Newcastle-upon-Tyne

Borough

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1604-1629, ed. Andrew Thrush and John P. Ferris, 2010
Available from Cambridge University Press

Background Information

Right of Election:

in the freemen

Number of voters:

several hundred

Elections

DateCandidate
c. Mar. 1604SIR GEORGE SELBY , alderman
 HENRY CHAPMAN , alderman
c. Mar. 1614SIR HENRY ANDERSON , alderman
 WILLIAM JENISON , alderman
13 Dec. 1620SIR HENRY ANDERSON , alderman
 SIR THOMAS RIDDELL , alderman
21 Jan. 1624SIR HENRY ANDERSON , alderman
 SIR PETER RIDDELL , alderman
c. Apr. 1625SIR HENRY ANDERSON , alderman
 SIR THOMAS RIDDELL , alderman
18 Jan. 1626SIR HENRY ANDERSON , alderman
 SIR PETER RIDDELL , alderman
c. Mar. 1628SIR THOMAS RIDDELL , alderman
 SIR PETER RIDDELL , alderman

Main Article

Named after the Norman keep built on the site of one of the forts of Hadrian’s Wall, Newcastle-upon-Tyne was the chief bulwark of north-eastern England’s defences against the Scots until 1482. It was also the region’s most important port town, dealing in wool and hides, and increasingly in coal, abundant reserves of which lay close to the surface on both banks of the Tyne; in 1560 perhaps 40 per cent of national production came from coal pits near the Tyne and Wear rivers, a proportion which increased substantially over the next century. Economic success brought a rapidly expanding population, probably in excess of 15,000 under the early Stuarts, although 5,000 died in a plague epidemic in 1635-6. Chartered by 1135, the borough expanded its limits and its powers during the Middle Ages, acquiring county status separate from Northumberland in 1400. Under James I it was governed by a corporation comprising a mayor, sheriff and ten aldermen, who were elected by an oligarchic system based on the 12 most important town guilds; the 1604 charter also recognized the existence of a common council of 24 members.1

Tyneside coal was sold along the east coast, and across the North Sea in the Low Countries and the Baltic, but its main market lay in London, where consumption rose voraciously after 1580. Shipments of Newcastle ‘seacoal’ doubled between 1580 and 1600, and doubled again (to over 400,000 tons annually) by the 1630s.2 Two developments of the later Elizabethan period ensured that control of the industry was delivered to a cartel of northern mineowners: the so-called Grand Lease and the incorporation of the Hostmen’s Company.3 In 1577 the bishop of Durham was prevailed upon to assign a 79-year lease of his manors of Wickham and Gateshead to the Crown at a rent of £117 a year. This ‘Grand Lease’, comprising many of the most easily worked coal deposits, was initially operated by the London financier Thomas Sutton, but his trade was hindered by a statute of 1529 requiring all goods shipped to and from the Tyne to be loaded at Newcastle, which effectively reserved the trade for Newcastle burgesses. In 1583 the corporation’s refusal to make him a freeman induced Sutton to sell his lease to two Newcastle aldermen, Henry Anderson† and William Selby†. The original intention may have been to assign this lease to the corporation, but instead, the lessees went into partnership with a number of other Hostmen, many of whom were already mineowners.4

As the profits from coalmining accrued to this close-knit group, complaints were made by both Londoners, who complained about excessive price rises, and by other Newcastle men who were excluded from the cartel. The Privy Council ordered investigations during the later 1590s, but in 1600 the Hostmen outflanked their critics with a guild charter which confirmed their monopoly of the coal trade and exempted them from the 1529 Newcastle Act, which meant they were able to load coals directly from the wharves nearest to their pits. In return for these concessions, the Crown secured a duty of 12d. upon every chaldron5 of coal shipped from the Tyne for domestic use, a levy which initially yielded around £5,000 a year, far more than the 5s. per chaldron custom on coal exports.6 Not surprisingly, the Hostmen’s economic power had a major impact on municipal politics: from the inception of the Grand Lease, most Newcastle aldermen and all but one of the borough’s MPs were Hostmen; and any threat to their interests was assured of a vigorous response.

