A History of the County of Leicester: Volume 4, the City of Leicester. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1958.
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SOCIAL AND ECONOMIC HISTORY 1066–1509
Leicester in 1086
The Domesday survey for Leicester describes an urban community comprising a small walled town and a much more extensive extramural area. Mary Bateson estimated the area of the walled town at about 130 acres, and the whole area of the borough, calculated on a fiscal assessment, at about 3,600 acres. (fn. 1) C. J. Billson, however, after examining the district which was once within the walls, estimated its area at rather less than 160 acres; he also in the light of modern evidence about variations in the number of real acres in the fiscal hide estimated the total area at approximately 3,000 acres. (fn. 2) This would put Leicester between Bedford (c. 2,164 acres) and Cambridge (c. 3,200 acres). It had also a similarity in layout to the latter in that it was surrounded by open fields on all sides except to the north where, at Leicester, the woodland began outside the town gate.
Within the walls and divided by the two main streets leading to gates at the four points of the compass were 322 houses and 6 churches. (fn. 3) The interconnexion between town and country is revealed in the Domesday list which shows that many of the houses were attached to rural manors. (fn. 4) This connexion may have had a much earlier origin in the need to house men-at-arms from the outlying properties for the defence of the town, but as Mary Bateson (fn. 5) and Sir Frank Stenton (fn. 6) have shown, an equally important factor must have been the commercial advantage of possessing burgess rights to facilitate trade in commodities which could not be acquired or disposed of in the villages.
The course of the Soar had determined the arrangement of the three great fields, each with its portion of meadow and arable. Of these, the West Field and East Field, sometimes called 'the Great Field', were already manorialized. The West Field was held by Hugh de Grentemesnil, and may possibly have survived as a separate agricultural unit from the estate of a Roman villa which once stood on the Fosse Way outside the West Gate. It was assessed in 1086 as 6 carucates belonging to Leicester with all customary dues, but Hugh also had at Bromkinsthorpe 2 carucates of the soc of Ratby. Hugh owned here a small demesne with 6 villeins, 3 serfs, and 3 bordars; the area was worked by 3 ploughs. (fn. 7) During the century after the Conquest this holding became divided into two manors, Walsh's Hall, and Westcotes given by Robert Fitzparnell, Earl of Leicester, to the Abbey of St. Mary de Pratis. (fn. 8) The greater part of the East Field comprised the 10 carucates of land described as the Bishop of Lincoln's fee. In addition to his 17 burgesses rendering 22s., the bishop owned land outside the town walls rendering 5s. 4d. to him. The demesne, with its 5 ploughs, the priest, 3 villeins, and 12 bordars with another 4 ploughs, indicate the manorial character of this episcopal holding outside the walls. With it went 20 acres of meadow. (fn. 9) Other meadow in this field adjacent to the river, later known as Lammas Ground or the Abbey Meadows, appears always to have belonged to the town. The south field is entered in the Domesday survey as 6 carucates held by the Countess Judith outside the walls. No manor was created on this field, but within the next century the earls acquired a demesne outside the South Gate and enclosed adjoining pieces of meadow known as Cowhay and Oxhay, and possibly also that called 'Taskholm'. By 1204, however, the free burgesses 'dwelling within certain limits' had secured, or perhaps recovered, grazing rights in the Cowhay for the annual payment of 3d. a beast. (fn. 10)
Of the forest westwards, the Domesday survey specifically mentions a region called 'Hereswode', extending 4 leagues by 1 league, outside the town. The name may derive from pre-Conquest rights enjoyed by the inhabitants, which were redefined by charters of the first earls allowing the collection of wood and the right of way for the burgesses, their carts, and packhorses. (fn. 11)
Relations with the Earl
In 1086 the whole area was divided between four chief lords and a number of ecclesiastics and laymen who each held a few houses only. A description by Ordericus Vitalis, written in 1101, shows that the four large holdings still existed at that date; but within a short period Robert de Beaumont, Count of Meulan, had acquired lordship of the whole with the exception of the fee at the East Gate held by the Bishop of Lincoln. (fn. 12) The town was retained by Robert's successors as a borough in demesne; John's charter of 1199, granting to Robert's great grandson, the Earl of Leicester, the privileges of the honor and town, was confirmed by Henry III to Simon de Montfort and Roger de Quincy in 1236. (fn. 13) Thus, like Chester, Winchester, and Warwick, Leicester held the unusual status of a mediatized borough not directly under royal control, and this brought its inhabitants into close relationship with the earl whose castle and chief dwelling-place until the end of the 14th century was within its walls. The earls drew income from rents, perquisites of courts, and tolls. The free tenants paid their rents of assize to the castle porter and owed suit at the earl's three-weekly court (fn. 14) and at two views in St. Leonard's parish and two views 'in le Castelward'. (fn. 15) The only reference to agricultural services on the demesne comes from a charter of about 1200, later confirmed by Simon de Montfort, releasing the payments hitherto made for the reaping of the earl's crops. (fn. 16) The earl's demesne land farmed in 1296 amounted to 320 acres of arable, 44 acres of meadow, and 1 hide of pasture. (fn. 17) A few rents in kind are mentioned in the bailiffs' accounts. Special rents called Gavelpence (i.e. 3d. from every house with a gable on the high street) and Bridgesilver were redeemed by the burgesses in 1253 for a fixed annual rent. (fn. 18) Rents of shops and booths or shambles, in the late 14th century at least, came second only to the rents of assize. Other income accrued from 2 windmills, 2 watermills, and 6 common ovens, usually let to farm, which the townsfolk were obliged to use. Although the portmanmoot was a borough court of probable pre-Conquest origin in which burgesses and all-comers might bring actions, its fines were received by the earl. Other courts from which he took the profits, even when in time they came to be conducted by the town officials, were those for the views of frankpledge at Easter and Michaelmas, the assizes of beer at Whitsun and of bread, and the piepowder courts and courts of fairs. (fn. 19) In addition to the more usual exhennia and customary payments due to a feudal overlord, were certain special taxes or yearly licences; 'cannemol' from brewers, (fn. 20) huckstermoll from regraters, (fn. 21) and walkermoll from fullers. (fn. 22) Tolls of the market are mentioned in the inquisitions post mortem of 1296 and 1327. (fn. 23) The latter also listed the toll of the fair in May, worth £1 yearly, and the tronage of wool at Whitsun worth £17 yearly. An important attempt to free the borough from these tolls, or possibly to transfer their profits to the town purse, was made in 1361. (fn. 24) The earl, Henry, Duke of Lancaster, was about to surrender all market tolls, stallage, pickage, and tronage in Leicester and within certain bounds called toll-marks, when his sudden death frustrated the negotiations at the final stage. Fourteen years later came a further attempt to obtain greater control of the revenues when the town leased the bailiwick from John of Gaunt for ten years at a rent of £80. (fn. 25) It is noteworthy that the rents of mills and ovens and also of the free tenants were not included in this grant. This lease was renewed upon slightly different terms for twenty years from 1403 and for ten years from 1423, but evidence suggests that there was never a permanent contract between the borough and its lord even when the Duchy of Lancaster became Crown property. (fn. 26) That it had not acquired from its earls the more complete firma burgi, usually secured by boroughs directly under the king, points to an exceptional relationship and this is borne out by a study of other aspects of the government of the borough. (fn. 27)
The Guild Merchant
The trade of the town was regulated by the Guild of Merchants which from the end of the 14th century was also called the Chapman's Guild. A charter of Count Robert of Meulan, dated not later than 1118, (fn. 28) granting their guild to 'his merchants' of Leicester, acknowledged its body of customs and appears to have greater precision than the charters of other towns. Its retrospective reference to all the customs held in the time of William I and William II suggests a different development from that of such towns as Ipswich where the commonalty formally met together to create the machinery of the Merchant Guild. (fn. 29) A wealth of material exists for the study of the Leicester Guild in its series of rolls dating from 1196 to 1380.
