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TOLLS AND CUSTOMS Florilegium Urbanum

Keywords: medieval Torksey tolls jurisdiction exemption commerce ships customs administration regulations transportation routes

Subject: Usages governing the collection of tolls at Torksey
Original source: British Library, Rot.Cott. ii, 14
Transcription in: N.S.B. Gras, The Early English Customs System, Cambridge (Mass.): Harvard University Press, 1918, 155-158.
Original language: Latin
Location: Torksey
Date: 1228


Concerning tolls

They say that thourthtoll and overthuerttoll belong to the lord of Torksey between the following places: from Hameldod, a place between Cleston and Neuton, as far as Surtherswath, which is between Kindardeferi and Boterwik; and in the following places: Hameldod, Neuton, Lagtherterton, Torksey on the east side of Holdhagh, Graunge, Marton, Lee, More, Stoketh, Kinardferi, Surtherswath, Scotermore, and between all these places. But now their [collection] is obstructed by the abbot of Wurgo St. Peter at Surswath and Scotermore, at Stoke by the men of Nottingham, and at Kinardferi by the Mowbrays. He ought to receive the following tolls:

They say that no-one from the liberties of London, Lincoln, Nottingham, York, Beverley, nor Torksey is obliged to pay toll to the lord of Torksey. Toll shall be paid on all other goods, chattels, [or] merchandize under the following conditions: viz. that if anyone is prepared to take oath that the cargo is not merchandize or that he intends to keep the goods he has purchased for a year and a day, he is not obliged to pay toll either by land or by water. And it is common knowledge that if tolls are paid on the cargo, the ship transporting the merchandize does not need to pay anything. But if the goods in the ship are exempt from paying toll, the ship ought to pay something for its passage or for the service provided to the ship (unless it is from any of the liberties already mentioned), in the following way:

  A ship with oars 4d.
A ship without oars 2d.
A small boat 1d.

And if the goods in the ship ought to pay toll, they should pay according to the following schedule:
  A last of herring shall pay 4d.
100 large ling 4d.
100 cod 2d.
100 small ling 1d.
100 dried fish 2d.
100 cod 2d.
Each salmon halfpenny
Every quarter of grain halfpenny
A fother of lead 4d.
A horseload of iron 2d.
A sack of wool 4d.
A tun of wine 4d.
A tun of ashes 4d.
A frail of woad 4d.
A bale of alum 1d.
A pack of "mailede" 2d.
Firewood, straw, hay, clay, stones, coal, materials for roofing houses, turves and all similar materials are not subject to toll.
A millstone post 4d.
A millstone axle 2d.
A millstone 4d.
A grindstone with a centre-hole bored through it 4d.
And one without a centre-hole 2d.
A clove of teasels halfpenny
Timber weights for the millstone post 4d.
100 large boards 4d.
100 small boards 2d.

If any ship is from any [aforementioned] liberty and someone who is not of that liberty has that use of the ship for the year for any payment or the fourth penny, then he who has the use of the ship should pay toll on it in the form already mentioned. If anyone from a liberty owns goods jointly with someone else who is not of a liberty, then toll ought to be paid on all the goods. And it is common knowledge that no goods or merchandize should be unloaded from a ship onto dry land until customs are assessed in the presence of the bailiff, regardless of whether it ought to pay toll or not, and until the bailiff has examined them. Similarly, no goods brought by land are to be transferred to water or loaded into a ship until customs are assessed in the presence of the bailiff. If anyone brings any ship to Torksey and unloads goods and the goods are of the liberty, the ship must pay its toll. If the ship takes on new freight to be taken out [of Torksey], again it must pay toll if the goods are of the liberty.

They say that no merchandize nor any goods coming north by water from Newark are to be put ashore before they reach Torksey. Also, that no goods nor merchandize coming south from Gainsborough are to be put ashore before they reach Torksey. If they [i.e. the ships' masters] do so, the bailiff of Torksey has power in the matter to seize the goods and merchandize that were in the ship, as if an attempt had been made to evade paying toll, and to keep them until they make amends to the bailiff and the lord for that transgression. Goods such as lead and timber are not to be put ashore except in certain [predetermined?] places. Lead is to be laid out in a row, and timber placed in a heap, without [causing] any other blockage. If they are unwilling to do this, the bailiff should undertake it and recover his costs from the goods.

