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Durham University

Cities in History: Archives and Traces, 1100 –1700

Newcastle vs Anthony Errington (1625,1626)

The National Archives E 134/1Chas1/Mich1 & E 134/2Chas1/Mich4

In this case (which produced two separate sets of depositions, one year apart) the mayor and burgesses of Newcastle upon Tyne were complaining against Anthony Errington, a Newcastle merchant and landlord (who was also occasionally listed as a ‘tanner’ in local records). In particular, it seems that Errington had built a key (‘wharf’) on ground adjoining his property in Sandgate, the suburb to the east of the town. It’s unclear exactly where Errington’s property was located, but it was somewhere along the south side of Sandgate Street itself (which is highlighted in blue on the map in the image gallery below). The town objected that it encroached common space which was used as a passageway - a ‘Common Passage’ - between Sandgate Street and the River Tyne. A number of Newcastle’s mariners and ‘keelmen’ – boatmen who carried coal in small ‘keels’ or specially designed boats, which carried around 21 tons of coal – deposed that their ‘speedy way and passage’ (Dudly Swan’s deposition) was impeded by the wharf. As John Chaitor said ‘if the use of the said wast ground, were taken away, it were a great inconvenience to the loading of Shipps within the said River’. The common space or ‘waist ground’ was further used to ‘lay Timber and to build shipps, keales, lightners, and boates thereupon’.

The case reveals some of the pressure that sudden population growth could put on a city. Newcastle’s population doubled between about 1560 and 1660, up to somewhere around 18,000, and the suburb of Sandgate was very heavily populated by the 1630s. It was home to Newcastle’s keelmen, whose numbers had increased enormously in a generation or so before the date of this case. This is reflected in the memories of a number of the deponents who were asked ‘doe you knowe or remember what number of Keeles or leighters [small boats] have bene and nowe are ymployed on the said Ryver lying at Sandgate and other places’? Most of the deponents aged above fifty remembered a time when there were fewer than twenty active keels in Newcastle (Thomas Manwell thought four), and one estimated that the current numbers were around 250, a figure which is corroborated by other sources.