Free membership of the Guild in Leicester was granted to a guildsman's heir, the youngest son until 1255 when the law of primogeniture was introduced. (fn. 30) Varied payments were required from others; usually 3s. from natives and 6s. 8d. from strangers, together with bull money, the purpose of which can only be guessed since the records are silent on this point. The variations matched the circumstances: in 1265 Walter Brown the younger took his father's seat in place of his elder brother, but had to pay 1s. 6d.; in 1289 Luke Shearman pledged 40s. and swore that wherever he should be he would answer with the guild. (fn. 31) A similar oath and payment were made by Thomas of Stanton, cobbler, in 1323. Membership gave the right to share the greatest part of the wholesale and retail trade of the borough and freedom from certain tolls exacted from non-members. A bargain must be shared with a fellow guildsman if he was present and claimed it at the time of making, not only in Leicester but also at fairs elsewhere in the kingdom. The mayor alone was privileged to ignore this obligation. There was, however, no joint-stock purchasing as, for example, at Chester. (fn. 32) The general benefit which membership of the trading community would naturally bring found here specific expression in the use of guides for finding the best wool in the county, and of the services of an official broker in charge of the wool scales. (fn. 33) A number of references in the town records at the end of the 13th century and in the early 14th century show attempts to protect the guildsmen not only by forbidding trade with strangers even to the extent of disallowing it with a son not in the guild, (fn. 34) but also by prohibiting trade financed by strangers. In 1260 these two rules were rescinded, but were reimposed within a fortnight when 'it was . . . agreed in common that none of the guild shall sell in Leicester the wool or merchandise of those who are outside the guild for part-profits, to the detriment of the liberties of the guild'. Twelve men were appointed to different parts of the town and suburbs to see that this rule was kept. The guild's monopoly of retail trade is illustrated by numerous fines such as that of Henry of Staunton for selling meat and herring 'against the guild'. In these ways the guild was able to enforce to a certain degree its own and the royal ordinances regulating quality, weight, and price of goods. Thus in 1259 the mayor himself and a number of leading townsmen were fined for dyeing wool in woad and madder 'in likeness of perse colour, against the custom of the guild and in deceit'; in 1304 Ralph Norman lost his membership for weighing wax with a stone said to equal 4 pound whereas it was a half-pound less. (fn. 35)
As in other towns, membership of the Guild Merchant was theoretically open to all manner of traders and craftsmen, with the exception of women. (fn. 36) The list of admissions on the first extant roll, 1196–1225, gives more than fifty different callings including the unexpected ones of 'medicus' and 'spitelman'. It is probable that as specialization developed only master craftsmen were admitted, but there is insufficient evidence on this point. (fn. 37) Residence in Leicester was not a usual condition of membership so long as all financial responsibilities, including the payment of tallage with the guildsmen, were undertaken. One section of the trading community, however, remained outside the guild's control; namely, the licensed stall-holders on the earl's market. With the exception of one list from the period when the bailiwick was leased to the town, (fn. 38) the names of these traders do not appear among the records, because their fees were payable to the earl. Their description stallatus is a more precise term than the intrantes, censers (censarii), or tensers of other towns: (fn. 39) that they were actually stall-holders seems clear from a rule made in 1274 to prevent those impleaded for debt or trespass from later recovering a stall which they had temporarily given up by subterfuge to avoid the penalty of justice. (fn. 40) The yearly total rents from these market booths are given in inquisitions post mortem and valuations of the possessions of the dukes of Lancaster. (fn. 41) It became necessary to keep a check on those who were of sufficient substance to enter the guild, and this grew increasingly important as the interests of guild and borough became merged, more especially from the end of the 13th century when the number of cases of illegal trading point to a growing amount of trade conducted outside the authority of the guild. (fn. 42) As early as 1336 the guild oath required the guildsman to warn the mayor and community of any who remained non-members. This duty was also included in the chamberlains' oath, recorded in 1489. Before this date it had been ordered that if any person 'of what craft or scians so[ever] he be off . . . open or sett up eny shope for hym self withinne this town or withinne the subberbys of the same or he be entrid into the Chappman Gylde, every siche person so openyng eny shope yerly shall pay iiis. iiiid., unto the tyme that he be entred in to the seid Chapman Gylde'. In 1502–3 the tailors' craft acknowledged an ordinance that none should set up as master before their wardens had paid 10s. entrance fee to the Chapmans Guild on his behalf. (fn. 43)
All pleas of the guild were held before the council of senior members, presided over by the mayor. Punishment for offences was usually by fine, sometimes by loss of membership, entirely, or for a year and a day. (fn. 44) The Morningspeeches were held whenever necessary, but the full Morningspeeches of which there is record after the middle of the 13th century are all dated in February or March. The first known guildhall was situated in the parish of St. Nicholas and the second, purchased from the Ordriz family in 1251, stood at a corner opposite the churchyard of St. Nicholas in what is now called Blue Boar Lane. Repair and other considerations seem to have prevented the use of this house until after extensive work on it was undertaken in 1274. (fn. 45) To this year also has been assigned the detailed building account which sets out the work done season by season. (fn. 46) The hall had a gabled roof and 'consisted of a porch, a hall on the ground floor, and a large solar . . . which hung over the street, and sheltered four shops or market booths'. (fn. 47) That this hall, though of moderate size, was put to other than guild uses is shown by an item for repair of its benches in 1334–5, 'when they were broken and thrown down in the presence of the king's justices then sitting to hold the assise'. (fn. 48) The alternative description, 'the Mayor's Hall' or the 'Common Hall' confirms that it was the usual meeting-place for the conduct of all business of the borough, but before the end of the 15th century it was found necessary to hold some meetings in the larger hall of the Corpus Christi Guild. (fn. 49)
There is little evidence of conflict between the Guild Merchant and the craft guilds, which with two exceptions do not appear to have been strongly organized before the 15th century. In 1260 certain rules for the weavers and fullers were agreed in the Guild of Merchants, and on a few other occasions there was need for interference. The fullers in 1260 swore not to hold any Morningspeeches except in the presence of two merchants specially chosen for this purpose; but fifteen years later they had to be fined for doing so. (fn. 50) The only other sign of independence came from the watermen called 'lochelmen', who in the late 14th century were forbidden to form an association amongst themselves. (fn. 51) Seventeen 'occupations' are known from the later records to have existed in Leicester, yet knowledge of their internal organization and development is scanty, chiefly perhaps because of the long gap in the 15th-century Guild Merchant rolls. Chance has preserved the ordinances of the tallowchandlers, dated 1469, endorsed with the names of nineteen men who had been masters of the craft. (fn. 52) These ordinances show that they met four times a year and were governed by two masters who were yearly sworn before the mayor. Their regulations concerned the quality, weight, and price of candles, and delivery to the hucksters for sale. It is significant that members who were found guilty in the mayor's court of trade offences paid a fine to both the craft and the Guild Merchant.
The relationship between the community of the guild and the community of the town has been fully discussed elsewhere. (fn. 53) But certain facts may be added concerning membership of the guild and the influence of its community on the development of the borough. It may be significant that the earliest extant charter, that referrring solely to the Guild Merchant, is addressed to the earl's 'merchants of Leicester'. (fn. 54) All subsequent charters, including inter alia the rights of the guild, are granted to the burgesses. It is not evident until the late 15th century that membership of the guild conveyed burgess rights or that to be a burgess would automatically make one a guildsman. (fn. 55) Awareness of the distinction is seen in a case brought in the fair court of St. Ives in 1275 when four burgesses and merchants of Leicester were attached for the debt for wool of Thomas Coventry of Leicester. The attached men denied that Thomas had ever 'been at scot and lot or a member of the commonalty'. (fn. 56) In a dispute on the question of tallage settled by the justices in 1281 it was decreed that the tenants of the Bishop of Lincoln without the East Gate of the town should share in the responsibilities as well as the privileges of the guild but were excused from financial payments concerning the commune of the town, unless they were also burgesses owning property in the town. But Mary Bateson suggests that this was a redefinition to protect a particular section of the community, when the distinction was no longer sharply defined for others. (fn. 57) With the growth of the importance of what may be called the town council, conducting its business through the meetings of the Common Hall, and in conformity with national policy, came the need to exclude irresponsible persons. Hence the order of 1466 which in its wording suggests the identity of burgess-ship with guildship: 'that . . . no man presume to entre into the Gilde hall otherwise cald the Maires hall at eny comen hall . . . but oonly thoes and sich as ben fraunchest, that is to say men entred into the Marchaundes Gild'. (fn. 58) A bill amongst the Chancery Proceedings affords an illustration of the insistence on the civic responsibility of the guildsman in the early 16th century. After about ten years' membership of the Chapman's Guild, Robert Paner, mercer of Lutterworth, was elected one of the chamberlains of the town. He considered this contrary to usage since he did not reside there, 'nor never was sworn to the maire as oon of the fremen of the same', and therefore he openly renounced his brotherhood of the guild. Nevertheless, on a subsequent market day his linen cloth and other wares were distrained to the value of £20 because he had refused to pay the fine of £5 for redemption of the office. (fn. 59)
Although evidence is not decisive that during the formative years there was one set of officials for all offices, in two important aspects there was union. The 24 jurats for portmanmoot and for guild were identical, thereby forming one governing body; and, unlike Lynn, Exeter, and other towns, Leicester had one common purse. The first official named for town or guild, in 1209, was styled 'alderman of the guild' and when his title was changed to that of mayor in the mid-13th century he continued to preside over the Morningspeeches of the guild. It was 'by common counsel of the guild' that the first 24 men were chosen in 1225, 'to come to all the summonses of the alderman to advise the town and serve him in town business'. (fn. 60) The Guild Merchant might be described as the chief finance department which left jurisdiction (apart from trade offences) and police matters to the portmanmoot. The townsmen met sometimes as one court, sometimes as another, just as the suitors to a seignorial court might at one stage deal with leet business and at another with manorial affairs. Whether or not there was any distinction between burgess and guildsman during the medieval period, and despite the fact that the loss of practically all the portmanmoot rolls may tend to overemphasize the activities of the Guild Merchant, the trading community is seen playing its full and acknowledged part in creating and developing the government of the borough.
