The sixteenth century: Economy

A History of the County of York East Riding: Volume 6, the Borough and Liberties of Beverley. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1989.

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A P Baggs. L M Brown. G C F Forster. I Hall. R E Horrox. G H R Kent. D Neave, 'The sixteenth century: Economy', in A History of the County of York East Riding: Volume 6, the Borough and Liberties of Beverley, (London, 1989) pp. 80-83. British History Online [accessed 24 May 2024].

A P Baggs. L M Brown. G C F Forster. I Hall. R E Horrox. G H R Kent. D Neave. "The sixteenth century: Economy", in A History of the County of York East Riding: Volume 6, the Borough and Liberties of Beverley, (London, 1989) 80-83. British History Online, accessed May 24, 2024,

Baggs, A P. Brown, L M. Forster, G C F. Hall, I. Horrox, R E. Kent, G H R. Neave, D. "The sixteenth century: Economy", A History of the County of York East Riding: Volume 6, the Borough and Liberties of Beverley, (London, 1989). 80-83. British History Online. Web. 24 May 2024,


The continuing economic decline of the town, caused largely by a falling off in the wool and cloth trades, led Leland to remark that 'there was good cloth making at Beverley but that is now much decayed'. (fn. 1) The decline was quickened by the suppression of St. John's college. When in 1599 Beverley was discharged from payment of the fifteenth and tenth, the Crown acknowledged the poverty into which the town had fallen. Perhaps with some exaggeration, 400 houses were said to be decayed and uninhabited, many poor and needy unemployed, costing the town £105 a year for their relief, and 80 orphans maintained at the town's expense. The former wealth of Beverley was said to have depended on the traffic of merchants and clothiers, and the college was recalled as having maintained and relieved many inhabitants, both laymen and clerics. (fn. 2)

Some oversea and coasting trade was still pursued by Beverley merchants. George Green was licensed in 1534 to export butter and cheese and import wine and woad, (fn. 3) and Beverley ships, among them the John and the Trinity, carried corn to Scotland in the 1530s and 1540s. (fn. 4) For a time Beverley was still visited by Easterling merchants from the Baltic. A dispute with them was heard in London in 1520-1, and the dyers' orders of 1529 referred to the finishing of cloths belonging to the Easterlings, who were said to be in the town from May Day to St. Laurence's Day (probably 10 Aug.). (fn. 5) A few foreigners apparently settled in the town, men like Nicholas Lowe, alien, and Lambert Williamson, Dutchman, who were admitted as burgesses in 1565-6 and 1567-8 respectively. (fn. 6)

For the conduct of waterborne trade the town was at pains to maintain its right of passage along the river Hull, for which an annual payment continued to be made to the lord of Cottingham. (fn. 7) Problems caused by a bridge built over the river at Hull in 1541 were removed by an award in 1559 whereby Hull undertook to raise a leaf of the bridge to allow boats upstream. (fn. 8) At least once, c. 1530, Beverley also resisted attempts by Hull to take tolls on the goods of Beverley burgesses using the river. (fn. 9) Coal, corn, salt, and wine were among the goods carried between the two towns by common carriers and watermen. (fn. 10)

For its prosperity Beverley became increasingly dependent on the trade of its markets, and much business was done with Londoners. About 1540 three Beverley men bought goods from a London mercer and another bought wine in Beverley from a Londoner; a little later a Beverley merchant sold alum, flax, and soap to a London tallow-chandler. (fn. 11) Trading connexions between the towns are reflected in the wills of two London drapers who died in 1560: Thomas Whipp asked to be buried in St. Mary's church at Beverley and made bequests to the poor of the town, and Richard Ferrand sought burial in the minster and left to his wife the house which he leased in Beverley. (fn. 12) At least by the 1560s Londoners attended the Cross fair, which attracted people from many parts of the north of England. (fn. 13) The leading of Londoners' wares from the river and the beck was let, producing the modest sum of up to £5 a year from the 1570s. (fn. 14) The tolls on goods sold at the various markets and fairs were held by the town, on lease from the archbishop in the earlier 16th century and by grant from the Crown from 1555. (fn. 15) Receipts from tolls and stallage averaged nearly £15 a year from the 1540s, reached £18 in the early 1570s, and later usually exceeded £20. (fn. 16)

