Local Maritime Courts and Regulations

(in progress)

The extant court rolls, custumals, registers, and accounts of medieval port towns often contain references to martime matters such as disputes involving sea-going merchants, shipowners, shipmasters, mariners, and fishers; defenses of the port’s liberties and tolls; sums collected from port tolls and fines; the proceedings of local maritime and Admiralty courts; and correspondenc with the crown and other port towns about maritime issues. Copies of the Laws of Oleron can also be found in several civic compilations, including Bristol, London, and Southampton.

There is such an abundance of material in the local records of port towns that this section concentrates on printed or online documentary material that contains a significant proportion of texts dealing with maritime regulations or dispute resolution. See also the pages on Local Port Tolls and Editions of local Customs Accounts for additional material from port town sources.

E. H. T. Atkinson, “Some Abbotsbury Records,” Proceedings of the Dorset Natural History and Archaeological Society 48 (1927): 70-85. Prints extracts from local inquisitions and court rolls regarding stranded whales, wreck, disputes between the Abbot and local fishermen about the proportion of their catch that they owed him, a complaint by a fisherman that his fishing tackle was overlaid with that of another fisher, and the rights of locals to buy a share of local catches.

The Great Red Book of Bristol, Text (Part I), ed. E. W. W. Veale, Bristol Record Society 4 (1933), with a detailed description of contents pp. 33-64; Text (Part II), Bristol Record Society 8 (1938), with contents described on pp. 1-21; Text (Part III), Bristol Record Society 16 (1951); the introduction describes the different borough courts, but the contents are mainly wills and deeds; Text (Part IV), Bristol Record Society 18 (1953), with contents pp. ix-xv.  A compilation of documents dating mostly from the late fourteenth to fifteenth century but with copies of earlier documents. The maritime material (some in I and IV, most in Part II) includes safe-conducts and licenses to trade (1451-1474) that were required when the truce with France expired in 1449. Ordinances in the Book include regulations about river craft discharging cargoes at Bristol, the size of barrels, and the work of the water bailiff. Also includes records of Chancery and Exchequer proceedings about local port customs and tolls. Documents in original language (Latin and Middle English). 

The Great White Book of Bristol, ed. Elizabeth Ralph, Bristol Record Society 32 (1979). Primarily sixteenth-century material but includes copies of fifteenth-century text on Bristol’s Admiralty jurisdiction. See the detailed description of the Contents, 1-15. 

The Ordinances of Bristol, 1506-1598, ed. Maureen Stanford, Bristol Record Society 41 (1990). Some of the earlier ordinances concern shipowners, the quay, and customs. See the detailed description of items in Contents, vi-xvi

Register of Daniel Rough, Common Clerk of Romney, 1352-1380, ed. K. M.E. Murray, Kent Archaeological Society Records Branch, 16 (1945). Contains the Anglo-French custumal, as well as various letters and petitions sent by or received by the town of New Romney concerning their position as a Cinque Ports town, toll disputes with other towns, inquest on vintners, letters testifying to good conduct of visitors, instructions to tax collectors, letters to foreign port towns regarding ships captured at sea, and petitions about military service. Most of the documents cover the period 1352-1380, About half of the documents are in Latin, particularly those for the fifteenth-century additions.