It is difficult to make more than a very general analysis of the occupations of those who lived, or traded, in the town, since their callings are not always disclosed in the lists of the Guild Merchant entries and of the tallages. (fn. 61) Within these limits it would appear that the numbers connected with the food-supply predominated over the rest. Leather-workers including shoemakers came second, though at some periods this place was shared by the group engaged in the woollen industry and trade. Next to these came the mercers, builders, and metal-workers. No appreciable change is noticed throughout the Middle Ages. Roughly 50 per cent. of the mayoral occupations are known. These in the 13th and 14th centuries show a predominance of merchants, including mercers and wool merchants, with a few innkeepers and vintners; other callings are represented by one name only. From 1400 to 1500, among the merchants the description mercer gives place to draper, and several members of the leather trade are included. If the relative importance of the occupations in their contribution to the wealth of the town rather than the numbers pursuing them be considered, precedence should be given to the woollen industry and trade.
Woollen Industry and Trade
There is evidence that the cloth industry flourished in Leicester in the early 13th century. The Pipe Roll of 1202 records the payment of 10 marks by the burgesses for licence to import 18½ baskets of woad from overseas: in the same year Gerard de Maisnil imported 1½ baskets of woad from Flanders. (fn. 62) In 1202, also, Leicester was one of the towns paying for freedom from Richard I's assize of cloth. (fn. 63) Purchases of Leicester cloth were made for the royal household in several years, notably in 1244 when Peter de Calfof and his fellows, merchants of Leicester, received £50 for cloth delivered to the king's tailor, and in 1254 when 2 cloths of blue and 2 of russet were ordered. (fn. 64)
The weavers' customs together with those of the fullers were agreed to in the Guild of Merchants in 1260. They swore not to conceal any flaw in their work, to maintain its quality by using three shuttles, and not to weave at night. Five years later the night rule was relaxed provided that standards were upheld. Prices were fixed at ¾d. a yard for russets and ½d. for all other cloths. Work for country villages (a sign of the times) was forbidden so long as there was enough in the town; any scarcity of work to be reported to two specially appointed men of the Guild Merchant who might then allow weaving for strangers to be undertaken. (fn. 65) The weavers appear, therefore, at this date not to have had their own wardens to represent their interests or to keep up standards. But sometime in the 14th century action was taken after two men had been pilloried for cutting thrums to the length of 1½ yards; and because of notorious falsity, 'which people talk and speak of', two weavers were chosen by all the town as searchers and to rule the craft. (fn. 66)
The fullers were sufficiently organized by 1208 to pay 10s. yearly as a guild to the earl. (fn. 67) From them was derived the name of the vicum fullonum (mentioned in deeds c. 1225), which extended outside the town wall from the North Gate westwards towards the Soar. (fn. 68) This was known as Walkers Lane until the 15th century, but soon after 1417 there was a change to its present name of Soar Lane. (fn. 69) Property in this lane was held by Roger of Ketton, who in 1257 was convicted of fulling coloured cloths contrary to the provisions agreed two years previously on oath by himself and by 'all the other master fullers' of Leicester. Their regulations were given in detail when agreed in the Guild Merchant in 1260: namely, that they would not full coloured cloths in argol and lye, nor use beetles on dry cloth, and that they would not fix their own charges by agreement among themselves. Any defective fulling was to be shown to four specially appointed merchants from the Guild Merchant. These regulations include the first reference to a fulling-mill (outside the town) which was not to be used unless by consent of the parties concerned. This rule was still in force in 1323–4. In 1343 the use of iron instruments, 'to wit, any beetles, or teasels or combs', was forbidden as before. The fact that two fullers had to be appointed as wardens to present any shortcomings would suggest that they, like the weavers, had no official wardens of the craft. Reference has already been made to the control of their Morningspeeches by the Merchant Guild.
The fortunes of the fullers give an indication of the condition of the cloth industry generally, and Leicester by the early 14th century showed signs of that migration of the industry from the towns which is noticeable elsewhere in England. The inquisition of 1322 on the oppressions under Thomas of Lancaster the late earl stated that there remained only one fuller in the town and he a poor man. (fn. 70) This figure can only be checked by a detailed study of all the tallage rolls; but the implication appears to be supported. Guild Merchant entries include no person named or described as fuller or walker from 1250 to 1300, and only five persons from 1300 to 1350. Three of these five entered during the years 1334 to 1336. The tallage lists of 1336 and 1354 each give payments from two walkers. (fn. 71) Evidence of later fluctuation in their numbers comes from the payments to the earl of the fullers' custom known as walkermoll; 1s. a head was paid by 5 persons in 1377, and by 15 in years preceding 1411. (fn. 72) In this year their numbers dropped to 7, and for the rest of the century varied from 6 to 12. (fn. 73)
The Leicester records refer less to dyeing than to the other chief processes in the cloth industry. Yet the dyers were well represented in the town. For example, among the Merchant Guild entrants from 1300 to 1350 whose occupation was given, 10 were dyers compared with 1 weaver, 5 fullers, and 6 shearmen; the entrants from 1350 to 1380 included 7 dyers, 6 weavers, 3 fullers, and 5 shearmen. Whereas some dyers confined themselves to their craft, others, like Henry Houhil and Richard of Shilton in the mid-13th century, became entrepreneurs employing the fullers and weavers and controlling the whole production of the cloth. (fn. 74) As in other towns, such men belonged to the ruling classes in Leicester, and thus they did not need a guild of their own. It is significant that the only ordinance recorded for them, in 1263, about making perse-coloured cloth 'without any admixture of black wool or grey wool, or madder or alum', was 'provided and agreed in common by the community of the guild of merchants'.
