Local Port Tolls

Paris, Bibliotheque de l’Arsenal, 5070. Part of a miniature of The Decameron by Master Jean Mansel (1430-50) and copyist Guillebert de Mets.

Most towns assessed tolls on goods coming into and out of their jurisdiction in order to generate income to help pay for expenses such as the town’s annual fee farm. Although only a few lists of tolls survive before the thirteenth century, it is likely that pre-Conquest towns imposed some sort of dues on local trade.1 Towns also sought out royal grants for the right to collect tolls for murage (to pay for the construction and maintenance of town walls), pavage (to fund paving streets), pontage (for the town bridge), and quayage (to build or repair a town quay). The land-based tolls are well-known to scholars,2 but tolls assessed on goods coming into and out of ports have not received as much scholarly attention, in part because toll lists often do not distinguish whether levies applied to land or sea trade or both.3 The toll rates for maritime trade can also be determined by checking the rates asssessed in the local port customs accounts, such as those for Chester, Exeter, Sandwich, and Southampton.

Lists of the local tolls imposed at a port can tell us much about its maritime trade, particularly the types of goods imported and exported, the direction of trade when traders from specific regions were singled out, and the relative value of particular items of commercial exchange. Most of the port toll lists seem to concentrate on imports, not exports, and on overseas more than coastal trade, though the tolls only occasionally distinguished between tolls on overseas and coastal trade. Although some of the lists (especially those from the Cinque Ports) are so similiar that they probably shared a common source, they are not the tolls used in the national port customs, which were standardized across the realm.

This section aims to provide a guide to the surviving lists of local tolls imposed at medieval English (and some Scottish) ports, particularly those in print or available online. These tolls could include duties assessed on specific imports and exports, along with murage, pavage, pontage, and quayage, as well as service dues such as anchorage, which was a small fee charged to dock the boat in the town’s harbor so it could load or unload goods; it was probably the same as groundage, which was  termed sede maris in the medieval documents. Other service tolls charged at the port were pesage (also called measurage because it was a charge for weighing goods at port), porterage (fees paid to porters to carry goods on shore), and cranage (a charge paid to lift items with the help of a crane). Note that there were multiple exemptions from these tolls, many granted by charter to the freemen of specific towns, although records of the full range of exemptions rarely survive.

The following list, organized by port, is a work in progress.

List of Local Customs Due at Berwick-on-Tweed, 17 November, 1303.”in The Early English Customs System, ed. N.S.B. Gras (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1918), 164-67.

Note Concerning the Taking of Prisage of Fish,” The Little Red Book of Bristol, ed. F. B. Bickley (Bristol: W. Crofton Hemmons/London: Henry Sotheran, 1900). Original text and translation of a 1280 inquisition that specifies the types and amounts of fish that could be taken for prisage (pp. 89-91), followed by “Mode of Taking Fresh Fish Coming by Water, for the Use of the Lord” (pp. 91-2).

Cardiff tolls. Earldom of Gloucester Charters: The Charters and Scribes of the Earls and Countesses of Gloucester to AD 1217, ed. Robert B. Patterson (Oxford, 1973), 60-62. The tolls are part of the larger custumal for Cardiff and Tewkesbury (BL Cotton Cleopatra A VII) dating to the thirteenth century. Adolphus Ballard (British Borough Charters 1042-1216 (Cambridge, 1913), 177-78 prints an extract (with English translation) and dates the list to c. 1147.

The Dover Tolls List. Appendix I in Nicholas Karn, “England’s Trade with the Continent in the Early Thirteenth Century: Customs and the Port of Dover,” Journal of Medieval History 46:3 (2020): 306-34. Transcript of Latin list of tolls on items for the Great Toll (divided into exports and imports) and Small Toll (includes levies on ships and for using the port, as well as tolls on outsider merchants who were in effect paying for the right to trade in Dover). Also includes a list of those exempted from the Small Toll. From a 14th-century copy in the cartulary of St Martin’s Priory, Dover (Lambeth Palace Library ms. 241). Karn dates the list to c. 1233, making it the oldest detailed list of customs in northern Europe. Appendix II contains a shorter transcript, made around the same time, that focuses on which tolls belonged to the king and others, such as the monks of Dover priory; it was enrolled in The Red Book of the Exchequer, Part II, ed. Hubert Hall, Rolls Series 99 (London, 1896), 722-4.


A List of the Town Customs Due at Dunwich, probably late fifteenth century.” In The Early English Customs System, ed. N.S.B. Gras (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1918), 192-93.

The Anglo-Norman Custumal of Exeter, ed. J. W. Schopp (Oxford, 1925), 24-6. Part of a toll list used as a cover to the custumal (dated to c. 1240) that includes the tolls on six items when sold or purchased, plus a list of those exempted from tolls; both lists seem to apply more to goods arriving or leaving by land than by sea. The exemptions are similar to those recorded in the sixteenth-century by the city chamberlain, John Hooker, in his Commonplace Book, f. 223, which includes the Cinque Ports (pp. 51-52).


Fordwich Customs. See C. Eveleigh Woodruff, A History of the Town and Port of Fordwich (Canterbury, 1895), pp. 33-35. They are similar to the toll lists of Ipswich and Sandwich.


