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Durham University

Cities in History: Archives and Traces, 1100 –1700

Rauffe Tallboys et al vs Bishop of Durham (1581)

The National Archives, E 134/23and24Eliz/Mich17

This case is between a group of Gateshead men (including Ralph Tallboys) and the Bishop of Durham, but it concerns the river boundary between Newcastle and Gateshead - and between the ‘town and county’ of Newcastle and County Durham. Newcastle consistently claimed that its liberties extended to both banks of the river - and, more importantly, the sale of coal and other products from those banks - and from a few miles inland right out to the sea (see Newcastle v John Overing).

The one exception to these liberties was the Tyne Bridge itself. In the fourteenth century, the bishops of Durham claimed half of the bridge for the bishopric, and there was an extended dispute between 1383 and 1416 over the whereabouts of the boundary. But a fifteenth-century jury awarded the bishops only a third, and this was the location that stuck. At this point, according to the Gateshead joiner Thomas Thompson and others, ‘two blewe marble stoones lying and fixed upon the said bridge’ were ‘the bounders and markes betwene the Liberties of the Bisshopp of durham and the Maior and Birgesses of the towne of Newcastle’.

The Gateshead men and their witnesses claimed that the bridge had been allowed, since the time of Bishop James Pilkington (1561-76), to ‘become Ruynous’, when previously it had been maintained using timber and stone from Gateshead and workmen ‘set on worke’ by the bishop. We find out that both the bishopric of Durham and the corporation of Newcastle took tolls on the bridge, and that both the bishops’ and the Crown’s revenues would be likely to suffer because of the bridge’s ruinous state.