3.
  • 24. Woodward, Trade of Eliz. Chester, 1-4; Johnson, 'Aspects', 2.
  • 25. V.C.H. Ches. v (2), Water Transport: River.
  • 26. Woodward, Trade of Eliz. Chester, 3.
  • 27. Ibid. 5-34, 131-3.
  • 28. Ibid. 35-6.
  • 29. Ibid. 66-9, 133-4.
  • 30. Ibid. 37-58, 130-3; N. Lowe, Lancs. Textile Ind. in 16th Cent. (Chetham Soc. 3rd ser. xx), passim; T.H.S.L.C. cxix. 85-9; cf. below, this section (Merchants).
  • 31. T.H.S.L.C. cxx. 23-34; W. B. Stephens, 'Eng. Wine Imports, c. 1603-40', Tudor and Stuart Devon, ed. T. Gray and others, 144-7.
  • 32. Rest of para. based mainly on T.H.S.L.C. cxx. 23-34; cxxii. 25-42.
  • 33. T.S. Willan, Eng. Coasting Trade, 1600-1750, 91, 97, 103- 5, 107-9, 180-1; Armour, 'Trade of Chester', 303-4.
  • 34. Woodward, Trade of Eliz. Chester, 127 n.
  • 35. Ibid. 41, 57-65.
  • 36. Ibid. 59-60, 106-12, 135; cf. ibid. 96, 103; Armour, 'Trade of Chester', 28, 202; Lowe, Lancs. Textile Ind. 74-5.
  • 37. Woodward, Trade of Eliz. Chester, 62-3, 114-17; Morris, Chester, 394-5.
  • 38. Woodward, Trade of Eliz. Chester, 122-3; R. Grassby, Business Community of 17th-Cent. Eng. 58, 250.
  • 39. Woodward, Trade of Eliz. Chester, 73-5; Morris, Chester, 463-4; C.C.A.L.S., ZML 5/226, 265-8.
  • 40. C.C.A.L.S., ZAB 1, ff. 95-6, 98-101, 128, 132v.; Woodward, Trade of Eliz. Chester, 75-8.
  • 41. Woodward, Trade of Eliz. Chester, 79-82.
  • 42. Ibid. 82-7; C.C.A.L.S., ZAB 1, ff. 183, 184v.-186; ZML 5/269; Morris, Chester, 463-8.
  • 43. C.C.A.L.S., ZAB 1, ff. 180, 219v., 220v.-223; ZML 5/251- 64; Morris, Chester, 467-8; Woodward, Trade of Eliz. Chester, 94-103.
  • 44. Woodward, Trade of Eliz. Chester, 83-4, 102-4.
  • 45. C.C.A.L.S., ZCHB 3, f. 104; ZML 6/51; Cal. Chester City Cl. Mins. 1603-42, pp. xxvii, 72, 76-7, 87, 127-8; A. M. Johnson, 'Politics in Chester during Civil Wars and Interregnum, 1640- 62', Crisis and Order in Eng. Towns, 1500-1700, ed. P. Clark and P. Slack, 205.
  • 46. Cal. Chester City Cl. Mins. 1603-42, 125, 127-9; Acts of P.C. 1626, 356; Crisis and Order, ed. Clark and Slack, 205-6; Johnson, 'Aspects', 302-3.
  • 47. Crisis and Order, ed. Clark and Slack, 206-7; Johnson, 'Aspects', 303-5.
  • 48. Cal. Chester City Cl. Mins. 1603-42, 166, 169-70, 202, 207; Crisis and Order, ed. Clark and Slack, 207; Johnson, 'Aspects', 305-6.
  • 49. B.L. Harl. MS. 2054, ff. 50-1.
  • 50. V.C.H. Ches. v (2), Craft Guilds: Economic Regulation; M.J. Groombridge, 'City Gilds of Chester', J.C.A.S. xxxix. 98-9; T.H.S.L.C. cxix. 93, 98-100; Woodward, Men at Work, 30-5; Johnson, 'Aspects', 230, 251-60; C.C.A.L.S., ZAB 1, ff. 116v., 259v.
