Southampton port

Trade with Southampton, 1428 and 1430, from Studer, Paul, The Port Books of Southampton, 1913. 27 merchants and ship-owners from the Channel Islands are mentioned in these books, and there are others whose names indicate a strong connection. Copies of these and similar volumes are available at the Library, as well as a comprehensive file of extracts. Please contact the Library for further information.

Channel Islands. In the first half of the fifteenth century the manufacture of linen cloth, canvas, and other fabrics such as oulone and crestcloth, had reached considerable development in Guernsey and Jersey. These commodities and others of kindred nature, such as quilts, counterpanes, and wick yarn, were exported to England in fairly large quantities. Among other products which were sent from the Islands, conger-eels and wine should especially be mentioned, whilst cards, cinders, onions, fruit, rye, and fur formed part of the cargo only on rare occasions. Most of the boats were bound either for Poole or Southampton, and usually returned with coals or alum, or small quantities of flax, wheat, resin, pitch, and herrings. It is curious to find that whilst in 1428 nine boats from Guernsey and three from Jersey visited Southampton harbour, in 1430 there were only two boats, one from each island. It is difficult to account for this fluctuation. Perhaps the reverses of the English at Orleans had emboldened Norman and Breton pirates to resume their aggressions on the Islanders, and made it unsafe for the latter's ships to venture forth. Perhaps, also, the Islanders had some quarrel with the burgesses of Southampton, and boycotted their port in favour of Poole. If that was the case, their hostility was purely transitory, for in after years they gradually forsook Poole, sent their boats to Southampton, and continued to do so, even at a time when the harbour had fallen upon evil days and was deserted by other vessels.

Northern France. At first sight it seems very curious that on the evidence of the Port Books there was at this time, so to speak, no direct intercourse between Southampton and Normandy, except of a military character. But this is easily explained if we remember that Edward III, in his attempt to regulate the trade of the country, had constituted Calais the staple and sole mart for the commerce of England with Northern France. It is needless to say that local traders were particularly handicapped by such a measure. Had they not, in turn, enjoyed extensive monopolies in other directions, especially in the Levant trade, they would doubtless have left no stone unturned to secure redress. In 1394 the merchants of the western counties—Hants, Wilts, Somerset, Dorset and Berks—who found Calais a most inconvenient staple, petitioned that they might have the privileges conceded to the merchants of Genoa, Venice, Catalonia and Aragon, and use Southampton as their port for Normandy, without carrying their wools to Calais, receiving also Norman goods at Southampton. However, no relief came. 'Let them repair to Calais as is appointed,' was the reply.' (Mot. Pari., Ill, 323, quoted by Davios, Hist. of Southampton, p. 364). That explains why in the years 1428 and 1430 there came from Rouen, the great emporium of France, only one boat, laden, not with fabrics from its famous looms, but with garlic and onions, and another boat from Harfleur with a cargo of wheat. On the other hand there were three boats from Barfleur with hemp, ropes, wheat, barley, bacon and carding instruments; three from Dieppe with herrings, whiting, wheat and iron; two from Flamanville with similar products; one from Etaples with herrings; and possibly one from Dives with iron, nails, liquorice, and beaver. On the return journey they took millstones, leather, iron, cloth, spun wool (contrary to the statute!), but all in very small quantities. From Brittany there were six boats in all, five from Guylly with fish (hake and mulwell) and some slates, and one from Saint Brieuc with rye. But even in those days laws were sometimes evaded, and the Accounts do not show how much contraband trade was carried on between the two countries. The fact that commerce with Normandy was prohibited, except via Calais, undoubtedly proved a strong incentive to many burgesses of Southampton to run the gauntlet and achieve fame in the profitable and highly respected profession of smuggling. If William Sopere, Walter Fetplace, Piere James and other worthy mayors and magistrates had left memoirs of their exploits on the high seas, both as pirates and smugglers, it is possible that the conclusions arrived at from the study of these Port Books would in many cases need readjusting.