Medieval Gloucester: The regulation of trade

A History of the County of Gloucester: Volume 4, the City of Gloucester. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1988.

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'Medieval Gloucester: The regulation of trade', A History of the County of Gloucester: Volume 4, the City of Gloucester, (London, 1988), pp. 57-59. British History Online [accessed 15 June 2024].

. "Medieval Gloucester: The regulation of trade", in A History of the County of Gloucester: Volume 4, the City of Gloucester, (London, 1988) 57-59. British History Online, accessed June 15, 2024,

. "Medieval Gloucester: The regulation of trade", A History of the County of Gloucester: Volume 4, the City of Gloucester, (London, 1988). 57-59. British History Online. Web. 15 June 2024,

The Regulation of Trade and Industry

It seems to have been from an early date that the various commercial and legal privileges granted by the borough charters or sanctioned by ancient custom were restricted to a particular group rather than being enjoyed by the inhabitants or householders at large. The restriction may have been already implied by the terminology of the charter of 1200, which granted rights to 'the burgesses of the guild of merchants', a body which later comprised those who had been admitted to full burgess rights as freemen of the borough. (fn. 1) The style 'burgess of Gloucester' presumably had some particular significance c. 1230 when it began to be used by some parties to deeds, (fn. 2) though it was not used at all frequently until the early 14th century. Admission to the freedom by a special ceremony was recorded from the late 13th century: in 1311 a witness to an inquisition was able to recall the date of birth of an heir to one of the Berkeley family, in 1289, because his own admission as a burgess occurred a few months later. (fn. 3)

By the 15th century the freedom was gained by purchase, by serving an apprenticeship, or by patrimony. The purchase price of the freedom was £1 in 1409 and remained at that sum in the 1530s, when those admitted by apprenticeship had to pay 4s.; sons of burgesses were admitted free of charge. (fn. 4) Fifteen new burgesses were admitted by purchase in the borough year 1409–10 (fn. 5) and 17 by purchase or patrimony in 1493–4; (fn. 6) between 1535 and 1545 the annual admissions averaged 20. (fn. 7)

Other inhabitants of the town under the style of 'portmen' (portmanni) enjoyed a more limited form of privilege, probably sharing only in some of the trading rights enjoyed by the full burgesses. (fn. 8) The separate category of portmen apparently existed by the 1260s, (fn. 9) and in the late 14th century and early 15th the portmen—as many as 92 in one year—each paid 6d. to the bailiffs as an entry fine to that state. (fn. 10) No record of portmen has been found after the early 16th century. (fn. 11)

A much larger number of people, comprising both unfranchised inhabitants and 'foreigners' from the surrounding villages or other towns, traded in Gloucester in return for an annual payment made to the bailiffs; lists of those payers survive for five years: 1380–1, 1396–7, 1398–9, 1423–4, and 1481–2. (fn. 12) The annual payments, which were evidently reassessed each year, varied between 6d. and 1 mark but were usually in the range of 1–2s. They were presumably made as a composition for the various market tolls to which the payer would be liable in the course of the year, as well as for the basic right of dealing in goods or practising a craft within the town, and probably did not give access to any of the privileges enjoyed by the freemen. The tradesmen listed on the rolls are each distinguished by 'north', 'south', 'east', or 'west', which in the case of the foreigners evidently indicated the gate by which they entered (on one roll an abbreviation which apparently stands for Alvin gate is also used) and in the case of the unfranchised residents presumably indicated the ward in which they lived. The porters of the gates apparently collected, or else took pledges for, the tolls or annual composition money. Henry of Blackwell, who was presented by the frankpledge jury in 1273 for allowing 'men to enter and leave the gate for trade without giving a token', (fn. 13) was perhaps a porter; and a system was recorded in 1527 under which incoming wool merchants gave the porter a pledge which they could redeem only by handing over a token, apparently as proof that they had sold their wool in the approved market at the Boothall weighing beams and paid toll on it. (fn. 14) It was thus efficient toll collection, as well as security, that dictated the restriction of access to the town to approved main gates. One of a series of complaints made by the bailiffs against Llanthony Priory in 1392 concerned a doorway that the priory maintained near St. Kyneburgh's chapel; by means of it, they said, many traders entered without paying toll. (fn. 15)

Before 1483 the regulation of the town's industry and trade was apparently enforced mainly by the jury at the biannual views of frankpledge, making its presentments under those articles of the view that concerned prices, the quality of goods, and market offences. The jury was still making a wide range of ordinances for the provision trades, including fixing the bread and ale assizes, in 1500, (fn. 16) but responsibility for such measures was by then passing increasingly to the common council.

