One of the documents that we received in 2013 is a minute book recording the meetings of tailors in Newcastle upon Tyne from 1682 to 1689 (TWAM ref. GU.TY/2/1). The minute book covers an interesting period of British history. In 1688 King James II of England fled the country and was replaced on the throne by the joint monarchy of William and Mary. I thought it would be interesting to see whether the minute book contained any references to these national events. My research didn’t reveal any details of the country’s political struggles, but what I did find was just as compelling - an account of the petty infighting between the tailors of Newcastle upon Tyne.
The minute book is a rare survival. While the lives of the wealthy are relatively well documented through letters and diaries this is not the case for all sections of society. It’s unusual to get an insight into the daily lives and behaviour of humble tradesmen during the Seventeenth Century. Low levels of literacy meant that few people would’ve been able to write their thoughts and feelings. The minutes are also quite entertaining because of the colourful language they contain, featuring insults such as ‘beggarly rogue’, ‘counterfeit rogue’, ‘whores bird’, ‘botcher’ ‘jackanapes’ and ‘scabbed lousy pitifull curr’.
A browse through the minutes for 1688 reveals that the tailors of Newcastle upon Tyne fell out with each other on a regular basis. There also appears to have been little respect for authority amongst certain members, with three tailors in particular appearing in the minute book as repeat offenders – John Charlton, John Watson and Henry Wallis. John Charlton’s list of misdemeanours at the tailor’s guild meeting on 9 January 1688, is especially long and must have cost him a small fortune in fines.
“John Charlton for disturbing the Company.
John Charlton for biding Richd Farrington kis his britch [backside] when commanded to hold his peace.
John Charlton for biding Nicho. Stephenson kis his britch also when desired to hold his peace.
John Charlton for disturbing the Company againe.
John Watson for disturbing the Company
John Charlton for biding Richd Farrington kis his britch againe.
John Charlton for saying if he had Nicho. Stephenson out of the meeting house he would have satisfaction of him.
John Watson for not takeing his place when commanded.
John Charlton for wilfull refuseing to absent himselfe when commanded by the stewards.
Noe man to worke with John Charlton till he had paid a shilling for two oaths.
John Charlton swears by his God that he will bring two men from London & will imploy in dispite of the Company …”
“John Charlton informes that Nicholas Stephenson kept a foreigner working in his garret.
Richd Farington complaines agst John Charlton for holding up his hands in threatening manner & saying Sirrah Farington you have not payd for your Bastards”.
The minutes of the meeting on 12 April 1688 give us our first introduction to Henry Wallis, who seems to have had a violent and vindictive streak.
“Richd Farington complaines agst Henry Wallas for defaming him in the open street calling him beggarly rogue & much abusive & unbrotherly language …
Tho Bilton comlaines agst John Watson for calling him rogue & Abusing him in his owne shop
John Watson Complaines agst Tho Bilton saying to Jno Watson thou deserves to have thy Eares cutt out”.
“Tho. Joplin complains of Thos Bilton for seeking worke from him & saying he was blind. Tho Bilton coplains that Tho Jopling informes his customers that Tho Bilton cannot performe worke himself but payed to get others to doe it whereby the worke is botched”
At a meeting 5 June 1688
“Henry Wallis for calling John Shaftoe whores bird before the whole Company”.
“Henry Wallis for an oath
Henry Wallis for saying he cared not a fart for John Shaftoe a Steward
Henry Wallis for Calling both the Stewards Roges [rogues]
Henry Wallis for strikeing at John Shaftoe in the meeting house & takeing by the haire & strikeing at his face …”
17 September 1688
“John Shaftoe complaines agst Henry Wallis for abusing and railing agst him in the open street & threatened to beat him.
John Shaftoe & Tho. Pattison complaines agst Geo. Marshall & Robert Vipont for calling them cheaters on the open keay & seemed to justify the words when they were reproved”.
“John Shaftoe Complaines against Tho. Prockter for calling him botcher & said he would prove it & that he never did a piece of good worke in his life”.
“John Shaftoe complaines agst Mark Trumble for bidding him kiss his arse when he discharged Mark working aboard of a ship at the instance of Thomas Prockter & Mark Trumble further sayd that he would take noe discharge from John Shaftoe”
Our Seventeenth Century ancestors can sometimes seem very distant and remote. Their daily lives were so unlike ours and they had a different world picture, yet the descriptions of these tailors guild meetings really bring the people involved to life. Their behaviour and attitudes cuts across the centuries and has a familiarity that reminds us that human nature hasn't changed so very much in 325 years. If you think that your ancestors might have belonged to an old trade guild then why not contact the record office for the area they lived in to see whether they hold any relevant records.
Tyne & Wear Archives hold records of a significant number of trade guilds in Newcastle upon Tyne and Gateshead and you can find a user guide to these on our website.
We hold a wide variety of archives covering over 12 miles of shelving. These include records of churches, schools, courts, hospitals, local authorities and businesses and well as the personal papers of local people.
Our collections document the region’s great industrial achievements and our shipbuilding records are recognised as being of outstanding historical significance. They have been awarded Designated Status and in 2012 were added to the UNESCO UK Memory of the World where they sit beside a select group of records including Domesday Book and the Churchill Papers.
To find out more please contact us.
Tyne & Wear Archives
Newcastle upon Tyne
Tel: (0191) 277 2248
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