Life In Old Cambridge – Monks And Friars

IN Cambridge of the Middle Ages three main streets led south and east. Bridge Street linked Huntingdon Road with the main road to Colchester, known as Hadstock Way, with Barnwell Gate where the Post Office now stands. Westwards from Bridge Street one might turn aside at the Jewry into High Ward to reach Trumpington Gate ; while nearer still to the river ran Milne Street serving the Sheriff’s and King’s mills, and traceable now in the lanes on which Trinity Hall and Queens’ College open. Beyond the Gates were the common fields of the southern town, which was fortified by a moat or watercourse, always known as The King’s Ditch, for all waters not private were the King’s. Starting from the King’s Mill in Mill Lane it ran by way of Pembroke Street and St. Andrew’s Street to Christ’s, and so to Park Street and into the river opposite Magdalene. It took the place of the walls which surrounded most mediaeval towns. Outside TrumpingtonGate was the village of Little St. Mary, and beyond it, where Downing College now is, the common arable ” St. Thomas’ Leas ” and the common pasture of Coe Fen. Beyond the King’s Ditch, which crossed Jesus Lane, Maid’s Causeway ran out between meadow and ploughland to Barnwell Priory.

The following extracts from the book of the rules of the monastery give a good idea of the life and duties of these Canons. It was written in 1295 or 1296, nearly 200 years after the foundation of the house, and the rules would continue in force until Henry VIII. dissolved it.


4. The road of Canons Regular is the rule of blessed Augustine, Bishop of Hippo.


. . . in the first chapter that he shall hold .. . all officers are to prostrate themselves before him and lay their keys at his feet. . . . In whatever place he passes before them they ought to rise and bow, and remain standing. . . . Whoever brings him a book, or anything else, ought to bow. . . To him alone is entrusted the decision as to punishment of more serious offences. . . . When he is present no brother should leave the precinct of the monastery without his permission. Within the precinct brethren who go either to the granges, the tailor-house, the garden, or the other offices, though they have received permission from the Sub-Prior, should bow to the Prelate, if he come in, and ask leave of him, and intimate to him the permission they had previously obtained.

7. The Prelate ought to be careful that . . . he neither abuse the high office he has undertaken . . nor be lukewarm or remiss. . . For he ought not to have honour without trouble. . . . He ought to sleep with the rest in the Dorter, to eat with them in the Frater . . . to make his round within and without the offices ; for who will then find him to be idle ? . . On all double feasts . . . he says first and second Evensong, Mattins and High Mass. . . . the Prelate ought not to ring the bell ; or even give the signal in the Dorter to wake the brethren. He must by no means presume, without the advice and consent of the Chapter, to sell or exchange, to give or alienate, church property as lands, tenements ; to expel a brother from the monastery ; to receive back one who has been expelled ; to admit a novice or a lay-brother ; or to present incumbents to vacant churches or vicarages.


. . when the Prelate is absent, or even when he is present, the Sub-Prior acts as his subordinate. . . . It is . . . his duty . . . to make his round, in order that he may restrain those who are walking to and fro ; and those behaving in an unseemly manner. He should specially do this after Compline, when silence will be most complete, and no one is allowed to leave the Dorter. Then, if it be winter-time, he is to light a lantern, and visit different offices round the Cloister, and the Farmery also, because at that time neither those who have been bled, nor those who are infirm ought to remain there, but only the sick who are lying there in bed. He ought also to shut the doors round the Cloister, to exclude all secular persons, to take the keys with him, and deposit them in the Dorter, and so at length sleep with the Convent. . . . 11. . . . the Prelate ought not either to appoint or to depose the Sub-Prior without the advice of the spiritual brethren, nor except in hearing of the Chapter.

13. The Precentor, who is also called Librarian . . . has charge of the books . . . it is part of his duty to rule the Quire. . . . let no one set their opinion above his ; and let no one disturb what he has begun by beginning anything else, or by beginning in any other way.

14.OF THE SAFE KEEPING OP THE BOOKS. The Librarian . . . is to take charge of the books of the Church ; all which he ought to keep, and to know under their separate titles ; and he should frequently examine them carefully to prevent any damage or injury from insects or decay . . . he has to provide the writers with parchment, ink and everything else necessary for writing ; and personally to hire those who write for money. . . .

The press in which the books are kept ought to be lined inside with wood, that the damp of the walls may not moisten or stain books. . .

