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Cities in History: Archives and Traces, 1100 –1700

Ordinances of the Durham barbers

Durham University Library, Archives and Special Collections, DCG 1/6
Durham University Library, Archives and Special Collections, DCG 1/1

Durham University Library, Archives and Special Collections, DCG ½

The 1469 barbers’ ordinances are among a handful of Durham craft ordinances from the fifteenth century; the earliest are those of the weavers, from 1450. The 1469 ordinances exist only in this later transcript. The barbers comprised three associated crafts: barbers, wax-makers and surgeons. By the middle of the seventeenth century the guild was made up of surgeons, barbers, wax-makers, rope-makers and stringers. The 1469 ordinances reveal, very clearly, the role of the bishop of Durham as the overlord of the town and of the influence he exercised over craft organisation and regulation within Durham at this time. Fines from apprentices, who had completed their term and who were entitled to set up a business of their own, went partly to the craft, but also to the bishop, as did fines from those practising the trade who had not first served an apprenticeship. People wishing to join had first to gain the agreement of the guild officials, but fines for breach of the ruling also went in part to the bishop. In royal boroughs such as Newcastle, where the king was, ultimately, the lord of the town, fines were shared between the guild and the civic government. The 1617 ordinances of the barbers demonstrate the continuing influence of the bishop, despite the 1565 and 1602 charters of incorporation, which granted Durham city a formal structure of self-government. Apprentices could open a shop only when they had secured the agreement of both the bishop and the craft hierarchy. The 1655 ordinances are different in that fines were to be shared between the guild and the mayor of Durham. The difference reflected the abolition, by parliament, of the offices of archbishop and bishop and the confiscation of church lands in 1646. The bishop of Durham would return in 1660.