  • 51. C.C.A.L.S., ZAB 1, f. 277; Cal. Chester City Cl. Mins. 1603- 42, 1-2, 140; F. Simpson, 'City Gilds of Chester: Smiths, Cutlers, and Plumbers', J.C.A.S. xx. 15-17; ibid. xxxix. 99; Woodward, Men at Work, 78-9; Johnson, 'Aspects', 263-70.
  • 52. C.C.A.L.S., ZAB 1, ff. 238v., 252v., 270; Cal. Chester City Cl. Mins. 1603-42, 7; Johnson, 'Aspects', 270-6.
  • 53. Morris, Chester, 404-5, 409, 435-6; J.C.A.S. xxxix. 99-100; Woodward, Men at Work, 18.
  • 54. Cal. Chester City Cl. Mins. 1603-42, 29, 185-6; Cal. S.P. Dom. 1635-6, 371-2; 1637, 49-50; Johnson, 'Aspects', 289-92.
  • 55. Cal. Chester City Cl. Mins. 1603-42, 78; Acts of P.C. 1615- 16, 66, 651-2; Johnson, 'Aspects', 279-86.
  • 56. C.C.A.L.S., ZML 6/139-41; Acts of P.C. 1618-19, 159-60, 327-8; 1621-3, 296-7; Cal. S.P. Dom. 1611-18, 565; Cal. Chester City Cl. Mins. 1603-42, 97-8, 121, 124-5; Johnson, 'Aspects', 286-9.
  • 57. Cal. Chester City Cl. Mins. 1603-42, 132; C.C.A.L.S., ZAB 2, f. 21v.; Johnson, 'Aspects', 295-6.
  • 58. P.R.O., PC 2/38, ff. 230, 501; PC 2/39, f. 385; PC 2/41, f. 373; PC 2/42, f. 478; PC 2/44, f. 292; Cal. S.P. Dom. 1628-9, 340, 545; Johnson, 'Aspects', 292-5.
  • 59. Above, this chapter: Demography; Morris, Chester, 78-9; Shrewsbury, Hist. Bubonic Plague, 272-3; C.C.A.L.S., ZCHB 3, f. 13v.
  • 60. Cal. Chester City Cl. Mins. 1603-42, 135-7, 167-8, 188-90; Johnson, 'Aspects', 216.
  • 61. A. L. Beier, Masterless Men: The Vagrancy Problem in Eng. 1560-1640, 36-7, 39, 72.
  • 62. C.C.A.L.S., ZAB 1, f. 60; Morris, Chester, 355-7; P. Slack, Poverty and Policy in Tudor and Stuart Eng. 119, 123; Johnson, 'Aspects', 191-2.
  • 63. C.C.A.L.S., ZAB 1, f. 126v.; Morris, Chester, 355-7; Johnson, 'Aspects', 191-2, 197, 203.
  • 64. C.C.A.L.S., ZAB 1, ff. 211v., 231v., 232v.; Morris, Chester, 359.
  • 65. Morris, Chester, 192, 452; Beier, Masterless Men, 83, 148; Slack, Poverty and Policy, 68; Cal. Chester City Cl. Mins. 1603-42, 9-10; C.C.A.L.S., ZMB 28, passim; cf. 31 Eliz. I, c. 7.
  • 66. Johnson, 'Aspects', 192-5.
  • 67. Ibid. 196; Tudor Chester, ed. Kennett, 24-5; Morris, Chester, 366; Slack, Poverty and Policy, 126.
  • 68. C.C.A.L.S., ZAB 1, f. 254.
  • 69. Ibid. ff. 126v., 164, 169v., 170v.; Morris, Chester, 362-4; Slack, Poverty and Policy, 125; Johnson, 'Aspects', 197-9.
  • 70. Morris, Chester, 408-9; Johnson, 'Aspects', 199-200.
  • 71. Cal. Chester City Cl. Mins. 1603-42, 37-8, 41, 46-7, 51 n., 53, 91, 97, 117, 132-3, 159, 179, 194-6, 220; Johnson, 'Aspects', 200-1.