Further, as books ought to be mended, printed and taken care of by the Librarian, so ought they to be properly bound by him.



Brethren ought to rise for Mattins at midnight. Hence the Sub-Sacrist, whose duty it is to regulate the clock, ought before then to ring the little bell in the Dorter to awaken the Convent. . . . Next, when the lantern has been lighted, which one of the younger brethren ought to carry in front of them, and a gentle signal has been given, they should put on their shoes and their girdles, march into Church in procession, and devoutly and reverently begin the triple prayer, six at a time.

20. At daybreak, at a signal from the ‘Warden of the Order, all the brethren ought to rise. No one ought to remain in bed any longer without a very reasonable excuse. When they leave the Dorter, after washing their hands and combing their hair, they ought to go to the Church before they turn aside to any other place. . . After this, while the priests are preparing themselves for private masses, let some attend to the duties assigned to them, others take their books and go into the cloister, and there read or sing in an undertone.


. . .. let the master teach him how to keep guard over his eyes. After this let him lead the Novice into the Quire, and there let him say the Lord’s Prayer three times on his knees, with as many salutations of the Blessed Virgin. Then let his master lead him to his bed in the Darter, and there, if it be needful, let him receive his tunic and girdle, and utter his private prayers. Then, returning with his master into the Cloister, or rather the Chamber, let him be taught how to behave at the whole Mass, always guarding his eyes. After Mass let him be taught how he ought to behave at meals, at grace before and after, and at the noontide repose if it ought to be held, and at Nones. Then let him be taught how he ought to behave at Evensong, at Supper, at Collation, at Compline, and at the triple prayer ; and how, after receiving the holy water, he should cover his head and pass through the Cloister to the Dorter, and how he is to take off his shoes under his habit. . . . Next his master is to be at his side when he goes to bed, and chew him how to arrange his habit round about him. When it is time to get up for Mattins, the Master is to come to the novice, and help him with his clothes and shoes, and make him sit before his bed, with his head concealed in the depths of his hood. There he is to sit and wait for the ringing, and go with the convent into the Church, and, when Mattins are over, return with the Convent to his bed in the Dorter. . . . Let him honour his seniors. Let him learn the signs for the avoidance of too much talking. Let him speak in gentle, not in clamorous tones ; let his gait be devout, not hurried ; let him be pleasant with everybody.


Silence is to be kept according to the Rule (of St. Augustine) in the Church, the Dorter, the Cloister, and the Frater ; but it may be broken in the event of four accidents, namely : robbers or thieves ; sickness ; fire and workmen. Moreover, it may be broken for the sake of a King or Princess, an Archbishop or a Bishop. . .

Silence is to be kept in the Cloister from morning till after Chapter ; but after Chapter, if no Hour follow immediately, the brethren may have leave in each day for talking in the Cloister, which may last until the ringing of the Hour (Service) preceding High Mass. . . .


The Chapter-House is a place for confession, necessary to the soul, but hateful to devils. As brethren sin daily, they ought to come daily to the Chapter-House, that they may there amend their daily faults. . . . No one ought to offer any defence of an accused brother, or even to speak unless called upon. . . .

A matter that has been once settled by the Chapter ought not to be again unsettled without the consent of the Chapter.


All the brethren ought to assemble for all the processions on Sundays, and other solemn processions. All those who have been bled, all the officers, and even the infirm or feeble, who can be present without danger, ought to come to the blessing of water and to the procession. . . . In the Sunday procession round the Cloister the bearer of the holy water ought always to go first ; next those who carry the cross and the tapers ; next after them the Sub-Deacon with the book ; the Deacon next after him ; lastly, the Priest. The Convent, the juniors at their head, are to follow at a slow pace ; the Prelate, turning neither to the right nor to the left, but walking in the middle of the path, will be the last in the procession.

On all Wednesdays and Fridays throughout Lent, the convent ought to walk round the Cloister without shoes.


It is the duty of the Fraterer to lay the table-cloths . . . to set clean salt on each table in clean salt-cellars, and if it should have got damp, to serve it out for use in the kitchen, dry and wipe out with a cloth the damp saltcellars, and so set on clean salt. . . . He ought also to fetch bread for the use of the brethren from the cellar, and to be careful that the bread is clean and not burnt, nor gnawed by mice, nor dirty. . . . The jugs ought to be washed inside and out once a week ; and the Frater ought to be cleaned thoroughly with besoms as often as it requires it. The Almoner will provide baskets and besoms for collecting the remnants of the table. . .