The occupations of townsmen are indicated by admissions to the freedom. Burgesses were admitted by patrimony without payment, or after serving an apprenticeship on payment of £1, or, if strangers, on payment of a fine often of £1 or £2 but increased in the 1590s. (fn. 17) The minute books suggest that before incorporation apprenticeship was much the most common method of enfranchisement. From 1558 to 1574 as many as 322 burgesses were admitted by apprenticeship and only 93 by patrimony. In five years between 1576 and 1583, however, only 20 were admitted by apprenticeship, 42 by patrimony, and 24 by fine, with one not stated. (fn. 18) Most admissions by apprenticeship or fine, but not those by patrimony, were also included in the town accounts: in 24 years scattered throughout the century 359 admissions were recorded, an average of about 15 a year. (fn. 19) Of the 506 admissions in the 21 years covered by the minute books, (fn. 20) nearly 21 per cent were in the manufacturing trades. The 30 textile workers included 17 weavers and 9 in the finishing trades, 36 of the 47 in the leather trades were tanners, and there were 29 metal workers. Another 8 per cent were in the distributive trades, the 40 admissions including 17 drapers and 21 merchants and mercers, and 20 admissions, mainly of watermen, were made of men in the shipping trades. The basic needs of the town were met by the building, clothing, and food and drink trades, which had 44, 105, and 50 admissions respectively, some 39 per cent all told. The building workers included 23 carpenters and 14 tilers; there were 41 glovers, 34 tailors, and 24 shoemakers; and among those in victualling were 16 bakers and 13 butchers. Miscellaneous occupations numbered 127, including 34 labourers and 59 gentlemen and yeomen, and a handful of burgesses had no occupation stated. Few husbandmen were admitted, but the common pastures and the closes around the town allowed many burgesses to have some interest in agriculture.

Brickmaking was carried on at a kiln near the beck. (fn. 21) In 1563-4 overseers of the workmen there were appointed, (fn. 22) and in 1573-4 the town lent a tiler £20 to help him work the kiln. (fn. 23) Only one miller is recorded in the admissions of burgesses, but some bakers had their own horse mills. (fn. 24) Milling was still carried on at the manorial water mills, but by the late 16th century the corporation had a windmill, probably on Westwood, (fn. 25) there was another near Grovehill, and there may still have been a windmill in Norwood. (fn. 26) The occurrence of a few shipwrights among the new burgesses suggests that boats may have been made or repaired at Beverley.

In the 1490s there had still been c. 25 guilds or crafts, but further amalgamations took place in the 16th century. The remaining crafts, of which there were 17 principal ones and a few others mentioned only occasionally, were the bakers; bowyers, fletchers, and coopers; brewers and saddlers; bricklayers or tilers; butchers; carpenters or wrights; cordwainers or shoemakers; drapers; dyers and barbers; fishermen; glovers; merchants and mercers; minstrels; pewterers; smiths; tailors; tanners; walkers, hatters, cappers, and oatmealmakers; watermen; and weavers. (fn. 27) The dyers and barbers, who had amalgamated by 1572, (fn. 28) were unlikely partners who presumably sought advantages other than craft regulation. By 1596 the bowyers, fletchers, and coopers had amalgamated with the carpenters, where they joined 16 other kinds of woodworker. (fn. 29) Similarly, surgeons and toothpullers belonged to the dyers and barbers; armourers, cutlers, 'swordslipers', and hardwaremen belonged to the smiths; and curriers and jerkin makers belonged to the cordwainers. (fn. 30)

Most of the crafts were governed by an alderman or warden, 2 stewards, and 2 searchers, but the shoemakers in 1542 had two aldermen, one elected by the masters and the other by the journeymen. (fn. 31) The names of brethren consenting to the ordinances reveal as many as 22 bakers and 22 tanners in 1596, c. 15 cordwainers between 1518 and 1563, 14 bricklayers and 14 carpenters in 1596, at least 14 merchants in 1502 and 1582, 11 weavers in 1596, 6 dyers in 1529, and 5 glovers in 1596. Seven walkers, hatters, and cappers and 7 oatmealmakers approved the orders of the amalgamated craft in 1572. (fn. 32) The survival of 6 sets of ordinances from 1572 and 11 from 1596 suggests that concerted action by the crafts was sometimes called for, presumably by the town's governors. (fn. 33) The crafts were at pains to enforce apprenticeship and the payment of 'upsets' by those who became brethren and annual 'contributions' by those who did not. Attempts were made to prevent members of one craft from doing work more appropriate to another. Demarcation was evidently difficult between the drapers and others involved in the processing and sale of cloth and the making of clothes, (fn. 34) and an acrimonious dispute took place early in the century over the payment of contributions by the carpenters to the bowyers, fletchers, and coopers for making items which the carpenters successfully claimed that their rivals were incapable of producing. (fn. 35) Searchers were occasionally given authority outside their own craft; in 1560, for example, the drapers' and tailors' searchers were empowered to examine the goods of each other's members in the market. (fn. 36) At least in the case of the tanners in 1596 the right of search extended to the outlying townships, (fn. 37) and in 1501 all fishermen in the liberties were ordered to pay contributions to the shipmen's craft. (fn. 38) In the 1570s the bakers even imposed fines on men living beyond the liberties and exacted a contribution from a baker of Bentley, in Rowley. (fn. 39) The ceremonial and social aspects of guild life were less in evidence in the ordinances than they had been in the Middle Ages, but there were still provisions regarding dress. In 1569-70, when craft members were said to be 'divided in sundry colours within themselves', the governors ordered that each craft should acquire new gowns, all of the same colour. (fn. 40)