The parliamentary election of 1604 saw the return of Sir George Selby, heir to one of the 1583 lessees, and Henry Chapman, a more senior figure who had played a key role in securing the Hostmen’s charter, and who had resolved a dispute with freemen pressing to join the Company only a few weeks before the election. Chapman probably managed the opposition to a bill to modify the 1529 Newcastle Act, promoted by the London corporation, which was rejected at its second reading on 30 May 1604.7 During the 1605-6 session, the Members for Newcastle, Hull and York collaborated over a bill to reinstate a 20 per cent discount on the customs on northern cloth originally granted in 1591, which the farmers of the new customs lease inaugurated in December 1604 refused to acknowledge; this failed in the Lords, but a private approach to secretary of state Salisbury (Robert Cecil†) secured the discount after the end of the session.8

For the Newcastle men, however, the main business of the 1606 session was the repulse of another attempt to repeal the 1529 Newcastle Act. Complaints about the price of Newcastle coal rose steadily during 1605: the Londoners boycotted the Tyneside collieries for two months in the spring, in protest at a new cartel agreement among the Hostmen; and while the cartel was suppressed under orders from the Privy Council in July, the issue was still being contested on the eve of the new session.9 In February 1606 the Londoners revived their 1604 bill, this time in the Lords, but Selby and Chapman appealed to Salisbury, and succeeded in having the bill laid aside on 10 March. The Lords called for a fresh draft to reform unspecified ‘abuses in the sale of those coals’, but none reached the floor of the House before the prorogation; nor did another bill mooted by the London corporation for measurage of coals landed at the City’s wharves.10 Frustrations with the Tyneside cartel led the Londoners to open negotiations with mineowners on Wearside, where shipments quickly began to rise. In 1610, doubtless prompted by the Londoners, the Commons complained about the application of the 12d. seacoal levy to shipments from the River Wear and the Northumberland coast, neither of which was covered by the Hostmen’s agreement of 1600. The Crown agreed to waive this charge, and following the failure of an attempt by the Hostmen to have the levy reinstated in the autumn of 1610, shipments from Sunderland more than doubled, to 35,000 tons a year.11

At the 1614 general election Selby was returned for Northumberland, while Chapman, about to hand control of his business to a nephew, apparently had no interest in re-election. They were replaced at Newcastle by Sir Henry Anderson, son of the 1583 lessee, and William Jenison, founding governor of the Hostmen’s Company, who had previously represented the town in the 1601 Parliament. Both Members were involved in promoting the bill for the enfranchisement of county Durham, but no other local business featured on the parliamentary agenda during the brief session.12 Shortly after the dissolution a fresh threat to the Hostmen emerged with the erection of a new office for the survey of Newcastle coals. Complaints about the quality of Tyneside coals were a commonplace among customers, partly because seams varied widely in both purity and calorific content, but also because of sharp practices by mineowners. In February 1616 Andrew Boyd, a client of the 3rd duke of Lennox, was granted a patent to survey the quality of north-eastern coal, charging shippers 4d. per Newcastle chaldron for the privilege. A storm of protest was raised by both the Hostmen and the shippers, and after a year of vigorous debate the Privy Council referred the case to trial at law.13 During the resulting Star Chamber suit the claims of the Hostmen and mariners as to the fineness of Tyneside coal were refuted by the London coal merchants, and the defendants (including Jenison) were fined £20 apiece, committed to the Fleet prison and publicly humiliated by having the decree against their abuses read out in public at Newcastle in August 1618. However, mariners continued to boycott Boyd’s officials, and in October 1618 the Privy Council, besieged by angry coal shippers, suspended the patent.14

At the general election of December 1620, Anderson was again returned as senior Member for Newcastle, but Jenison stood aside, and was replaced by one of Boyd’s most energetic opponents, Sir Thomas Riddell. These two men and the latter’s half-brother, Sir Peter Riddell, represented the borough in Parliament throughout the 1620s, when the Hostmen’s monopoly came under attack from several different interests. In 1621 the main challenge came from a local man, Robert Brandling of Felling, co. Durham, who was returned as MP for Morpeth. While he had paid the unusually large sum of £10 to join the Hostmen’s Company in 1601, Brandling did not belong to the trading cartel which formed the Company’s inner clique. In August 1620 he petitioned against the duties levied upon coal shipments by the Newcastle corporation, objected to the Hostmen’s exemption from the 1529 Newcastle Act, and protested against the fact that the Grand Lease allowed the oligarchs to acquire control of lucrative mines at negligible rents. It was doubtless Brandling who secured the reading of a bill to abolish the corporation’s coal duties and overturn the 1529 Newcastle Act (27 Feb.), which proceeded no further, presumably because of intervention by the Newcastle Members and Exchequer officials. Brandling offered his response on 26 Mar., the day before the Easter recess, by which time the Newcastle MPs had already departed for the north. Moving ‘that the [Hostmen’s] patent for Newcastle coals may be brought in’, Brandling attacked the duty of 12d. per chaldron, and while solicitor general Heath warned against meddling with Crown revenues, and the York MP Christopher Brooke urged to leave the matter until the session reconvened, an investigation was ordered. This never reported to the House, and while the contribution the Newcastle Members made towards the stifling of this complaint can only be conjectured, Sir Thomas Riddell later opposed another bill seeking to impose a levy on Newcastle coal, for the maintenance of Dunwich harbour in Suffolk (3 December).15