Cloth was often sold by merchants described as mercers in the Leicester records of the 12th and 13th centuries. This is seen in the references to the family of Beeby, whose fortunes have been traced from 1199 to 1384. (fn. 75) William of Beeby and at least two other mercers were among the nineteen men fined in 1292 for using false yard-measures. (fn. 76) Other Beebys who were mercers or drapers rose to importance in the town affairs of the 14th century. The mercers sometimes acted as a group, as for example when six of them, all members of the Merchant Guild, charged another mercer with standing 'continually from day to day with his mercery in the Apple Lane under the solar of John of Sherford to the injury of his brethren of the guild'. (fn. 77) The list of shop rents of 1376 names only 16 men paying under 'Mercerie', compared with 23 paying rent under 'Draperie', an illustration of the increasing specialization of the drapers. The business troubles of one Leicester mercer in 1394 have resulted in the survival of a very long and comprehensive inventory completely filling a parchment 36 inches by 12 inches in size. In addition to British and imported cloth of twenty different kinds, his stock-intrade included bowstrings, whipcord, honey, onion seed, 'portsed' and 'colesed', pewter, purses of gold cloth and of hide, silk coifs and ribbons, skeins of Paris silk and silk of Lucca, gold and silver rings, pearls, pins, brushes, shoes, and straw hats, some white, some black. (fn. 78)
The different aspects of the wool trade in Leicester can be well illustrated. Guildsmen claimed shares in purchases made in the surrounding villages or at the more distant fairs. (fn. 79) Others were fined for forestalling. (fn. 80) The mayor's account for 1314–15 included 4d. for four grooms, 'finding out whether anyone buys wool-fells outside the gates'. But this method did not prove effective, for two years later when Alan of Gissing was accused of standing on Berehill outside the East Gate on Saturdays with two servants waylaying wool-fells coming by road, his defence was that the men of other burgesses did the same. (fn. 81) A watch was also kept on the activities of foreign merchants, notable among whom were Geoffrey of Louvain and Jakemin of Liége. (fn. 82) In the mid-13th century, because the foreign merchants were so heavily amerced in Leicester for wool bought wholesale in the county, the portmanmoot, at their request, agreed that they might buy freely in Lutterworth and seven other places named. (fn. 83) In 1281 seven women were warned against dressing the wool of strangers outside the town. In this year also the wages of the women wool-wrappers were fixed at 1d. a day with food in summer and winter. Complaints about wool washing, packing, and wrapping all show the attempt to keep these processes under supervision and within the town where just dues might be collected. (fn. 84) Wool not used locally was marketed at the English fairs or exported from the eastern ports. Hugh de Leicester, who exported from Lynn in a ship of Calais, 1288, (fn. 85) was probably the Hugh le Mercer who on occasions bought from Leicester Abbey its surplus wool. (fn. 86)
Among the merchants exporting wool in the early 14th century was Roger Devet of Leicester. (fn. 87) The gap in the Guild Merchant rolls from 1380 would appear to have lost us the record of a man of note. In 1402 he shipped 1,600 wool-fells from Kingston-uponHull in the 'Marishipp' of Rotterdam; (fn. 88) in 1413 he was excused the subsidy on a similar consignment shipped from Lynn for Calais because it was captured by pirates. (fn. 89) The first definite, though rather late, mention of Leicester men as merchants of the Staple comes from the patent roll of 1470; out of 28 merchants of London and a few other places pardoned for offences, four, namely, John Leamington, John Reynold, Thomas and Roger Wigston, were of Leicester. (fn. 90) The first of these probably had family connexions with another stapler, Ralph Leamington of Loughborough, who kept ready money to the amount of 800 marks in a chest in the treasure house of the parish church of Loughborough; (fn. 91) the second, later to become mayor like his father and grandfather before him, dealt in cloth also. (fn. 92) From this date to the turn of the century at least sixteen staplers lived in, or conducted business from, Leicester, and outstanding among these were the Wigstons who have left their mark on the town to the present day. (fn. 93) Five staplers came from two generations of this family: others were connected with it by marriage. Roger Wigston was chosen Lieutenant of the Staple at Calais in 1483, (fn. 94) and William Wigston the younger, mayor there at a later date. (fn. 95) Roger owned a considerable tenement in the Swinesmarket (fn. 96) and held manors in five places in the county which passed to his son William Wigston senior. (fn. 97) But the family fortunes reached a spectacular level through the activities of John Wigston (died 1513) (fn. 98) and his son William Wigston the younger (died 1536). (fn. 99) The former conducted the business in Coventry, leaving to his son the control in Leicester. Scrutiny of the 1524 subsidy roll proves that William owned 22 per cent. of the taxable property in the town and was pre-eminently its wealthiest burgess. (fn. 100) This is borne out by the inventory attached to his will, in which his plate was valued at £298 and his wool and fells in Calais at £594. Of the total amount of £3,517 due from debtors, about two-thirds was owed by foreign merchants. Not only must he have employed considerable labour in the town, but, having no children, he was free to leave his wealth for charitable and pious purposes, most notable of which was the foundation of the Wyggeston hospital. (fn. 101)
Leather Industry and Trade
Although hides ranked with cloth as a leading article of trade in medieval England, leather does not figure in the Leicester records to the same extent as wool and cloth. It is mentioned occasionally: the share of a cow-hide refused to Richard of Lubbenham in Hinckley market, 1312; the share of three ox-hides refused to Hugh of Braunstone, 1321. At St. Ives fair in 1275 three dickers of ox-hides were attached for a Leicester debt. (fn. 102) Borough regulations of the mid-15th century included the order for butchers to bring into the town for sale the skins and tallow, as well as the flesh, of their animals. (fn. 103) Leather testers must have been appointed for a considerable period before the first extant lists which date from 1477 (the beginning of the first Hall Book), when four men were named yearly for this office. (fn. 104) Their oath to 'truly serche and take a lawfull asay of all lether . . . that it be well and sufficiently barked and able' was recorded with the oaths of other borough officials some years later. M. P. Dare has estimated from tallage rolls and guild entries that in 1300 there existed eight or nine tanning, and five footwear, establishments. (fn. 105) From the indexes to Mary Bateson's volumes it appears that the town was adequately served in the usual branches of the leather industry, but the term 'tawyer' or 'white tawyer' was very rare. The number of skinners increased after the 13th century and it is noticeable that after this century the name or description barker as an alternative to tanner was also much more frequent. From the tallage rolls individual shoemakers and tanners can be located in different parts of the town. The chief centre of the former, Cordwainers Row, is mentioned in a deed of 1300. (fn. 106) It was situated on the west side of the High Street between the High Cross and the West Gate. In the list of shop rents, 1376, the names of thirteen shoemakers are given. Their moderate status may perhaps be inferred from the fact that Guild Merchant entries for only three of them have been traced. The earliest tanners doubtless lived at the North Gate of the town, especially after the Assize of the Forest of 1184 which forbade the practice of this trade within the bounds of any forest except in a borough or market-town. The Leicester tanners enjoyed favourable conditions from the nearness of woods for their oak bark and of good water-supply for their vats. Their use of the Soar was the subject of an order from the chief steward of the Duke of Lancaster in 1399, confirming that 'the burgesses and tenants of the town of Leicester were wont to have easement from old time to put their hides and wool-fells in the water of the Soar at the bridge which is called West Bridge up to the North Bridge'. (fn. 107)
Evidence as to the trade in leather is still insufficient to assess its importance compared with that of wool and cloth. An outstanding personality, Simon Curlevache, alderman, and one prominent in guild and town affairs for many years in the early 13th century, had licence in 1209 to export 720 hides. By 1239 he was rich enough to survive the payment of 500 marks for incurring the displeasure of Simon de Montfort. (fn. 108) It is likely that other leading burgesses, styled simply 'merchants', many of whom became mayors, traded in hides as well as other commodities; but during the medieval period so far as is known only two saddlers (Laurence le Seler in 1291 and Thomas Seburgh in 1415), three glovers (Adam Racy in 1435 and 1440, John Penny in 1481, and Roger Trigg in 1490), and one skinner (William Asty in 1427 and 1437) rose to mayoral office. Peter of Grendon, a wealthy saddler, leased the site of the East Gate and land in the town ditch outside, (fn. 109) and at his death in 1354 left considerable property, partly for the support of a chaplain in the Hospital of St. John outside the East Gate. (fn. 110) Perhaps the growing importance of the local leather industry at the end of the 15th century may be reflected in the career of John Norris, barker. In 1492 he owned a tenement on the town ditch, in extent 105 ft. by 40 ft., and in the same year paid the modest tallage of 1s. 6d. Several years later his lands were assessed to pay the comparatively high subsidy of 40s. (fn. 111) He became a leather tester in 1494–5, chamberlain in 1495–6, steward of the fair in 1502–3, and mayor in 1503–4. In the next year he was one of the eight leading citizens who paid the highest rate of 20s. towards a benevolence for town expenses. By his will, proved in 1510, he left to his sons all his tenements in Soar Lane, a close lately purchased, and two tenements in North Gate. Another close, in All Saints parish, was bequeathed for an obit. (fn. 112)
Although the fortunes of individual builders are difficult to trace, the borough records include a number of detailed building accounts which give costs of materials and rates of pay for the masons, artisans, and labourers. (fn. 113) Sand, lime, and stone were always carried in carts hired for each job from a number of townsfolk. (fn. 114) Stones came from Waverton (Ches.) for the High Cross in 1314 (fn. 115) and for the North Bridge from Swannington in 1327–8 (fn. 116) and Ibstock in 1351–2. (fn. 117) For the considerable alteration and additions to the castle in the 14th century large quantities of slate were brought from Swithland, (fn. 118) and stone on one occasion from Basford (Notts.). (fn. 119) Expenses for the North, South, and West Gates in 1351–2 list the payments to carpenters, sawyers, a tiler and his youth, a mason at 2s. 6d. a week, his youth at 1s. 4½d. a week, men carrying gravel and collecting stones at 3½d. a day. The payments to masons and their assistants at different dates throughout the 14th century show that their wages ranged from 1s. 8d. to 2s. 6d. a week, presumably according to individual skill. These rates are similar to those paid elsewhere in the country. In 1327–8 and 1365–6 special payments were made of 3s. 4d. weekly, by agreement ad tascam. (fn. 120) While repairing the West Bridge in 1314 Master John the mason received 2s. 6d. a week, his fellow mason, 1s. 8d., and the two youths serving them, 10d. each. (fn. 121) Master John was a visiting craftsman who later in the same year was fetched from Banbury to repair the High Cross by contract for £3 6s. 8d. (fn. 122) Another visiting mason, Master Peter of Bagworth, supervised further work on the West Bridge for nineteen weeks in 1325. (fn. 123) He was assisted by other masons, sometimes as many as eight in one week; a house was hired for 5s. for a year and eight weeks 'for lime, and for masons and their implements and for wheelbarrows, riddles, trestles, centres and other things bought for the aforesaid work'; and 1s. 3½d. was expended in their beer and 'for the ale which is called closinghale'. (fn. 124).