Toll taken by land:
They say that the manner of levying toll [on goods coming] by land is thus: those who cross over the water [at?] Neuton [or] Laghtterton from the east side of Holdehagh, Marton, Lee, [or] More should pay their toll there; but those who pass between Newark and Gainsborough, or in the reverse direction, through the middle of Torksey should pay their toll there, or churchtoll; and also those who cross the Trent at Torksey should pay their toll there. [Toll is to be paid] as indicated below:

  A wagon loaded with goods and merchandize of any kind crossing within the liberty or passing through the liberty 4d.
A cart similarly loaded 2d.
A pack-horse 1d.
A small pack halfpenny
A cartload of salt halfpenny
A man carrying a bundle with a "brestbrede" halfpenny
And without "brestbred" or ox or cow halfpenny
8 sheep 1d.
A horse led by hand 1d.
If it has been borrowed nothing
Every colt in a stud halfpenny
A pig [at least] two years old halfpenny
And within 4 halfpenny


Torksey, Lincolnshire, is situated at the River Trent's junction with the Fossdyke, a Roman cut connecting the Witham (which ran through Lincoln) with the Trent, which itself came northwards from the future site of Nottingham and continued flowing north into the Humber. Regardless of the Roman reasons for creating England's first canal, the Fossdyke was a boon to inland transportation and trade. A settlement was established there in consequence and was important enough to be used in 873 as the base for a Danish army – doubtless because of its location on waterways that facilitated forays by invading forces. By the tenth century it had become one of England's major pottery-making centres, with Torksey ware being sold across the country. It was considered a borough, if a small one, by the time of Domesday. It appears to have had a close relationship with Lincoln, ten miles southeast of Torksey – being described on one occasion as a "suburb" of Lincoln; the Fossdyke allowed Lincoln's trade an alternative route to that via the Witham entering the North Sea at the site of Lincoln's competitor, Boston.

The canal, however, was not maintained well and periodically became so badly silted as to be unusable; in 1121 the Bishop of Lincoln had it scoured to restore its navigability. By the beginning of the fourteenth century the canal appears was becoming impassable again (although perhaps only during the dry period of each year, when its water-level fell), for goods sometimes had to be carted by road between Torksey and Lincoln; the scouring process was repeated in 1335. The Trent, however, was and remained an important inland transportation route between the Midlands and the North of England.

The adverse effects of the Conquest and its aftermath was another contributor to Torksey's fluctuations in fortune: the burgess population dropped by over 50%. Torksey was unable to maintain its early importance into the late Middle Ages.

This document takes the form of an inquisition into what tolls might rightly be taken along a stretch of the Trent by the lord of Torksey, and how the taking of tolls was to be administered. One of the principal features of interest is that the document explicitly deals with some issues that most lists of tolls take for granted, such as the circumstances governing exemptions. The document reflects not only a network of toll-stations along inland waterways, but also the growing number of urban exemptions from such tolls (Nottingham, for example, had its exemption investigated and confirmed by Torksey authorities in 1342), as well as personal exemptions on goods that were not for commercial use (i.e. re-sale) but for personal or household use. At the same time, there was the attempt to restrict loading and unloading of cargos to certain locations where, and situations under which, toll collection could be effectively administered.



"thourthtoll and overthuerttoll"
My working hypothesis is that these two terms may mean "the water toll" (i.e. on goods transported by river) and "the over the water toll" (goods transported across a bridge over the river – a bridge being the most efficient site for toll collection).

"following places"
The settlements mentioned in the document are scattered along the course of the Trent – all on the east side, as far as I can determine. Apart from Newark-on-Trent (Neuwerke), which lies halfway between Nottingham and Newton-on-Trent, the most southerly appears to be North Clifton (assuming it to be Cleston), a couple of miles above which is Newton-on-Trent (Neuton), with Laugherton (Lagtherterton) lying between Newton and Torksey itself. Marton is less than 5 miles north of Torksey, then comes Lea some 8 miles further. Just north of Lea is Gainsborough, today the largest of the places within the scope of the toll-collecting jurisdiction. At the northern boundary of Gainsborough is Morton (More?) with Stockwith (Stoketh) divided by the Trent into East and West a few miles further north. Continuing along the Trent we reach Owston Ferry, a candidate for Kinardeferi; nearby Susworth (Surtherswath?) does lie between Owston Ferry and West Butterwick (Boterwik). Butterwick and Scotterthorpe (Scotermore?) are towards the northern end of the Trent, where it begins to widen before entering the Humber.

A measure of weight; it has been estimated as equivalent to 2100 lbs. avoirdupois, but medieval weights often varied according to time and place.

A large wicker basket, commonly used for transporting fruit and woad.

Perhaps refers to chain-link mail, although this is highly speculative.

"clove of teasels"
A clove was a volume in weight. Teasels were used in the cloth-finishing process.

Perhaps some kind of apparatus strapped around the chest to assist with the carrying of a pack, or possibly something similar to the breast-board used to attach oxen to ploughs?

My translation "borrowed" assumes the original Latin mutatus is flawed. Mutuatus, borrowed (i.e. the trader is not wealthy enough to own a horse), is more plausible than the vague "altered" or "changed", unless it somehow implies castrated.

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Created: August 18, 2001. Last update: December 22, 2002 © Stephen Alsford, 2001-2003

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