As well as defending their own interests, the 1621 MPs also played a part in the wider debate about the decay of trade, which centred on two other commodities traded at Newcastle, corn and wool. A bumper harvest in 1620 led to calls for an embargo on grain imports, but at the second reading of a bill to this end on 8 Mar. 1621 John Lister of Hull and Sir Thomas Riddell both warned that Baltic merchants were often unable to find anything but Polish rye in exchange for their northern cloths. Riddell also observed that if an import ban was fixed at a particular price level, a merchant might buy in good faith, only to find the price of grain had fallen by the time his cargo reached England. He repeated the same arguments when the bill was reported on 17 May, and a host of similar objections from other merchants ensured that the measure was sent back to the committee, never to return.16 Meanwhile, it was proposed to revive the ailing cloth trade by banning the export of wool, a bill widely supported by clothing interests. However, at its second reading on 30 Apr., Riddell tabled a proviso to exempt the coarse wool grown in the borders, and was supported by Anderson. This was apparently rejected in committee, as Riddell renewed his motion at the report stage (26 May), observing that Scottish wool grown on the other side of the Tweed would not be subject to the ban. Although he was backed by Anderson, the Northumberland MP Sir William Grey, and Sir Robert Jackson of Berwick, the bill was engrossed without alteration. At the third reading on 30 Nov., Jackson argued for exemption for Berwick alone, but despite support from Riddell, Grey and Sir Henry Widdrington, the proviso was rejected. The bill was lost at the dissolution, but revived in 1624, when it passed the Commons with very little debate, only to be frustrated in the Lords’ committee, probably by Grey, who had by then been ennobled as Lord Grey of Warke.17

The Hostmen’s dispute with Brandling was settled in April 1622, when his son Sir Francis* was co-opted into the Company’s new cartel arrangements, but the family still refused to pay the 12d. per chaldron duty, and their factor, John Brandling, was prosecuted in the Exchequer. He quickly settled the arrears owed to the Crown, but declined to join the Hostmen’s Company, and his stand probably explains why his brother Sir Francis, MP for Northumberland in 1624, unsuccessfully called for all northern mineowners to gain admission as Hostmen in the Commons (19 May). The same session saw a fresh petition against the Hostmen’s monopoly (9 Apr. 1624), and the Company was sufficiently concerned to recruit the services of attorney-general Coventry to ensure that their charter was exempted from the provisions of the Monopolies’ Act, which passed into law at the end of the session. Under pressure, the Brandling family subsequently withdrew from the coal trade, and an Exchequer decree of June 1625 upheld the Hostmen’s monopoly.18

During the 1624 session a further dispute over coal duties erupted over the countess of Bedford’s 1619 patent for the levying of a duty of 2d. per chaldron of coal imposed by a statute of 9 Henry V.19 The Hostmen claimed that this duty had never been collected, and an extensive search by the patentees failed to find any evidence to the contrary, so in 1624 the patentees tabled a parliamentary bill to secure its enforcement. At the second reading on 29 Apr., Sir Peter Riddell insisted that the duty specified in the original Act had been assigned to the corporation to assist in the payment of the borough fee-farm. He also maligned the proposed duty as ‘another pretermitted custom’ – a cloth duty then under attack in the Commons – and the Newcastle men ensured that the bill never emerged from committee, whereafter the patent proved unenforceable.20