More persons were employed in supplying the food of the town than in any other occupation. For example, out of some 50 different callings mentioned in the earliest Guild Merchant roll of 1196, there were 15 bakers, 6 cooks, 2 butchers, and 2 fishers. (fn. 125) This predominance was maintained throughout the medieval period, and if none, apart from several vintners and innkeepers, rose to pre-eminence in local affairs, many belonged to the middle range of tallage payers like Ingram le Bocher who entered the Guild Merchant and in 1271 contributed 13s. 4d. among many smaller payments from other persons ranging from 3d. upwards. (fn. 126)
Some aspects of the bakery trade have been described elsewhere. (fn. 127) In 1086 corn could be ground at 3 mills whose toll was taken by separate lords. (fn. 128) By 1296 the earl owned and farmed out 2 watermills and 2 windmills. (fn. 129) These were probably the castle mill, (fn. 130) the North Mill (fn. 131) (1301), and windmills in the south field (fn. 132) (1316). The needs of the eastern suburb were perhaps supplied by Belgrave mill on the Soar to the northeast, doubtless farmed from the Bishop of Lincoln. (fn. 133) A horsemill (1314) stood on the south side of the Swinesmarket. (fn. 134) Another important mill existing from an early date was St. Mary's Mill. (fn. 135)
In the mid-14th century complaint was made for the lord that debtors having no goods except their flour in the mill or their bread could not be distrained by these because they were taken by night from the mill to the oven. (fn. 136) The use of the specially built communal ovens, which were a source of revenue to the earl, continued throughout the medieval period. A grant c. 1200 by the Countess of Leicester allowing bakehouse rights to a tenant outside the South Gate expressly excluded 'my customary tenants who are bound to my ovens within the town'. (fn. 137) In 1327 (fn. 138) these ovens or bakehouses numbered 6, of which 4 were situated in the centre and west of the town towards the castle, and the other 2 stood outside the east (fn. 139) and north gates. (fn. 140) The 4 central ones were in Holyrood Lane (later called Town Hall Lane), Applegate Street, and two places appropriately named 'Kepeoven Lane' and 'le Hotegate'. (fn. 141) By 1399 the last-named oven had fallen into disuse, (fn. 142) but in 1461, in addition to the farmers of the remaining 5 bakehouses, two other bakers were paying a small annual sum for licence to bake. (fn. 143) These men presumably owned private ovens built in their own tenements, a practice which grew to an abuse towards the end of the 15th century: in 1488 Henry VII ordered the mayor and bailiffs to have removed the 'divers and many ovens' which were 'drawing away our own tenants that ought to bake at our common oven'. (fn. 144) This practice, however, remained as a constant source of complaint. (fn. 145) That the bread was retailed by regrators and regratresses is evident from the complaint of the bakers in 1323–4 that these traders kept back the bakers' bread, 'for a week, fortnight, three weeks and more', thereby causing them great harm. (fn. 146) In 1372 when all the bakers were fined because they had no wastell, i.e. best-quality bread, nine names were listed. (fn. 147) The bakers formed an occupation in the 15th century, for they had their own wardens by 1488, the date of an entry among the town ordinances: 'That no baker within this town take uppon hym to carrye any maner of bred into the cuntrey but that fyrst they and every of them shall bring ther seid bred on horsebake to the Mayer . . . or to the wardyns of that occupacion and ther to be weyyd and to se whether it be able bred and holsome.' (fn. 148) A bread-market is mentioned in the 15th-century accounts, but its site is not indicated. (fn. 149) The assize of bread authorized by a statute ascribed to 1266 appears to have been taken over more directly by the town officers in 1335 when an order for its enforcement was enrolled, although the revenue from fines still went to the lord. From this date the weighing of bread was conducted by the mayor and bailiffs, sometimes with the assistance of two jurors and two bakers. The number of these 'assizes' which have survived for the 14th century show the fluctuations in the size of the loaf according to the price of grain, and of the many kinds of bread supplied, such as 'ringebred', 'cokett', 'tratellus', 'Marchaunbred', and bread made of pease and beans. (fn. 150)
The earliest butchers' shops or shambles were in the parish of St. Nicholas in the south quarter of the town, along the street now called Applegate Street. (fn. 151) Thirteen butchers rented these shambles in 1376: (fn. 152) there is a record from the same date of payments made on successive Saturdays for tables in the Saturday market. (fn. 153) With the development of this market in the 15th century the St. Nicholas shambles became less convenient and sometime in the 16th century the company of butchers of the borough asked that the use of the Saturday market should be extended because 'the weekeday shambles, comonly cald the common shambles' were 'out of the way of tradeing and remote from the innes and shopkeepers who are the greatest support of the markett'. (fn. 154) Ordinances for the butchers are included among those for other suppliers of food and drink. In 1279 it was ordered that no meat be sold in their houses before noon, nor be put up for sale beyond three days: (fn. 155) in the 15th century the selling of flesh was prohibited from houses or shops and confined to the St. Nicholas shambles or the common market place. (fn. 156) By this time the rules specifically included butchers of the country as well as those of the town. The purchases of food for the town's gifts or hospitality for visiting nobility, the earl's officials, justices, messengers, or other persons of note show a preponderance of beef, some mutton and venison with an occasional boar or kid. Live calves, porkers, and sheep might be bought by regrators for resale, but must be sold cooked and not as raw meat. (fn. 157) Poultry sold by cooks included hens in bread and hens in paste, sometimes called bakers' hens. In 1467 the cooks were forbidden to engross 'wodecoke, cone, partrik, plover ne non other denteythes (dainties)' before the town was served. (fn. 158)
Among the frequent gifts made by the town, fish was as often presented as other foods, and the mayors' accounts show a variety of kinds as great as that of today. To select from the many examples: herring, cod and dried fish, eels and fresh fish were bought for the earl's steward and his assistants in Lent, 1321; (fn. 159) for a dinner on Lady Day, 1378, the purchases included salmon, turbot, salt fish, hard fish, red and white herring, eels, mussels, and oysters. (fn. 160) Supplies came chiefly from the east-coast ports; cod and stockfish from Scarborough and Grimsby, herring from Lynn and Yarmouth. (fn. 161) The carters of Leicestershire were named as interested parties in the suit between Lowestoft and Yarmouth for unrestricted herring trade, heard before the king's council in 1378. (fn. 162) Wholesale purchases were made at the great fairs. The question of tolls for all merchandise paid by Leicester men at Torksey (Lincs.) came to a head in 1431 when 3 barrels of herring, 2 cades of red herring, and 4 stockfish belonging to William and Thomas Clerk were confiscated. (fn. 163) Herrings, a staple diet for all, were sometimes illegally retailed in the market by persons not in the guild. (fn. 164) Salmon appears less a delicacy than it has become today: in 1305 two men were found to have allowed strange merchants to retail salmon in the market; (fn. 165) John Hawys of 'Neuwerk', forestaller of salmon and corn, bought 10 salmon outside the market at night in the house of his host; for their entertaining in the 14th century the mayors were allowed a salmon fee of 13s. 4d. each year (an average fish costing about 4s.). (fn. 166) Lampreys from the Severn were a rarity, on one occasion especially fetched from Gloucester and kept fresh with eels in two fishlocks put into the river. (fn. 167) Two stews on the banks of the Soar for keeping fresh fish were leased from the castle porter in the 14th century. (fn. 168) Fresh fish might come from inland rivers. John Sturdy senior bought a load of fish from Frisby on the Wreake and was convicted for arranging that the carter should bring other fish for sale of which they would share the profits, contrary to guild regulations. (fn. 169) Local fisheries perhaps supplied more than private needs. Certain fishing rights in the Soar were leased with the castle mills by 1440, possibly much earlier. (fn. 170) Another fishery stretching from North Mill to Belgrave Mill was rented by Leicester Abbey, (fn. 171) and another from Fieldingford to Blackpool was one of the subjects of the long arbitration between Richard Danet and the Dean and Chapter of the Newarke in 1428. (fn. 172) Regulations in the 14th century prohibited all fishers from having tables in any part of the high streets by day or night, and fishers of freshwater fish from standing in the market on any day after tierce had sounded. 'Farloupers' might not 'stand on the carts of fish or herrings' to undercut their price. (fn. 173)
