Occasional Papers 01  

Medieval Scarborough: studies in trade and civic life

by D. Crouch & T. Pearson (eds) (2001)


Medieval Scarborough

This publication brings together a number of articles by a distinguished group of historians and archaeologists from universities and heritage institutions to create a wide-ranging new history of Scarborough in the medieval period. It includes essays on church life, urban government, mercantile Scarborough, domestic architecture, the pottery industry and includes a gazetteer of Scarborough’s medieval place and field names.


The Foundation and Development of Scarborough in the Twelfth Century by Paul Dalton (Liverpool Hope University College)
Scarborough receives no mention in the great survey of the settlements, land and resources of England conducted by William the Conqueror in 1086 which is known as Domesday Book. Its absence has been attributed to either the burning of the town which according to an untrustworthy account in a thirteenth-century Icelandic saga, was carried out by Harald Hardrada of Norway and his ally Tostig Godwinson during their ill-fated invasion of England in 1066, or to the Conqueror’s famous harrying of the north in the winter of 1069-70. The real explanation is less dramatic. It is almost certainly to be found in the testimony given by the jurors in a dispute between the king and several burgesses of Scarborough over possession of certain lands in Falsgrave, sent to the court coram rege in 1240. The purpose of this paper is to trace and explain the emergence of Scarborough as a settlement distinct from Falsgrave during the twelfth century.

The legendary origins of Scarborough by Martin Arnold (University of Hull)
The foundation of Scarborough’s legendary history relies, for the main part, on placename etymology. This entails, on the one hand, an investigation of Scandinavian and Anglo-Saxon naming theory of Scarborough’s origins. Given the relative lack of substantiating archaeological evidence, neither theory has so far gained unquestioned authority. In some respects the intricate problem of Scarborough’s name reflects, in miniature, the wider difficulties of early medieval historiography: the assessment of reliable source and the arrival at balances judgement. Both Scandinavian and Anglo- Saxon theories need close examination but one consequence of this small controversy is the production of a history all of its own. A chronology of this academic history provides us with a helpful context for the subsequent analysis.

Mercantile Scarborough by Wendy R. Childs (University of Leeds)
In the later middle ages Scarborough was among the four wealthiest Yorkshire towns, always behind York itself but much closer to hull and Beverley in the assessment and demands made on it. Its wealth came largely from trade, some local and land-based, but much dependent on maritime activity. This included coastal trade, a great deal of fishing, and some direct international trade. Given Scarborough’s geographical position and the vigour of the trading network in the North Sea at this time, nothing could be more natural than for Scarborough to draw wealth for the sea.

Markets, Mills and Tolls by Chris Daniell and Kate Bould
The wealth and prestige of Scarborough was such that in the fourteenth century it was in the top five towns of Yorkshire and in the top forty towns in the whole of England. It has been estimated that in 1334 it was the twenty-eighth wealthiest town in England and thirty-first in 1377. This article discussed factors in Scarborough’s prosperity: the harbour, mills and cattle, shops and trades, markets and toll, and the hinterland.

Urban Government and Oligarchy in Medieval Scarborough by David Crouch (University of Hall)
The history of the urban government of Scarborough parallels much of the rest of history. There is the usual dearth of information before 1300, and a growing body of material thereafter; growing, but what there is, is haphazard. The borough charters are the best source for the early government of the town, although the amount of information they offer is limited.

This article discusses different positions within the urban government of Scarborough including the bailiffs and the Common Council, and the oligarchy of the town.

Church Life in Medieval Scarborough by David Crouch (University of Hall)
Church and civic life in medieval towns were very closely integrated and Scarborough was no exception in this. As a result, the study of the place of the church within medieval Scarborough involves more than religion, piety and church organisation; it also involves a study of how the town defined and expressed itself. It has to be said that the sources for Scarborough are not overwhelming for any aspect of the study. There are two principal sources: the borough’s own cartulary, the Vellum Book and the wills registered in the archbishop of York’s exchequer court from the mid fourteenth century onwards. For the earlier middle ages we must rely on the random evidence of charters from monastic and other archives. There is much to learn here, but the evidence is far from comprehensive.

This study will look at what areas the imperfect record allows us to examine. It will
consider the various religious foci of the town: the parish church and its clergy, the
chapels, the friaries and the religious fraternities. It will also look at the expression of
piety, most especially the development of particular masses and cults, the cult of
death as it developed amongst the townspeople, and the increasing consciousness of
the plight of the poor in the town.

The Medieval Architecture of St Mary’s Scarborough by Lawrence Hoey (University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee)
St Mary’s Church in Scarborough must have ranked with the grandest parish churches of Yorkshire before its partial destruction in the Civil War. In its final medieval form, it included a grand aisled chancel of the second half of the fifteenth century, fourteenth-century transepts, a crossing tower, and a large aisled nave of the early Gothic period fronted by an extraordinary twin-towered façade and augmented laterally by an outer fourteenth-century aisle on the north and by four grand chapels and a two-storey porch of the same century on the south.

Falsgrave Soke and Settlement by Trevor Pearson (English Heritage)
At the time of the Domesday Survey, Falsgrave was arguably the pre-eminent settlement in the district. It was the head of a composite royal manor (tún) with jurisdiction over an arc of territory from Staintondale in the north to Filey in the south. As one historian has recently stated, ‘the royal demesne manor of Falsgrave was one of the two major royal soke manors in the wapentake of Dic, and probably the focus of the hundred’. The other royal manor in the wapentake was Pickering, which in the century following the Domesday Survey became a market town and the site of a royal castle. Falsgrave on the other hand declined in importance overshadowed by the growth of the town of Scarborough a mile to the east. Today Falsgrave is a suburb of Scarborough and has few surviving traces of its village past apart from a handful of cottages and stone farm buildings along Falsgrave Road and Cambridge Place.

The Topography of the Medieval Borough by Trevor Pearson (English Heritage)
Questions concerning the layout of the medieval borough were largely overlooked by historians of the town until thirty years ago when Rushton and Waites discussed aspects of Scarborough’s medieval topography in a collection of papers published to mark the town’s millennium. Since the excavations of the local archaeological society have shed some light on the development of the medieval town and helped define the principal areas of debate. Does the medieval town have a pre-Conquest ancestry? To what extent is Scarborough a planned settlement? Why did the area of the town virtually double with the creation of Newborough?

Domestic Architecture in Medieval Scarborough by Christopher Hall (Scarborough Borough Council)
The previous paper examined the physical form and character of medieval Scarborough and explored the evolution of the town’s street pattern. In this paper it is proposed to look in more detail at what we can deduce about the character of the domestic buildings and the types of construction materials used. Despite the town’s importance in the medieval period, very little of the fabric of medieval Scarborough survives above ground. The present purpose is to look at various sources – documentary, illustrations, archaeological research and the few standing buildings themselves – in order to try to build up a picture of what houses in medieval Scarborough may have looked like. Illustrative sources include photographs of later buildings.

Scarborough’s Medieval pottery industry by Daniel Normandale
During the middle ages Scarborough produced a distinctive type of lead-glazed, decorated earthenware that now commonly occurs on excavations in the town and is found on archaeological sites as far away as Orkney, Ireland, Norway and the Low Countries. Indeed, Scarborough ware is ‘one of the most frequent non-local pottery finds along the north-east coast of England and the east coast of Scotland’. However, despite its widespread distribution, there are no medieval documentary references to the production of pottery in Scarborough and therefore the study of this important industry has progressed largely through the gradual accumulation of archaeological evidence.

Gazetteer of Scarborough’s Medieval Place-and Field-names by Jack Binns

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