The sale of goods away from the open market presented the usual problem to the borough authorities. In 1273 the frankpledge jury reported forestalling by dealers in a wide range of provisions, including all the sellers of fresh fish, who were buying outside the town; other traders were presented for dealing outside the approved market hours. Concern over the activities of tradesmen in the suburbs beyond the borough boundary is also shown in the presentments for that year: a man living in Barton Street was said to intercept and buy leather from those coming through the suburb on their way to the market, (fn. 17) In the 1450s the canons of Llanthony claimed that a regular trade was carried on at the priory by merchants anxious to avoid the heavy tolls charged in the borough, (fn. 18) and from 1465 the annual fair established in Barton Street by Gloucester Abbey provided a more official venue for extramural trading. (fn. 19) In the early 16th century sales of wool in private houses instead of at the wool market in the Boothall and dealing in corn without its being pitched in the market place were among practices that the authorities attempted to check. In 1514 protective measures designed to maintain the privileged position of freemen included restricting to them the right of buying corn for resale, merchandise brought by boats to the quay, and wool or cloth brought to the town by 'foreigners'. (fn. 20) Freemen's use of their privileges for dealing on behalf of outsiders was a matter of particular concern in the early 16th century, when the oaths taken by new freemen and portmen included a clause forswearing that practice. (fn. 21)

Part of the responsibility for regulating trade and industry and protecting freemen's privileges was undertaken by the trade companies, which were first recorded in the second half of the 15th century. By the 1480s at least five groups of tradesmen had been formed into companies.

The butchers' company was formed in 1454 when an agreement, made with the bailiffs and stewards, empowered the butchers to elect two wardens to supervise the trade, present frauds and deception to the bailiffs, and enforce the apprenticeship qualification for butchers admitted as a freemen. At the same time the butchers were granted a parcel of land near the quay for disposing of the garbage from their trade, (fn. 22) which by its nature was one that posed the most serious environmental problems. Street-cleaning regulations of 1500 were largely directed at the butchers (fn. 23) and in 1517 the killing of pigs near the shambles in upper Westgate Street caused a dispute with local inhabitants. (fn. 24)

The tanner's company was probably formed in 1461 when a group of trustees, including at least five tanners, took possession of a building in Hare Lane, apparently the same one that the master and wardens held as the company's hall in 1540; (fn. 25) the chantry of St. Clement in St. John's church, which the company later supported and had presumably founded, existed by 1473. (fn. 26) A new set of ordinances for the tanners' company was approved in 1542. (fn. 27)

The cooks' company had been constituted by 1482, when ordinances were made for it, (fn. 28) and the cordwainers' company by 1483; in 1503 the master and wardens of the latter brought a suit in the hundred court in defence of the apprenticeship qualification for those carrying on the trade in the town. (fn. 29) The master weavers' company had been constituted with a master and wardens by 1485 and received new ordinances in 1508. (fn. 30) Two others which probably had their origins at the same period were the bakers' company, which existed by 1550, (fn. 31) and the tailors' and hosiers' company, which in 1587 was said to have existed from time immemorial. (fn. 32)


  • 1. Above, town govt. 1200–1483.
  • 2. Glouc. Corp. Rec. pp. 133, 137.
  • 3. Cal. Inq. p.m. v, p. 164.
  • 4. G.B.R., F 4/1; C 9/6. Admission by apprenticeship was recorded from 1454: Glos. Colln. 11664, no. 1.
  • 5. G.B.R., F 4/1.
  • 6. Ibid. 2.
  • 7. Ibid. C 9/6.
  • 8. Suggested by the fact that they are listed on the same rolls which record the payments made for trading in the borough by unfranchised inhabitants and foreigners (ibid. C 9/1–4) and by the inclusion in the portmen's oath of a clause against 'covering' the goods of strangers: ibid. B 2/2, note at front.
  • 9. Ibid. F 3/1.
  • 10. Ibid. C 9/1–4.
  • 11. Ibid. B 2/2, note at front.
  • 12. Ibid. C 9/1–5.
  • 13. The presentment apparently referred to a token given for toll or for some other purpose ('absque signo pacando tam de teoloneo …'); the end is now illegible: ibid. G 8/1.
  • 14. Ibid. B 2/1, f. 13v.
  • 15. P.R.O., C 115/K 2/6684, f. 159v.
  • 16. G.B.R., G 8/1; B 2/1, ff. 16–18.
  • 17. Ibid. G 8/1.
  • 18. P.R.O., C 115/K 2/6685, ff. 11v., 13.
  • 19. Below, Markets and Fairs.
  • 20. G.B.R., B 2/1, ff. 13 and v., 21v.–22.
  • 21. Ibid. 2, note at front.
  • 22. Glos. Colln. 11664, no. 1.
  • 23. G.B.R., B 2/1, ff. 16–17.
  • 24. Ibid. f. 3v.
  • 25. Glos. Colln. 28652, nos. 1–2; though not there so described, Nic. Hert, John Aleyn, and John Hyman were also tanners: cf. Glouc. Rental, 1455, 57, 71, 109.
  • 26. Glos. Colln. 28652, no. 4; Hockaday Abs. ccxv, 1473.
  • 27. Glos. Colln. 28652, no. 4.
  • 28. G.B.R., B 1/1.
  • 29. Ibid. G 10/1, p. 47, where the reference to the bailiffs making regulations for the company shows that it existed before 1483.
  • 30. Hockaday Abs. ccxix, 1485; G.B.R., B 1/3.
  • 31. G.B.R., B 2/1, ff. 50–52v.
  • 32. Glos. R.O., D 177/1/1, ff. 209–10.