  • 1. Itin. ed. Toulmin Smith, i. 47.
  • 2. H.R.O., BC/I/79.
  • 3. L. & P. Hen. VIII, vii, pp. 172, 235, 572,
  • 4. Ibid. vi, p. 201; xix (1), p. 230; xx (1), pp. 83-4.
  • 5. H.R.O., BC/II/3, f. 46v.; BC/II/6/18.
  • 6. Ibid. BC/II/7/2, ff. 71v., 91.
  • 7. Below, Communications.
  • 8. H.R.O., BC/I/64-6; BC/II/6/24, 26; BC/II/7/2, ff. 14, 20v., 21, 22v., 40; ibid. DDBC/2/9-10; V.C.H. Yorks. E.R. i. 389.
  • 9. P.R.O., C 1/610, no. 20.
  • 10. H.R.O., BC/II/3, ff. 12, 27, 47v.; BC/II/7/2, f. 57.
  • 11. P.R.O., C 1/1043, no. 4; C 1/1056, no. 72; C 1/1373, no. 103.
  • 12. N. Country Wills, ii. 25-7; Poulson, Beverlac, 703.
  • 13. H.R.O., BC/II/3, f. 14; BC/II/7/2, f. 87 and v.; below, Beverley in 17th Cent. (Economy). For receipts from Londoners' standings see BC/II/6/36, 38-41.
  • 14. H.R.O., BC/II/6/29, 31-4, 38, 41-2; BC/II/7/3, f. 35v.; Boro. Rec. 27.
  • 15. Below, Mkts. and Fairs.
  • 16. Figures are available for 27 years: H.R.O., BC/II/6/205, 27-9, 31-6, 38-42; BC/II/7/2, ff. 8v.-9, 20v., 30v., 39v., 48, 54, 64v., 74v., 86, 93; BC/II/7/3, ff. 4v.-5, 14v., 23v.24, 35v., 45v.
  • 17. Ibid. BC/II/7/4/1, f. 2; Boro. Rec. 4-34, 37.
  • 18. H.R.O., BC/II/4, ff. 12, 68-9, 159, 174, 185-6; BC/II/7/2, ff. 3-4, 16-17, 26-7, 36-7, 44-5, 51v.-52, 61 and v., 71 and v., 82 and v., 91; BC/11/7/3, ff. 2 and v., 12, 21 and v., 32-3, 43 and v., 54v.-55v. The MS. is mutilated and several entries for 1579-80 are incomplete or lost.
  • 19. Ibid. BC/II/6/16-29, 31-5, 38-42. Comparison with the min. bks. shows that, of those admitted by apprenticeship, all who paid in instalments as well as a few who paid the full amount at once were omitted from the accts. Conversely a few 'full payers' included in the accts. were omitted from the min. bks.
  • 20. The entries in the min. bks. give far more occupations than those in the accts.
  • 21. P.R.O., C 66/1193, mm. 1-13.
  • 22. H.R.O., BC/II/7/2, f. 59.
  • 23. Ibid. BC/II/6/31.
  • 24. B.I.H.R., CP. G. 2456; Boro. Rec. 66.
  • 25. Below, Common Lands; Outlying Townships (Beverley Parks).
  • 26. H.U.L., DDMC/9/16; above, Med. Beverley (Topog. and Growth). The Norwood mill was demol. by the 18th cent.: R.D.B., O/33/828.
  • 27. H.R.O., BC/II/7/2, f. 5, etc.; BC/II/7/3, f. iv., etc.; Boro. Rec. 12, 22-3, 31; above (Achievement of Self-govt.); above, Med. Beverley (Guilds).
  • 28. H.R.O., BC/II/3, f. 40.
  • 29. Boro. Rec. 67.
  • 30. Ibid. 69, 72.
  • 31. H.R.O., BC/II/3, f. 74v. (Corp. MSS. 93 contains errors).
  • 32. H.R.O., BC/II/3, ff. 30v., 34, 46 and v.; Boro. Rec. 64, 67, 70, 74, 77; Corp. MSS. 93; Town Doc. 75-6, 81, 84.
  • 33. Many ordinances are to be found in H.R.O., BC/II/3; Boro. Rec.; Corp. MSS.; and Town Doc.
  • 34. H.R.O., BC/II/3, f. 40; Boro. Rec. 58; Town Doc. 83, 105, 108.
  • 35. H.R.O., BC/II/3, f. 50; Corp. MSS. 99.
  • 36. H.R.O:, BC/II/3, f. 50v.
  • 37. Boro. Rec. 74.
  • 38. H.R.O., BC/II/3, f. 47v.
  • 39. Ibid. BC/II/7/3, ff. 44, 56.
  • 40. Ibid. f. 19.