A List of Local Customs Due in the Port of Ipswich (?) 1303 (?)” In The Early English Customs System, ed. N.S.B. Gras (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1918), 159-63. Latin. Gras notes that the original list of rates (TNA E122/157/12) is attached to a royal letter dated 22 March 1303 that is directed to the collectors of the nova custuma recently granted by the king, but it is clearly a list of local, not national port customs. The list is very similar to those for Fordwich and Sandwich.

Customs Charged on Imports to and Exports from Ipswich,” Florilegium Urbanum, ed. Stephen Alsford (2017). Alsford provides an English translation, with a useful discussion and notes, of the original French customs in The Black Book of the Admiralty, vol.II: “Le Domesday de Gipewyz, ed. Travers Twiss, Rolls Series, no. 55, vol. 1 (1873), 184-206. These are part of a longer list of customs that were assessed on land-based trade. The list comes after the section on porterage (below), placed after the original late thirteenth-century custumal, which survives in an early fourteenth-century copy (BL Add. Ms. 25012) and in a fifteenth-century English translation (BL Add. Ms. 25011). For further information on the custumals, see Ipswich Borough Archives, 1255-1835: A Catalogue, ed.  David H. Allen, Suffolk Records Society (Woodbridge: Boydell, 2000), 413-15.

 “Concerning Bereman,” Florilegium Urbanum, ed. Stephen Alsford (2017). Bereman were porters who charged fees for tasks such as unloading goods from ships; carrying them to be stored on the quay, in a cellar, or elsewhere in town; or loading it onto carts for transport outside the town; their fees increased with the distance they had to carry the goods. Bereman who specialized in unloading and carrying wine were also called “wine-drawers.” Alsford offers a modern English translation from an edition in The Black Book of the Admiralty, vol.I: “Le Domesday de Gipewyz, ed. Travers Twiss, Rolls Series, no. 55, vol. 1 (1873), 178-84, and adds a helpful discussion and notes. The original (BL Add. Ms. 25012, ff. 41-42) was appended to the town custumal immediately before the list of tolls (above) and likely dates to the late thirteenth or early fourteenth century.


 “The Billingsgate Tolls of London, eleventh century.” InThe Early English Customs System, ed. N.S.B. Gras (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1918), 153-55. Latin. Early lists of customs like this often require payment in kind, particularly for fish. The list is from a law associated with Aethelred IV (the Unready).

Custom Dues. The White Book of the City of London, compiled AD 1419, by J. Carpenter, Common Clerk, R. Whittington, Mayor (London: Richard Griffin, 1861). Lists tolls on specific goods for scavage (pp. 196-9, 202-3), pesage (199, 216), tronage (199-201, 215), wine prisage (217), woad (201), Spanish imports (203) and vessels at the Bridge (205-7), at Billingsgate (208-9), at Queenhythe (209-15) as well as tolls that varied by the type of ships (201). The original (French) version is in Munimenta Gildhallæ Londoniensis : Liber albus, Liber custumarum, et Liber Horn, ed. H. T. Riley (London, 1859), I, pp. 223-48. The toll lists likely date to the second half of the thirteenth century.

Customs of Newcastle.The Percy Chartulary, ed. M T. Martin, Surtees Society 117 (19111), 333-6. in Latin. The list of tolls is dates from various periods in the twelfth century and is part of the larger town custumal. The cartulary is from the fourteenth century.


 The King’s Customs at Sandwich. in William Boys, Collection for an History of Sandwich (Canterbury, 1792), pp. 435-440.  He prints both the original French and an English translation. The customs applied to both maritime and land-based trade; the list ends by noting who enjoyed exemptions from the tolls. Date likely to be the late thirteenth or early fourteenth century since this list has much in common with the tolls for Ipswich and Fordwich (see above).


 “Provision Concerning the Porters of Southampton,” Florilegium Urbanum, ed. Stephen Alsford  (2017). English translation of the French original (c. 1300) in The Oak Book of Southampton, vol.1, ed. Paul Studer, Southampton Record Society, no. 10 (1910), 70-74. Alsford includes a discussion and notes comparing the Southampton and Ipswich rates charged by porters.


  1. Neil Middleton, “Early Medieval Port Customs, Tolls and Controls on Foreign Trade”, Early Medieval Europe, 13 (2005): 313-58; Susan Kelly, “Trading Privileges from Eighth-Century England,” Early Medieval Europe 1 (1992): 3-28. See also below, under London ↩︎
  2. See, for example, Hilary Turner, Town Defences in England and Wales: An Architectural and Documentary Study (London: John Bake, 1970); Philip Davis, “Murage: An Introduction,” Castle Studies Group Journal 27 (2013/14): 284-299; Edward Harvey, “Pavage Grants and Urban Street Paving in Medieval England, 1249–1462,” Journal of Transport History 31:2 (2012): 151-63; James Masschaele, “Toll and Trade in Medieval England,” in  Money, Markets and Trade in Late Medieval Europe: Essays in Honour of John H.A. Munro, eds.  L. Armstrong, I. Elbl, and M. Elbl (Leiden: Brill, 2007), 146-183. ↩︎
  3. The exception is N. S. B. Gras, The Early English Customs System (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1918).  See also Maryanne Kowaleski, “Introduction,” The Local Customs Accounts of the Port of Exeter, 1266-1321, Devon and Cornwall Record Society new series, 36 (Exeter, 1993), pp. ↩︎