The vintners did not make their mark in Leicester as a group during the medieval period, probably because wine was frequently sold by men trading in other goods or by the taverners. The sixteen persons fined by the King's Marshal in 1292–3 for defaults after the eyre of 1286, that is, for selling wine at 6d. and 5d. against the assize, included several men engaged in the cloth industry, a saddler, a spicer, a goldsmith, and only one brewer (William de Bracina). (fn. 174) Many of these were leading townsmen. In the middle of the 14th century, orders prohibiting the sale of wine at a price dearer than that fixed by the mayor were directed to 'anyone whether he be a taverner or a jurat or . . . any other stranger carrying wine to Leicester to be sold'. (fn. 175)
The list of fines in 1292–3 includes also more than 45 men and women who had brewed against the assize of ale. The Leicester brewers were subject to a yearly tax called 'cannemol' for right to sell, or possibly to brew, ale. Jakemin de Liége, a foreign merchant dealing principally in wool, denied trading illegally in various other commodities by stating that he was a 'stalled' man and that he paid 'cannemol' yearly 'at the rate assessed by the jurors'. (fn. 176) This tax from the brewers of Leicester 'within the borough and without' was collected in 1288–9 from 202 persons in all the quarters with the exception of the north quarter and the bishop's tenants without the East Gate. (fn. 177) During the first half of the 14th century the numbers dropped: the total was 170 for the whole town in 1339. (fn. 178) Some trouble about the tax arose with the bailiff of Thomas, Earl of Lancaster in 1306, (fn. 179) and after the execution of Thomas in 1322, among the long list of his exactions upon the town it was stated that whereas under Earl Edmund Crouchback the brewers had been amerced once yearly according to their offence and by assessment at 6d. or 12d. at the most, under Thomas his farmers had extorted a half mark or 10s. 'which they called farms of the cannemol'. (fn. 180) In 1352 the mayor and three others with two grooms spent 12 days in London 'in the business of the jurats against the lord Duke for releasing cannemol'. (fn. 181) It is not known whether they succeeded in getting rid of the tax as distinct from the payment of fines for breaking the assize. Accounts in the 15th century refer to fines for breaking the assize of ale called 'cannemol' (fn. 182) and under Henry VII 'cannemol' courts were held, which perhaps corresponded to the meetings of the licensing justices elsewhere. (fn. 183)
Fairs and Markets
In the 15th century Leicester had three regular markets, on Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday. (fn. 184) Their earlier history is obscured by the fact that they were held by grant not from the king but from the earl. The Wednesday market, possibly the oldest, since it was held by the High Cross in the centre of the town, was used for the sale of butter and eggs in the early 14th century. (fn. 185) On Fridays in the early 16th century bread was sold here in addition to the other foodstuffs. (fn. 186) The more important Saturday market is mentioned in a deed of 1298. (fn. 187) Its site was that of the present Market Place, but it was more extensive, occupying all the south-eastern corner of the town. In this market and in the neighbouring streets, probably by the 14th century, most of the special markets were centred. In 1314–15 the corn and bean markets were cleaned for 9d., and 6d. was spent on six posts for the boundaries of the grain market. (fn. 188) It was ordered in 1467 that no corn be sold in this market 'til x of the belle be streken'. (fn. 189) The market bell was doubtless the 'Saturday bell' for which the ringer received a yearly wage of 4s. (fn. 190) North of this market on the site of the present Silver Street stood the sheep market, which was moved into the Saturday market place in 1506, (fn. 191) and its profits were subsequently leased to private persons, the first lease of 1508 including 112 hurdles for the pens. (fn. 192) A paved cattle market, in the neighbourhood of Swinesmarket, is mentioned in 1341. (fn. 193) Later it must have been held in the Saturday market place since it was moved from there into the lane called Cow Lane, Cank Street, and Loseby Lane in 1597. (fn. 194) Reference has already been made to the Saturday market shambles. These were situated in a new house in the market built sometime before 1411, in which certain butchers rented shambles by the year, while others paid 1½d. a day to stand there. (fn. 195) In this market house also were the clothiers' tables known as 'le draperie'. (fn. 196) Within the market area shops and booths were let at yearly rentals to traders whose interests are shown by the names 'iremongerowe', 'gloversrowe', and 'shepsterrowe'. Here also were shops let to cobblers and shoemakers. (fn. 197) The rents and profits of the market were taken by the earl who was therefore responsible for the repair of its buildings. Thus John of Gaunt's receiver in 1375 was allowed the costs for making 'novelles sondes des shoppes. . . en un place appelle Satirday marketh', (fn. 198) and the lease of the farm of the borough to the burgesses in the same year included the right to large timber from the duke's wood for 'improvements and repairs of the shops and shambles which are now rented in the market'. (fn. 199)
The earliest fair of which there is record was held from 31 July (the vigil of St. Peter ad Vincula) for fifteen days. In 1229 Henry III granted to his 'good men of Leicester' the right to change the date of this fair to the morrow of the Purification (3 February), (fn. 200) and by a further grant in 1235 its date was changed again to the fourth day after the Invention of the Holy Cross (7 May). (fn. 201) The Earl of Leicester's own fair originated in a royal grant in 1307 to Thomas, Earl of Lancaster, in which it was described as 'a yearly fair at his manor of Leicester to be held on the morrow of the Holy Trinity and for the fourteen following days' (i.e. at the end of May or in June). (fn. 202) An inquisition of 1326 on behalf of Roger of Belgrave, late steward, stated that in 1324 the issues of the fairs of the town and of the earl amounted to 60s. and 30s. respectively: (fn. 203) but only the town's fair, whose toll was worth 20s. yearly, was mentioned in the inquisition post mortem dated 1327 of Thomas, who died in 1322. (fn. 204) It would seem that under the next earl these two fairs were combined as one fair held at the beginning of May. The fair pleas extant for 1347 are described as 'of the fair of the town of Leicester', (fn. 205) and in 1382, during the period when the town held the lease of the bailiwick, John of Gaunt, in order to safeguard his future rights, took care by proclamation to prevent a proposal to hold 'the fair' on the Bishop of Lincoln's fee. (fn. 206) The date of this May fair had been changed in 1360 to Michaelmas. During the last years of Henry, Duke of Lancaster, the town negotiated for concessions regarding the fair tolls as well as the market and borough tolls. As a result, by royal charter the fair was shortened to one week at Michaelmas, and the duke, as Earl of Leicester, surrendered his dues so that both native and stranger might be free of toll, stallage, and pickage. (fn. 207) At the same time, the earl by his own charter gave the entire ordering of the fair to the mayor and burgesses with the right to appoint yearly stewards, but he reserved the profits of the fair court. (fn. 208) A grant of a new fair to the mayor and burgesses, which does not mention any previous fair held by them, was made by Edward IV in 1473. Its conditions were similar to those in the 1360 grants and it was to be of seven days' duration, beginning on 1 May. (fn. 209) These two fairs developed into the great pleasure fairs which were held in Humberstone Gate until the end of the 19th century. (fn. 210)
The importance to the trading life of the community of other great fairs in the kingdom can be well illustrated. At the portmanmoot of 1220, absence at the fairs of St. Ives (Hunts.), Boston, Lynn, or Winchester was allowed as an essoin, (fn. 211) and this privilege was restated in Edmund Crouchback's charter of 1277. (fn. 212) Guild Merchant entry payments in the early 13th century were sometimes collected at Stamford, Northampton, St. Ives, and Boston. (fn. 213) The men of Leicester at Stowe fair in 1236 provided two good russets of Leicester for the king. (fn. 214) At the Boston and Stamford fairs of the 13th century the Leicester merchandise was taken to special rows, but from 1257 there was difficulty in collecting the seldage payable for the shops or booths there. It was necessary to agree at a Morningspeech that the merchants should keep to these rows, and fines were exacted from those who disobeyed. Each merchant was ordered to pay towards seldage 3d. for each cloth if kept in the row and 6d. if kept outside; the rest to be paid from the guild purse. (fn. 215) In 1258, 28s. was taken from the common fund for seldage at Stamford and an attempt by the Leicester Guild Merchant to resign the shops there was apparently unsuccessful. (fn. 216) The same tendency to avoid seldage developed in Boston fair at the same time. The drapers were ordered to keep to the shops on the south side of the row and the wool- and fell-mongers to those on the north side. (fn. 217) The next year the merchants were ordered to be responsible for seldage on these respective sides, whether they used them or not; (fn. 218) and finally in 1261 it was agreed that while sale outside the row was forbidden the cloth might be taken to the merchants' lodgings at night for safe keeping or to fold and dress it. (fn. 219) A general rule for seldage at St. Ives was also made at this time. (fn. 220) The records of the St. Ives fair court give an occasional glimpse of trading by Leicester folk. Henry Coke left his daughter Amice a tally for a debt for wool sold in his house in Leicester to Thomas Coventry. Three years later, at the fair of St. Ives in 1275, Amice and her husband attached Robert Howell, William Mountsorrel, and two other Leicester burgesses and merchants for this debt by taking from them 3 dickers of ox-hides, 300 dickers of fleeces of sheep, 200 fleeces of sheep, and 6 sacks of wool. (fn. 221) Another case of debt disclosed how payments were to be made when Henry Curteis of Leicester and William English his partner sold wool-fells in Boston to three foreign merchants on 11 August 1287. Half the price was payable on 24 August at Northampton and the residue on 8 September at the next fair of Winchester held on St. Giles's hill. (fn. 222)