  • 72. Cal. Chester City Cl. Mins. 1603-42, 55, 88, 125, 134, 152- 3, 160, 196.
  • 73. C.C.A.L.S., ZML 6/32, 34; ZQSF passim.
  • 74. Cal. Chester City Cl. Mins. 1603-42, 46-7, 90, 123, 197.
  • 75. C.C.A.L.S., ZAB 1, ff. 204, 214v., 218; Woodward, Trade of Eliz. Chester, 53.
  • 76. C.C.A.L.S., ZAB 1, f. 278v.; ZML 2/173; ZML 3/177; ZTAR 2/23; Cal. Chester City Cl. Mins. 1603-42, 8-9; Q. Sess. Recs. of Ches. 1559-1760 (R.S.L.C. xciv), 53-5.
  • 77. Morris, Chester, 428-31; Woodward, Trade of Eliz. Chester, 49-53.
  • 78. V.C.H. Ches. v (2), Charities for the Poor: Parochial Charities.
  • 79. V.C.H. Ches. v (2), Charities for the Poor: Municipal Charities; Cal. Chester City Cl. Mins. 1603-42, 214-19; Johnson, 'Aspects', 204-7.
  • 80. C.C.A.L.S., ZAF 9/37; ZAF 10/100; ZAF 11 passim; Johnson, 'Aspects', 209.
  • 81. Cal. Chester City Cl. Mins. 1603-42, 20, 37, 148, 154, 158, 219; Johnson, 'Aspects', 210.
  • 82. V.C.H. Ches. v (2), Education: Before 1700; V.C.H. Ches. iii. 230.
  • 83. J. P. Earwaker, 'Four Randle Holmes of Chester, Antiquaries, Heralds, and Genealogists, c. 1571-1707', J.C.A.S. N.S. iv. 113-14, 160.
  • 84. REED: Chester, pp. xxiii-xxxvi, 320-6, 351-5; P. Clark, 'Visions of Urban Community', The Pursuit of Urban Hist. ed. D. Fraser and A. Sutcliffe, 110-12; A. T. Thacker, 'Ches.' Eng. County Histories, ed. C. R. J. Currie and C. P. Lewis, 72-4; J.C.A.S. N.S. iv. 115-35.
  • 85. J. C. Bridge, 'Two Chester Madrigal Writers', J.C.A.S. N.S. vi. 60-4; idem, 'Organists of Chester Cath.' J.C.A.S. xix. 73, 75-6.
  • 86. REED: Chester, pp. li, lix; Morris, Chester, 348; V.C.H. Ches. v (2), Plays, Sports, and Customs before 1700: Music and Minstrelsy.
  • 87. V.C.H. Ches. v (2), Plays, Sports, and Customs before 1700: Private Patronage.
  • 88. Ibid.: Chester Plays (Whitsun Play: History); City Watches and Midsummer Show.
  • 89. REED: Chester, pp. xlvi, 56, 323-4, 352-3; Tudor Chester, ed. Kennett, 22.
  • 90. V.C.H. Ches. v (2), Plays, Sports, and Customs before 1700: Sporting Customs (Sheriffs' Breakfast).
  • 91. V.C.H. Ches. v (2), Chester Races.
  • 92. Tudor Chester, ed. Kennett, 20; Cal. Chester City Cl. Mins. 1603-42, 84, 94, 103, 121; J.C.A.S. xxviii. 186; xxxviii. 154; Kennett, Loyal Chester, 8.
  • 93. Morris, Chester, 331-6; Cal. Chester City Cl. Mins. 1603-42, 164, 200; J.C.A.S. xxxix. 100-1; REED: Chester, pp. lviii-lix; Urban Hist. Yearbook, xviii. 12.
  • 94. C.C.A.L.S., ZQSF 52-6; P. Clark, The Eng. Alehouse: A Social Hist. 1200-1830, 73, 79, 98; Tudor Chester, ed. Kennett, 26.