Finally, the dispute over Boyd’s coal survey patent simmered throughout the 1620s. On 5 May 1621 Robert Snelling of Ipswich – the mariners of which port handled much of the London coal trade – warned that Boyd’s surveyorship had been assigned to Roger Langford, another of Lennox’s clients; this protest was referred to the committee of grievances, which apparently quashed the new grant.21 Trouble broke out anew in April 1622, when the Hostmen reached a new cartel agreement, which required colliers to negotiate with a consortium of seven Hostmen, led by Sir Peter Riddell, for the purchase of coals. At the same time, the London Woodmongers’ Company complained to the Privy Council about the Hostmen’s deliberate adulteration of their fuel with poorer grades of coal. Surveyors sent from London confirmed these allegations, and in February 1623 Langford was again appointed surveyor.22 A summer of recriminations followed, with the Londoners complaining about poor quality and rising prices, while the shippers were alarmed to discover that payment of the survey fee of 4d. per chaldron was to fall exclusively on their shoulders. The shippers’ chief grievance, however, was the Hostmen’s abolition of ‘gift-coal’, a custom under which colliers received up to 20 per cent more coal than they officially paid for, which served both as compensation for poor quality coal, and as a means of evading customs duty. Langford quickly resigned his patent, and in September 1623 Lennox nominated the Exchequer official Sir Robert Sharpeigh and Alexander Haitley as his replacements.23 Lennox’s death, just before the opening of the 1624 Parliament, opened the way for further complaints, and on 13 Mar. Sir Edward Coke reported from the grievances’ committee that ‘there are 40 surveyors for this business, who are as so many flies to afflict the poor subjects’. The patent was suspended pending further investigation, and despite Sharpeigh’s robust defence it was condemned as a grievance at the end of the session, when the king agreed to revoke it.24 However, in February 1625, only days after the next parliamentary session had been postponed, Sharpeigh’s patent was confirmed by Proclamation.

Nothing more was done during the brief parliamentary session of 1625, but in the following year two bills were tabled in the Commons. The first, to prevent the use of false measures for seacoals – presumably intended to confirm Sharpeigh’s patent – received two readings (16, 20 Feb. 1626), but proceeded no further. The other, to punish Sharpeigh for reviving his patent, was first read on 27 Mar., but its progress was delayed by Buckingham’s impeachment, and it was not committed until 1 June, too late to progress any further before the dissolution. In the meantime, the grievances’ committee was prompted to seek belated cancellation of 1,200 bonds Boyd had taken for payment of the survey duty in 1616-18, although these efforts were presumably also frustrated by the dissolution.25

By 1626 factional squabbles over the technicalities of the coal trade were overshadowed by the stresses of war, particularly the depredations visited upon the coal trade by enemy privateers. A sortie of Spanish privateers from Dunkirk in October 1625, while primarily aimed at the Dutch herring fleet, also wrought havoc upon the east coast coal trade, and shortly before Parliament met in January 1626 the Deptford Trinity House recommended the arming of Newcastle colliers. Edward Whitby of Chester raised the subject in the Commons on 16 Feb., when Sir Peter Riddell moved to consult Elizabethan precedents.26 These included a wartime levy of 12d. per chaldron of coal to maintain a coastal protection squadron, but when secretary of state (Sir) John Coke urged a revival of this scheme on 25 Feb., it was quickly attacked as an imposition on trade. Sir Henry Anderson despaired of any solution to the problem; while Sir Peter Riddell complained ‘that there is 8,000 persons at least set a-work in that work who are now idle’, but argued against any increase in the £16,000 duty already charged upon the coal trade. On the following day both Newcastle MPs highlighted the plight of their constituents and appealed for a swift government response: ‘those countries poor, and the recusants planted on the river; all along the people apt to stir’. Two weeks later Anderson and William Cage of Ipswich relayed news of further enemy depredations on the coal trade, and on 22 Mar. a petition from the Newcastle mariners protested at arrears of wages due to the crews of colliers pressed into royal service.27

Parliamentary complaints were designed to ensure that the Crown paid for coastal protection from existing revenues, but as Buckingham, the lord admiral, protested when confronted in the Lords on 1 Apr., the Navy’s budget allowed only £22,000 for coastal defence; he recommended the appropriation of the duty charged for measuring of coal by the London corporation. This suggestion was ignored, but the Navy, stung into action by these criticisms, assigned a squadron of six ships to coastal defence at Easter 1626. The loss of £300,000 worth of subsidies at the dissolution of June 1626 meant that funds quickly ran short, and coal shipments declined to a new low during the winter of 1626-7, but from May 1627 Sir John Savile* encountered more success in raising funds by a levy of 6d. per chaldron on northern coal. This duty raised £953 over six months, but was unpopular with the colliers, who had armed themselves and organized their own convoys, and was dropped shortly before a new Parliament convened in March 1628.28