The trade of Leicester, except for the export of hides, wool, and possibly cloth, consisted chiefly in the supply of local demand for the necessities of food, clothing, and building, and its general trend appears to have been similar to that of other English towns, one of prosperity until the mid-14th century, followed by decline during the 15th century. It is not possible to assess the effect of the attempted monopoly of control by the Guild Merchant, but it is certain that not all traders who were eligible could be made to join its ranks, especially from the end of the 13th century. (fn. 223) The contribution of the craft guilds is unknown and the history of their developing strength and independence may be hidden in the lost Guild Merchant rolls of the period from 1380 to 1465. The importance of Leicester castle has been fully described by Mr. Levi Fox. (fn. 224) As the result of the use of the castle as the headquarters of the midland section of the Duchy of Lancaster and as the chief residence of the earls of Leicester until the death of John of Gaunt in 1399, the inhabitants incurred many expenses for hospitality and gifts, but trade was stimulated by the presence of numerous household and administrative officers and guests including many royal visitors. (fn. 225) The earl's household expenses for the year 1314–15 amounted to almost £8,000; and chance has preserved with this account a list of debts for food owing to some 100 traders within and without the town. (fn. 226) The lack of evidence of friction between the earl and his borough suggests that their relationship was profitable to both. The only exception occurs in the long and vivid inquisition of 1322 upon the oppressions allowed by Earl Thomas, whose officials, inter alia, extorted fines from the sellers of oatmeal, salt, herrings, and fish, who had hitherto paid only toll; controlled the hire of carts by the wool-buyers and forced them to pay also 1d. a sack; and heavily fined 'the regrators of cloth selling in their windows' who were accustomed to being amerced only once yearly at 12d. by juries of the town. (fn. 227) It is noticeable that whereas lesser boroughs obtained a continuous grant of the firma burgi, there is no trace that Leicester attempted to do so, except for the leases obtained for 1375–85, 1404–24, and 1423–33. (fn. 228)
In the absence of satisfactory statistics it is only possible to give a few indications of the position of Leicester in relation to other medieval English towns. The early importance of its cloth trade is shown in the list of towns paying for exemption from Richard I's assize of 1202. By contributing £10 Leicester held fourth place with Northampton and Winchester after Lincoln (£26), York (£20), and Beverley (£13). (fn. 229) The total collected in tax for the subsidy of 1269 ranked Leicester among the richer boroughs, next below London, the Cinque Ports, York, Lincoln, Yarmouth, Worcester, and Winchester. (fn. 230) Evidence of prosperity in the early 14th century is seen in the town's building activities during a period when it had to bear the weight of severe national taxation. (fn. 231) Leicester was not among the ten towns sending representatives to elect the mayor of the staple in 1326, (fn. 232) but was included in petitions about the location of the staple in England (fn. 233) and sent wool merchants in response to summonses for attendance at the York Parliament of 1328 (fn. 234) and before the Council at Westminster in 1357. (fn. 235) Whether through its own decrease in population or the greater advance in trade made by other towns, towards the end of this century Leicester's status had dropped and it ranked 17th and 19th respectively in the 1377 poll tax and the loan of 1398. (fn. 236)
Domesday records six churches inside Leicester, and apparently a further one on the bishop's manor outside. (fn. 237) By 1220 there were nine churches and one chapel. (fn. 238) In the middle of the 14th century the town was served by the nine parish churches of All Saints, St. Clement, St. Leonard, St. Margaret, St. Martin, St. Mary de Castro, St. Nicholas, St. Michael, and St. Peter. (fn. 239) The church of St. Mary de Castro also maintained the church of St. Sepulchre beyond the South Gate, in existence before 1204, (fn. 240) and a chapel of St. Mary built over the eastern arch of the West Bridge sometime between 1344 and 1365. (fn. 241) There were also churches or chapels in the Abbey of St. Mary de Pratis, (fn. 242) the College of St. Mary in the Newarke, (fn. 243) the convents of Franciscan, Dominican, and Augustinian Friars, (fn. 244) the Hospital of St. Mary Magdalene and St. Margaret, (fn. 245) and the Hospital of St. John. (fn. 246) St. John's Hospital maintained in addition the chapel of St. John in Belgrave Gate. (fn. 247) Thus to the humbler, unobtrusive work of the parish priests among the townsfolk can be added the activities of the numbers of clerics attached to these religious houses. (fn. 248) For example, the chantry College of the Newarke included a dean, 12 secular canons, 13 vicars, 6 choristers, and 3 clerks: (fn. 249) the chantries founded in this college between 1381 and 1513 were possibly served by additional chaplains. (fn. 250) Its church, described by Leland as 'not very great but exceeding fair', possessed as a relic a thorn from Christ's crown which attracted many pilgrims. (fn. 251) Wide influence was exercised by the wealthy Augustinian Abbey of St. Mary with its community of canons, who possessed a large library, (fn. 252) taught grammar in their choir school and in the town, dispensed hospitality on a large scale, and tended the sick in their infirmary. From the mid-13th century their authority in religious matters was supplemented by the arrival of the friars. (fn. 253) Although these religious influences later declined and at the Dissolution the friaries counted a total of only 21 inmates and St. Mary's Abbey a total of only 20, it has been estimated that at the beginning of the 16th century there were still no fewer than 91 priests of various kinds in and about the town. (fn. 254)
Certain religious and social activities were centred in the guilds formed in at least six of the Leicester churches during the 14th century. Whereas the dukes of Lancaster and other rich individuals could found private chantries, persons of more modest means joined together primarily to support a priest to say masses for their own souls and also to provide funeral rites and to help their poorer members in sickness or other misfortune, including that of fire. The desire to make better provision for church services was sometimes expressly stated. (fn. 255) By far the most important guild in Leicester was that of Corpus Christi which had its altar at the east end of the south aisle of St. Martin's, the town church. (fn. 256) Although this guild did not enjoy an official status comparable to that of the guilds of St. George at Norwich or Holy Trinity at Wisbech, it became closely associated with the government of Leicester from the fact that its members were among the leading townsmen. Their influence is seen in its elaborate rules of membership. An unusual town ordinance of 1477 gave the two guild wardens power of arbitration with the mayor in complaints between the members of the town bench of jurats; the mayor himself being liable to fine by the two wardens should he fail to execute the judgement. (fn. 257) The lack of reference to any social activities of the Guild Merchant, apart from special entertainment of visiting notables by a few persons, suggests that these found expression in the Corpus Christi guild: but however semiofficial its character it came to an end with the suppression of all the religious guilds.
Other guilds that existed at Leicester during the Middle Ages were that of St. Margaret and St. Katherine, attached to St. Margaret's church, (fn. 258) that of the Assumption of the Virgin, in the north of the town, (fn. 259) that of St. John the Evangelist and St. John the Baptist, attached to St. John's Hospital, (fn. 260) that of Holy Trinity, attached to St. Mary's, (fn. 261) that of St. George, attached to St. Martin's, (fn. 262) and that of St. Michael, attached to the church of the same name. (fn. 263) Two other guilds, those of St. Cross and St. Thomas, are mentioned in a will proved in 1419, (fn. 264) but nothing further is known of them. It is possible that the reference to the guild of St. Cross is really a mention of the Corpus Christi guild, since St. Martin's church, to which the Corpus Christi guild was attached, was sometimes known as St. Cross.
