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February 2017 Item of the Month

Wine from Hull

Receipt from Guido of the Roke, merchant of Rabastan, to brother Henry of Luceby, monk of Durham, [3 August] 1290 (Ref: DCD Misc.Ch. 3690). Image reproduced by kind permission of the Chapter of Durham Cathedral.

February’s Item of the Month celebrates the City of Kingston upon Hull and its status as UK City of Culture for 2017. There is currently a display of its charters dating back to Edward I’s first charter for the city in 1299 in the Hull History Centre, but this document helps to take the story back a little further. It dates from 1290 and illustrates the importance that Hull, or Wyke upon Hull as it was then known, already had as a trading port. The settlement had been established as a speculative venture by its landlord the abbey of Meaux, situated some 7 miles to the north, in the later 12th century. The site, on the mouth of the River Hull where it issues out into the Humber, had been part of the settlement of Myton (extant in 1086) which was improved by the monks, with the Hull being rerouted. Wyke was trading by 1193 and rapidly became important for the wool trade, closely followed by the import of wine, as reflected in this document, with the archbishops of York also shipping their wine through Wyke. This document also dates from a crucial period in the development of Wyke as the abbot of Meaux had leased the port to the dean of York in 1286 but, as the port was proving so profitable (its customs’ revenues at this time were exceeded by only Boston and London), tried to recover the lease, but the dean would not be bought out. The king, Edward I, also became aware of the port’s growing significance and, needing such a supply base in the north, took it over in 1293: the port became known thereafter as Kingston - the king's town - on the River Hull.

The document (DCD Misc.Ch. 3690) is a receipt or acquittance of Guido de la Roke from Rabastans, to Brother Henry of Luceby, (now Lusby), a monk at Durham cathedral priory, for £40 received in part payment of a £53 10s debt owed by the prior of the cathedral priory for 26 casks and one pipe of wine in the vill of Wyke upon Hull. The document was dated at Wyke on the Thursday after the feast of St Peter ad vincula [3 August] in 1290. It is written on a small strip of parchment which has been sealed on a tongue cut from its foot with the merchant’s armorial seal of 3 chess rooks affixed to it. There is a wrapping tie also cut from the foot which, as its name indicates, was used to tie up the document when it is folded up, to form a small package no bigger than one’s thumb. The origin of the merchant has yet to be identified, but most of the port’s trade was in the hands of aliens, from the Low Countries, France and Germany. Lusby was, from his name, quite possibly a native of Lincolnshire who, maybe at this time, and certainly soon after, was bursar of the cathedral priory, so he was well versed in such financial transactions. Lusby the estate was part of the property of a cadet branch of the Bek family, and Lusby was Bishop Antony Bek’s nominee as prior of the cathedral in August 1300 during the bishop’s great dispute with the priory. Lusby’s colourful career continued with arrest in York after running off with monastic valuables in 1302 and having to be brought back to obedience to the prior of Durham in 1303.

This document is part of a series known as the Miscellaneous Charters in the cathedral’s archive. These number around 8,000 in total and are mostly medieval in date. Many of them are similar to this, being receipts or acquittances for money received from the prior or his monks for fees, pensions, taxes or goods, as in this case; often unprepossessing on first inspection, their back stories can be quite revealing of the breadth and depth of the cathedral priory’s dealings in the later middle ages. They are gradually being catalogued as part of a project to provide training in medieval documentary palaeography and Latin for postgraduate students at the university, with this one being one of the first tranche to be so made accessible in the online catalogue in 2011. So this item represents not only an important period in the development of the modern city of Hull, and the wide commercial nexus of Durham cathedral priory throughout the north of England, but it is also testimony to the efforts and commitment of now several years’ worth of postgraduates to help enhance access to one of this country’s most extensive and significant medieval archives.

Every month we showcase here an item from our Heritage Collections.