Disputes over the Forced Loan, arbitrary imprisonment and billeting left little room on the parliamentary agenda for other complaints, but on 7 May 1628, with an angry dissolution seemingly imminent, alderman Thomas Hoyle of York protested about the lack of coastal defences, and Sir Thomas Riddell raised the questions of shipping losses, and alleged plans for a further 2s. per chaldron imposition on coal. On 4 June, just after the king’s first, unsatisfactory answer to the Petition of Right, an account of English shipping losses included 26 from Newcastle, and when Buckingham’s failure to protect merchantmen was raised as part of the Remonstrance debate of 9 June, Sir Peter Riddell renewed complaints about Dunkirkers and the recently abandoned 6d. per chaldron imposition. These complaints had some impact: after the end of the session, Savile’s squadron was assigned Yorkshire subsidy revenues for its maintenance; and the colliers were forbidden to sail without naval escort. However, until the end of the war, the shipowners remained unenthusiastic about any new levy on coal for coastal defence.29

Author: Simon Healy

Notes

  • 1. W. Gray, Chorographia (1649); R. Howell, Newcastle-upon-Tyne and the Puritan Rev. 1-7; J. Hatcher, Hist. of Brit. Coal Industry, 68, 72-7; HP Commons, 1386-1421, i. 545-9.
  • 2. Around 10 per cent of this total was exported. For the most credible analysis of shipments, see Hatcher, 483-504.
  • 3. Originally innkeepers, Hostmen became middlemen, and later often mineowners.
  • 4. SR, iii. 302-3; C54/1046, 1142; CPR, 1575-8, p. 433; 1582-3, p. 67; J.U. Nef, Rise of Brit. Coal Industry, i. 151-4; Hatcher, 512-14.
  • 5. A Newcastle chaldron of coal was 53 cwt., twice the weight of a London chaldron: Hatcher, 559-69.
  • 6. Recs. Co. Hostmen ed. F.W. Dendy (Surtees Soc. cv), 2-19; CSP Dom. 1595-7, pp. 501-2; HMC Hatfield, viii. 373-5, 384, 397, 413, 419; ix. 34; E. Suss. RO, GLY/447-8.
  • 7. Recs. Co. Hostmen, 19-27, 49, 243; Hatcher, 517-18; CLRO, Reps. 26/2, f. 343; CJ, i. 228b.
  • 8. Newcastle Merchant Adventurers ed. F.W. Dendy (Surtees soc. xciii), 115; LJ, ii. 394a, 396b; HMC Hatfield, xxiii. 220-1; xxiv. 52-3; Hull RO, L.159-60.
  • 9. CLRO, Reps. 26/2, f. 546v; Reps. 27, ff. 10, 18, 30, 36v, 38v, 108, 110, 117; SP14/18/60; Recs. Co. Hostmen, 50-6.
  • 10. CLRO, Reps. 27, ff. 150v, 160v, 176v, 180, 182v; LJ, ii. 368b, 370a, 392a.
  • 11. CLRO, Reps. 27, f. 120v; Procs. 1610 ed. Foster, i. 133; ii. 267-8; Recs. Co. Hostmen, 61; Hatcher, 493. See also E112/112/154.
  • 12. Procs. 1614 (Commons), 40, 236-7, 244, 307, 389, 397.
  • 13. Trinity House Trans. ed. G.G. Harris (London Rec. Soc. xix), 18-19, 25-7; C66/2076/11; Recs. Co. Hostmen, 62; APC, 1615-16, pp. 519-20; 1616-17, pp. 135-6, 138-9, 165-7; SP14/87/61, 66.
  • 14. STAC 8/21/2, 8/56/10; E159/454; SP14/98/29; APC, 1618-19, pp. 272-6, 373.
  • 15. Recs. Co. Hostmen, 242, 267; CD 1621, iv. 196; vii. 87-9; CJ, i. 529a, 575a, 655a; Nef, ii. 128-9.
  • 16. CJ, i. 544b, 624a; CD 1621, ii. 378-9; iii. 281.
  • 17. CJ, i. 597a, 628a, 653a; CD 1621, ii. 394-6, 478-9; iv. 276; vi. 214-15; Kyle thesis, 80-6.
  • 18. Recs. Co. Hostmen, 69-70, 73-4; ‘Pym 1624’, i. f. 57; ‘Nicholas 1624’, f. 132v; CJ, i. 703b, 706a, 790b; E112/113/234; 112/113/236; E126/3, ff. 58-60.
  • 19. C66/2180/5; CSP Dom. 1619-23, p. 61; E112/113/215; Chamberlain Letters ed. N.E. McClure, ii. 275.
  • 20. SP46/164, f. 92; E126/2, ff. 244v-5, 248v; CJ, i. 693b, 769b; ‘Pym 1624’, i. f. 83; Nef, ii. 267-8.