The upkeep of ways and bridges was financed at periods in the 13th and 14th centuries by royal grants of murage, pavage, and pontage obtained sometimes by the earl, more often by the burgesses. (fn. 265) But the responsibility for this work fell chiefly upon the town, at whose expense the walls and gates were repaired in 1262 and the gate-keepers' fees paid in 1278. (fn. 266) Private individuals might be expected to repair the pavement outside their own tenements; wages for paving and for the carting of materials for mending more important ways occur in the mayor's account for 1341–2. (fn. 267) A Morningspeech of 1352 recorded a levy on cattle of 8d. a beast for the mending of bridges, ways, and gates. (fn. 268) Before the end of the 14th century this work had become a regular duty of the two chamberlains, as set out in the borough ordinances of 1379. (fn. 269) The toll called 'bridge-silver' collected by the earl until redeemed by the town in 1253 was presumably used for the upkeep of the bridges. (fn. 270) Yet before this date, c. 1225, some Guild Merchant payments were put towards bridge work. (fn. 271) By 1300 special tallages were collected for this purpose; (fn. 272) in the middle of the 14th century the mayor's accounts show that such expenses were met from three sources: separate tallages from each quarter of the town, collections in the parish churches, and alms from individuals. (fn. 273) The accounts also include detailed statements of the building expenditure. (fn. 274)
Sanitation, usually considered the responsibility of the householders, is hardly mentioned in the borough records until the 15th century. Then it became a matter for by-laws, perhaps influenced by general ordinances not now extant, governing the whole country. (fn. 275) Muck, stones, timber, and clay must be removed from doorways within three days; sweepings should not be thrown out in wet weather; no man or woman should cast out 'hors, swyn, dogge ne catte, nor non other corypcion' but must 'voyde hit forthe in to the fylde from the course of the peple', or the penalty would be imprisonment at the mayor's pleasure. (fn. 276) In fact it was expressly stated that the inhabitants must clean the king's streets before their own houses, hiring carts to take away the rubbish within three days. (fn. 277) In 1508 three dumps, later called 'common muckle places,' (fn. 278) were assigned to the south and east of the town in 'the netherende of Belgrave gate and in the feld withowt Galtre gate end and beyond the hors feer'. (fn. 279) Exceptions to this individual responsibility occurred when the mayor found it necessary to pay for the cleaning of certain streets on a special occasion, (fn. 280) and in the appointment in 1500 of an officer at 13s. 4d. yearly to clean the Saturday market place by each Tuesday at the latest, as weather permitted. (fn. 281)
The town's water-supply, if not taken from the Soar for special purposes, was drawn chiefly from the common wells. Private wells are only disclosed by property deeds when they were to be shared. (fn. 282) An order of 1467 forbade women to wash clothes at the common wells or in the High Street. (fn. 283) One of these was situated in the parish of St. Michael and another by St. Sepulchre's chapel outside the South Gate. (fn. 284) In the next century the wells at the High Cross, at St. Martin's church, and in St. Margaret's churchgate were repaired at the town's expense. (fn. 285) In 1584 they were made the responsibility of the ward or quarter in which they lay and well-reeves were appointed. (fn. 286) The brewers drew their water from the Soar and used the services of the watermen. (fn. 287) The water-carriers figure in the records from the 13th century, several of them being members of the early Guild Merchant. (fn. 288) Payments to them occur in the mayors' accounts, especially for carrying water for the builders. (fn. 289) They were of sufficient standing in the 14th century to attempt to organize themselves into a guild, but were firmly stopped by the Guild Merchant by proclamation that 'Henceforth the "lochelmen" called watermen shall be separated and shall serve the commune well and loyally according to the custom before used', and that should any association be found among them they should be fined by increasing amounts for each offence until they submitted. (fn. 290)
Leicester about 1509
By the end of the 15th century the inhabited area of the town had not increased to any considerable extent beyond its earlier boundaries, except in the east suburb, though there is evidence in many deeds from the late 13th to the end of the 15th centuries of the transfer of holdings in the north and east suburbs. (fn. 291) Streets of some importance had grown up parallel to and beyond the walls and ditches, and along them went the traffic which was too ungainly to pass through the narrow gates or which could avoid the tolls levied in the town by using the streets outside the gates. The focal point of Leicester in medieval times was the High Cross. The main roads from all directions met there. It was the site of the Wednesday market, the most important of the two weekly markets, and near it lay the old Town Hall, the Guildhall, the castle, and St. Martin's, the most prosperous of the medieval churches. The extent of building on each side of all the main streets leading from the gates to the High Cross and the cluster of inns which lay near it stressed its importance in the town as a whole. (fn. 292)
The expansion of the town to the west was limited by the course of the river and the existence of the manors of Westcotes and Danet's Hall, and to the south by meadow and grazing land. The great south and east fields still lay open and were cultivated under the three-field system. (fn. 293) Very often, especially in the east field and suburb, individual holdings were made up of scattered strips. (fn. 294) A tenement in Belgrave Gate which changed hands in 1453 included eight pieces of land 'lying dispersedly' in this suburb, two of them being 900 ft. in length. (fn. 295) Emphasis in this chapter has been placed upon the town's trading activities, but it still possessed a very rural aspect with its many gardens and an occasional orchard or dovecote. (fn. 296) For example, a garden in St. Michael's parish, 1495, had 88 ash trees and 2 aspens growing in its hedges. (fn. 297)
Leicester had suffered great devastation from its sack by Robert Blanchesmains in 1173 (fn. 298) and after the passage of Edward II's army in 1322 there is evidence of tenements wholly ruinous and in decay and of the duke's demesne lands left tenantless and uncultivated. (fn. 299) The Black Death carried off a large number of people. (fn. 300) But all these effects appear to have been counteracted by the trading and other advantages afforded by town life in the 13th and 14th centuries. From his study of the first Guild Merchant roll, 1196–1225, and the tallage rolls of 1318, 1336, and 1354, Billson considers that new tenants very soon entered the town to occupy the empty houses. (fn. 301) The north-western part of the walled town, however, remained comparatively thinly populated. According to an analysis of the late-13th-century tallage rolls of the borough, the northern and western quarters of the town together contained at the time only two-sevenths of the total number of tax-payers in the town and east suburb. (fn. 302) The population shifted gradually towards the suburbs to the north and east of the town walls. (fn. 303) The churches of St. Peter and St. Michael were left to fall into decay and were entirely ruined in the 16th century if not earlier, their parishes being joined to that of All Saints nearer the North Gate. (fn. 304) The town wall and ditch were still in existence and became the subject of an inquiry on the king's behalf in 1492–3. The commissioners found the wall broken and stones removed; they drew up a detailed schedule of 79 encroachments, of which most of the frontages had a uniform measurement of 40 ft. (fn. 305)
The sad state of the town in the 16th century described in a petition of 1540, though doubtless exaggerated for its own purposes, seemed already in evidence in the first half of the 15th century. (fn. 306) The bailiffs' yearly valuations of the king's perquisites in Leicester in giving the receipts from farms of the shops and shambles include the constantly recurring phrase 'formerly at higher sums', taking the figures for comparison from 1424 and earlier. (fn. 307) The movement of the centre of business away from the old quarters can be noted in the repeated orders about restoring the bakehouses and shambles addressed to duchy officials under Henry VII and Henry VIII. Many inhabitants in Bishop's Fee had built their own ovens, and butchers had deserted the king's shambles for stands also in Bishop's Fee. (fn. 308) The probable extent of borough jurisdiction at the end of the 15th century can be traced in the boundaries of the twelve wards drawn up in 1485 and 1499. The parishes of St. Margaret and St. Mary lay largely outside the borough, and St. Leonard's parish was entirely outside. (fn. 309) A study of the 1524 tax returns discloses that the suburban wards were the most populated, especially the one including Belgrave Gate and Churchgate. (fn. 310) That the richest wards were still within the town, namely, the two small ones of the Swinesmarket and High Street, is due to the concentration of wealth in the hands of a few families, most of them merchants of the Staple. (fn. 311) It would appear that, apart from this group, Leicester during the 15th century suffered a decline in prosperity and a depletion of its population. Yet the developing leather industry and other local trades were taking the place of the interests in the wool trade; (fn. 312) any generalization, therefore, about the movement of population during this century needs support from a detailed study of private deeds related to the names on the Guild Merchant and tallage rolls of the town.