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|Subject:||Customs of Newcastle-upon-Tyne|
|Original source:||Public Record Office, Chancery Miscellanea|
|Transcription in:||Charles Johnson, "The oldest version of the customs of Newcastle Upon Tyne," Archaeologia Aeliana, 4th series, vol.1 (1925), 170.|
|Date:||tempore Henry II|
These are the laws and customs which the burgesses of Newcastle upon Tyne had in the time of Henry, king of England, and ought to have. Burgesses may distrain upon outsiders in the marketplace or outside it, in their houses or outside them, and within the borough and outside it, without the permission of the reeve, unless the county court is in session in the borough or [the outsiders] are [serving] in the army or castle-guard. A burgess may not make distraint on another burgess without permission from the reeve. If a burgess makes in the borough a loan of anything of his to outsiders, the debtor shall return it to him if he acknowledges [the debt]; if he denies [the debt] he should answer to justice in the borough. Pleas which are initiated in the borough should be tried and brought to conclusion there, except those which belong to the crown. If any burgess is accused in a suit, he shall not plead outside the borough unless the court fails [to do justice]. Nor, except in matters involving the crown, should he defend without day and term [being assigned] unless first he falls into error in his pleading. If a ship comes to harbour at Tynemouth, then wishes to depart, the burgesses may [first] buy whatever they wish [of its cargo]. If a plea arises between a burgess and a [travelling] merchant, it is to be brought to conclusion before the third ebb-tide. Merchandize of whatever kind brought by sea ought to be put ashore, except for salt, while herring should be sold in the ship. If anyone holds land in burgage for a year and a day, lawfully and without claim [against it], he is [thereafter] not answerable to any claimant, except one who has been out of the kingdom or who was a child not old enough to bring legal action. If a burgess has a son [living] with him, the son shall share in the liberty of his father. If a villein comes to reside in the borough and lives there for a year and a day as if a burgess, he may stay in the borough forever, unless he or his lord had previously announced that he would reside only for a set term. If anyone accuses a burgess of anything, he cannot [prosecute by] combat with the burgess, but the burgess may defend himself by his law, unless [the accusation] is of treason whereby he is obliged to defend himself by battle. Nor can a burgess do combat against an outsider, unless he first quits the burgage. No merchant, unless a burgess, can inside [or outside] the town buy wool, leather, or other merchandize from anyone except burgesses. If a burgess commits a wrong, he shall give 6 ounces [of silver] to the reeve. There is no merchet, heriot, blodwit, nor stengesdint in the borough. Any burgess may have his own oven and hand-mill if he wishes, saving the rights of the king's oven. If a woman commits a wrong concerning bread or ale, no one should interfere except the reeve. If she commits the wrong twice, let her penalty be chastisement. If she commits wrong a third time, she is to be brought to justice. No-one except a burgess may buy cloth for the purpose of dyeing, nor make or cut [cloth]. A burgess may give or sell his land, unless [his right to] it is challenged, and go freely and peacefully wherever he wishes.
As its name indicates, Newcastle began as a settlement servicing the Norman castle build to guard a crossing of the Tyne. Within a century it had its own distinctive society and economy, as revealed in the list of customs above. Three different versions of the custumal are known. That which Johnson believed the oldest is very similar to the customs of a group of Scottish boroughs Newcastle at times (including the second quarter of the 12th century) having been under Scottish rule. The other versions were copied into the Percy Chartulary (pub. Selden Society, v.117, p.333) and a charter granted ca. 1180s to the borough of Wearmouth (Co. Durham), by its lord the bishop of Durham. The early charters of English kings granted to Newcastle, by John and Henry III, confirmed existing customs of the town from the time of Henry II. It is presumably the above customs that were meant, although the reference in the opening sentence to King Henry is more likely to Henry I.
The Newcastle-upon-Tyne custumal provides an early specification of the laws referred to only generally in charters. Few documents so well illustrate the interrelationship between charters of liberties and custumals. So much does this document resemble a charter's recitation of privileges granted, as opposed to an itemized or capitularized custumal, that Ballard adopted it as such in his comparative study of the earliest group of charters of liberties. The existence of this early custumal, which survives in several versions, has led to Newcastle's development as a borough being described as "precocious" (Edward Miller, "Rulers of Thirteenth Century Towns: The Cases of York and Newcastle upon Tyne," Thirteenth Century England I: Proceedings of the Newcastle Upon Tyne Conference 1985, Woodbridge: Boydell Press, 1986, 129). Although tempore Henry II the Newcastle customs did serve as a model for those granted to lesser towns in the north-east (Gateshead, Hartlepool, and Wearmouth), the seeming precocity may be an illusion consequent to the scarcity of written evidence of early borough customs. It is worth comparing these customs with those of the burgesses of Bury St. Edmunds, from a similar period.
"had in the time of Henry"
"distrain upon outsiders"
"a loan of anything of his to outsiders"
"error in his pleading"
"buy whatever they wish"
"sold in the ship"
"the son shall share"
"villein comes to reside"
"quits the burgage"
"6 ounces of silver"
"merchet, heriot, blodwit, nor stengesdint"
"oven and hand-mill"
"wrong concerning bread or ale"
"give or sell his land"
|Created: August 18, 2001. Last update: November 15, 2002||© Stephen Alsford, 2001-2003|