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Cities in History: Archives and Traces, 1100 –1700

Ordinances of the Newcastle glovers and skinners

Tyne and Wear Archives, GU.SK/1/1

Tyne and Wear Archives, GU.SK/1/2'GU.SK/1/1')'GU.SK/1/2')

The glovers and skinners were named in the 1342 charter (Mayor and Aldermen vs Burgesses of Newcastle-upon-Tyne) as two of the twelve crafts which were to participate in the annual election of the mayor, bailiffs and other civic officers. The documents are taken from the order books – ordinaries – containing the rules of the two crafts. They are of interest because very few records of the Newcastle guilds survive from the medieval period. The ordinaries are much later in date, but they include copies of the earliest extant ordinances of the crafts, and their inclusion at the beginning of these later guild books implies that they were regarded as founding statutes from the crafts’ incorporation. Although they are dated differently – the glovers, 20 January 1436, and the skinners, 20 January 1437 – lists of mayors and sheriffs indicate that they are in fact from the same day: 20 January 1437. The glovers and skinners were associated trades – both involved in the manufacture of leather goods – and they joined together, formally, in the early eighteenth century. The evidence here suggests that the ties were much earlier.

According to the twelfth-century laws of Newcastle, there were two routes to becoming a burgess of the town – residence and inheritance – both of which were linked to property. A peasant who came to the town and lived there for a year and a day, without being claimed by his lord, could remain as a burgess. Equally, the son of a burgess who resided in his father’s house might have ‘the same liberty as his father’. By the fifteenth century, admission to the freedom was firmly connected to the craft guilds. To be a citizen was to be a member of a craft; and vice-versa. The glovers’ fifteenth-century ordinances show that not only did a potential craftsman need first to be a burgess of the town, but that he required the endorsement of the guild’s officers. In this way, the crafts exercised some control over who entered the civic franchise and became a freeman. The glovers’ later ordinances speak of members being free of the town and free of the company. Just as a new burgess had to swear an oath to become a freeman of the town, so the skinners had to make a sworn declaration on the Bible.