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|TOLLS AND CUSTOMS|
|Subject:||Special toll paid by outsiders on imports to Bristol|
|Original source:||Corporation of Bristol Archives, Great Red Book, ff.96-97|
|Transcription in:||Elspeth Veale ed., The Great Red Book of Bristol, Bristol Record Society, vol.4 (1933), part III, 58-60.|
|Original language:||Middle English|
First, that all persons who are not burgesses and freemen of the town of Bristol and who bring there wool, woollen cloth, iron, wood, wine, salt, madder, grain, oil, wax or any other merchandize of avoirdupois should take it to a place specifically designated (by the chamberlain then in office, upon the recommendation of the mayor and common council) as the sole location for the advertisement and sale of all such goods. They are to display and sell the same there alone, and not in any other private location. For which place of sale a location has now been assigned by decision of the mayor, sheriff and common council: a place in the Back of Bristol called Spicers Hall, in which there once lived a notable and respectable merchant of the town called Robert Sturmy, whom has recently been taken into the bosom of God.
Also, that all kinds of woollen cloth and other merchandize that are to be measured and weighed within the town shall be measured and weighed [during the transaction] between buyer and seller (if neither is a burgess) by certain persons assigned and appointed by the chamberlains, upon recommendation from the mayor and common council.
The provision by the chamberlains then in office of a place for the sale of merchandize has been, and is, for the convenience and benefit of those who bring such merchandize here and sell it. The upkeep and maintenance of that place for such a use would not be possible without considerable expenses and expenditures on repairs and improvements.
Therefore, it has been the custom since ancient times that every outsider who is not a freeman of the town and who brings there any merchandize for advertisement and sale should pay, for the convenience and benefit in so doing, a monetary duty dictated by the type, quantity and variety of the merchandize they have brought, and according to the length of time they keep the goods in town for showing and selling it. That is:
Should any of these goods other than wax, grain, madder, alum, liquorice, beans, bowstaves, fruit, canvas, and crestcloth remain in the hall for a longer period than is indicated above, then the duty payable on it will be increased according to the length of time and the type of merchandize remaining there.
This list of tolls is part of a set of local ordinances (the core of which are also given above) dated 1459. The preamble claims them to be a reaffirmation of by-laws in effect since "time beyond memory", but whose enforcement has been neglected by the busy bailiffs, with a result of loss in revenue from "tolles Custumes and other dueties and exaxcions due". The tolls apply to outsider merchants who are not freemen (it having been possible for non-burgesses to purchase the franchise, in order to obtain commercial privileges). The closing section of the ordinances prohibited burgesses and other residents of the town from allowing the merchandize of outsiders to be stored, displayed, or put up for sale in their houses or hostelries, upon penalty of a 40s. fine.
Since the stated purpose of the tolls was cover the costs of upkeep of Spicers Hall, they were presumably extraordinary imposts. They evidently apply both to goods imported from abroad and those brought into Bristol from other locations in England.
In the first half of the fifteenth century Bristol was one of the principal centres for the import/export trade. Wine from Gascony, still politically tied to England, was the leading item among its imports, and cloth among its exports (again particularly to Gascony) the prosperity of the town had long been based primarily upon the manufacture and export of cloth. Grain was also prominent among its exports. To a lesser extent goods were imported from Spain and Portugal, such as wax, fruit, iron, dyes, and spices. However, after a peak in the 1440s Bristol's trade figures were dropping during the '50s, largely due to the loss of Gascony to France, and fell to a low in the '60s, forcing Bristol merchants to give more attention to the Iberian markets. The special tolls imposed in 1459, over and above any import/export duties, could not have helped encouraged merchants to use Bristol as their gateway to England. Although Bristol's trade revived later in the century, in the longer term much of its cloth export business shifted to London.
|Created: August 18, 2001. Last update: December 22, 2002||© Stephen Alsford, 2001-2003|