An article on the port of Scarborough in the late 15th century by John Rushton
Scarborough had been an active borough for about three hundred years. The old borough sited on a bounded plot west of the King's castle had been supplemented by the new borough and an extension founded under the cliff, around a staithe below West Sandgate. Much later, a pier and then a quay had been built to the east, but houses near it were often destroyed by the seas rage, and these structures had been rebuilt more than once. Their maintenance and repair was a heavy charge on the borough. Wealthy burgesses made bequests to the quay, John Marflet in 1453 and John Eckylsell in 1468. The Borough ruled on 24.11.1488 that anyone having a vessel made or repaired at the Botehill shouldn't remove it without paying the bailiff 1s for each week. A royal order of 1489 to the officers of the forest of Pickering required them to allow 300 oak trees for repair of the ruined jetty and quay at Scarborough.
The burgess men fished to the Dogger Bank, to Shetland and even to Iceland. About fifty men paid tithes to the church on the fish they caught in any one year. They spoke of "northseafare", "skatefare", "land herring ","winterherring" and "Iceland fare" along with "far coast" and lobster boats. Some of the bigger men were in several of the fisheries. Red herrings were already known and there was a herring house in Fleshergate. "Haburdens" were sometimes called "Scarborough fish". They traded salt fish, cod, white and red herring and Iceland stockfish up the Yorkshire river system. They sold at York, Beverley and London while agents for Fountains Abbey, Durham Priory and Selby abbey bought fish from the port.
Merchants found family connection was the most reliable basis for credit trading. Burgesses moved between one borough and another. John Brompton the Beverley merchant had Scarborough connections in 1444 and his ancestors may well have been from the town. Robert Crosse of Hull was of the old Scarborough line and still had a property there. The Scarborough merchant Richard Bawtre made an agreement about credit with a York merchant. Mother Sage of Scarborough remarried Robert Alcock of Hull, and was mother in law of John Dalton the Hull merchant of 1487. William Tunstall was supervisor of Thomas Sage's will and married his daughter Agnes, Thomas's house passed to his widow Katherine Sage for life. She left bequests to Haltemprise Priory, to Hull Trinity Guild and gave her great brass pot to Whitby abbey. Sir Richard York the 1498 York alderman had leaseholds in Scarborough.
Ship ownership was divided into small shares, as vessels became larger, so spreading the risks of loss, and raising more capital. Sole ownership was still known ,but so were halves, quarters and eighths. Christopher Conyers of Scarborough owned the ship "Thomas" while a five man coble belonged to Peter Shilbottle. Richard Bedome had half the Bartholomew and William Sanderson owned a quarter of another ship. John Skinner had half a "Finian" boat, half a "North seaboat" and half a coble. A Scarborough stringlayer had one eighth of the "Sarah" , the "Content" and the "William". John Swan a mariner of 1461 left an interest in the ship "Mary". Fisherman Robert Richardson had a quarter of a ship, half of a boat and a coble, which he left to his sons with three herring nets and a small line.
Scarborough ships played their part in coastal trade.Those entering Hull included master William Skot's "Julyan "(1453) ,William Slegge's "Cristofer"(1465), and Walter and Roger Yonge's "Katrin"(1471-2). Cargoes included wine, wainscottes, counters, wheat , bitumen, candlewick, iron, kettles and fish. There were pots, brushes, madder, painted cloths, paper, pins and ginger. John Ryedale's ship "Thomas " of Scarborough in February 1471-2 ,carried "iron, salt, wainscotts, oil, hops and much more in a cargo worth Â£23.10s. French ships brought Bay salt. The "George" exported wool for William Tunstall in 1490 and returned with a Low Countries cargo. A Danzig ship in October 1462 brought ten last of planks, one last of osmunds, 200 great boards, 9 barrels and 3 pokes of "litmosse", 19 pieces of "clarholt", 24 rafters, a piece of wax weighing 80 lbs, 3 corves of salt, some spruce and one small barrel of porpoise.
Scarborough's craft guilds were small, five or six men in each sufficient to make an organisation useful. There were guilds of merchants, carpentarii,(carpenters) ,fabri,(smiths), torificatores, (wiremakers), restiones,( ropers), latomi, (masons), tegularii, (slaters), pistores,(bakers) , carnifices, (butchers), scissores,(tailors), textores, (weavers), fullones, (fullers), alutarii (shoemakers), cerdones, (tanners), chirothecarii, (glovers), tonsores, (barbers), candelizatores(chandlers), portotores,(porters) ,and pictores, (painters). The tanners included William Scott (1471) and William Oliver (1472) . Other men pursued occupations without guilds - an ankersmith(1458), John Gregman a barker (1404), Cornelius Arteson an early beerbrewer (1493), several mercers, Hugh Raysyn schoolmaster ( 1457) and wrights Thomas Cockerell & William Megetson (1459).
The king's brother, Richard Duke of Gloucester took a fleet to Scotland in 1471. Sir Thomas Hastings was made constable of Scarborough castle and in June that year was ordered to arrest Thomas George and Robert Gower, Thomas Sage, Richard and John Robinson of Scarborough. The Duke campaigned against Scotland again in the following year. He probably became familiar with Scarborough in this period. He used the port to provision the King's ships. He borrowed money from ,or incurred debts, to Scarborough burgesses and he ordered local supplies. John Pepedes was commissioned to recruit mariners and soldiers and Richard Goughe to find supplies for Dunbar and the navy. William Todde of York was paid Â£28.4.8 for things supplied for victualling the kings ships at Scarborough. Margaret Todd in 1483 would give three Scarborough houses to endow a chapel of the Archangel Gabriel at Whitby.
The Duke of Gloucester received a grant from the King of Scarborough Castle in 1473, confirmed in 1475 ,together with the fee farm, the manor of Falsgrave and the port and haven. This last seems to mean the royal incomes and privileges exercised in the port and haven. There is a strong tradition that Richard bought Northstead manor probably from Alexander Sparrow and enclosed its fields. Richard may have initiated harbour works. The traveller Leland in c1534 said that "at the south east end of Scarborough town by the shore is a bulwark now in ruins by the sea rage " "made by Richard III."that lay a while at Scarborough castle and beside began to wall a piece of the town with squared stone . The bulwark sounds like a pier . Leland also said that "there cometh by the south east of the bulwark a rill of fresh water and so goeth into the sea". This raises a little doubt as to the description or the site, as the only water courses known are not at the south east end of the town, but at West Sandgate, and Mill beck, sensible if south west was meant rather than south east. The Damyet gutter entering the sea near West Sandgate is another possibility, but this still fails to fit the description.
After he was crowned as King, Richard the III made a northern tour. He was at Scarborough on May 22nd 1484 and again from 30th June to 11th July. An order of 28th May was for the payment of £40 due to Scarborough merchant Thomas Sage. It has long been speculated but never yet proved whether the so called Richard III house at Scarborough Sandside belonged to Thomas Sage, who certainly had property in that area, King Richard gave a charter to the town in 1485 which would have made Scarborough a county, and a custom port separate from Kingston upon Hull They might have appointed a Mayor, who would exercise Admiralty rights from Scarghale south to Northlands on the north,and enjoyed quayage and the quay without rendering any account of tolls.They would have been freely able to ship wool and skins with wool on them, from the Tees to Filey, an area embracing all Cleveland, Blakamoor, Whitby Strand, Pickering Forest, Galtres Forest, Birdforth, Ryedale and Hertfordlithe and other merchandise, except staple goods which had to pay the Calais staple. King Richard III died shortly afterwards. Scarborough carried on.
By John Rushton