The Fraterer ought also to provide mats and rushes to strew the Frater and the alleys of the Cloister at the Frater door, and frequently to renew them ; in summer to throw flowers, mint and fennel into the air to make a sweet odour ; in summer to provide fans. When cups and spoons are broken he is to get them mended, and he is to count them every day to see that none are missing, and at night to lay them up in a safe place.


While the brethren are sitting at table . . . they ought to speak sparingly, and not to let their eyes wander. . . . No one is allowed to exchange fish for meat ; no one may whittle, or write, or look at a book . . . no one may rise from table or leave the room, or fetch anything for himself from the hatch. No one may come in after the second dish has been set on the table.

. . . If both dishes, or one of them, be found to be spotted with dirt, let an alternative be provided.

The servitors are to serve the food quickly and actively, not running or jumping in an unbecoming fashion, and they are to hold the dishes neither too high nor too low, but so that the food may be seen by him who carries it. The dishes are not to be broken, or dirty, or unsuitable, or smeared on the under side. The servitor should use both hands, and carry only a single dish, except when he is serving eggs. If he cannot bring the brethren all they ask for, he ought, nevertheless, to reply to them civilly. . . . There is to be no talking at the kitchen-hatch, because the noise might be heard by the brethren.


A brother may enter the Dorter as often as he has need to do so, but he ought not to linger there unless he wish to change his sheets or to make his bed.


When the Convent is talking no secular ought to come near nor even to stand at a distance listening and looking towards them.

Should the Convent go beyond the precincts in procession, they ought to be preceded by cross, candles, and so forth ; and their freemen ought to turn out of their path any horses and carts advancing in an opposite direction, in order to prevent them passing through the midst of the Convent, or to stop them until the Convent have passed by.


The Almoner ought to be kind, compassionate and God-fearing. He ought also to be discreet and careful in making his apportionments. He ought to endow with a more copious largess pilgrims, palmers, chaplains, beggars, lepers. Old men and those who are decrepit, and lame, and blind, or who are confined to their beds, he ought frequently to visit, and give them suitable relief.


All the property of the monastery, both in corn and in money . . . passes through the hands of the Grainger and the Receivers. Whatever belongs to bread and beer, to seed or allowance, ought to come out of the granary ; whatever belongs to money ought to be handed out of the treasury by the hands of the Receivers.

The Grainger ought . . . to set down on tallies all the profits of the manors, and to write out tallies of each. . . . The Receivers ought to do the same by help of tallies and rolls, and when the Prelate chooses, lay a final account before the Convent.


. . . it becomes him to have not merely facility of expression, but also elegant manners and a respectable bringing up . . . for friends are multiplied by agreeable words. . . perfect cleanliness and propriety should be found in his department, namely, to keep clean cloths and clean towels ; cups without flaws ; spoons of silver ; mattresses, blankets, sheets not merely clean but untorn; proper pillows ; quilts to cover the beds of full width and length and pleasing to the eyes of those who enter the room ; a proper laver of metal ; a basin clean both inside and out ; in winter a candle and candlesticks ; fire that does not smoke; writing materials, clean salt . . . the whole Guest-house kept clear of spiders-webs and dirt, and strewn with rushes underfoot ; . . a sufficient quantity of straw in the beds ; keys and locks to the doors, and good bolts on the inside, so as to keep the doors securely closed while the guests are asleep.


It is the chief duty of the Chamberlain to provide warm water for the shaving of the Convent, and soap for washing their heads. He is to provide soap for the baths of the brethren, if it be asked for.

The Chamberlain ought to provide a laundress of good character and good reputation to wash the garments of the Convent. She must be able properly to mend and wash all the linen of the brethren, namely, surplices, rochets, sheets, shirts and drawers. The linen ought to be washed once a fortnight in summer and once in three weeks in winter.


The Master of the Farmery . . . who ought to have the care of the sick, ought to be gentle, good tempered, kind, compassionate to the sick, and willing to gratify their needs with affectionate sympathy. It should rarely or never happen that he has not ginger, cinnamon, peony, and the like, ready in his cupboard. . . .

No secular ought to enter the Farmery . . . women never. Physicians, however, may enter, and take their meals with the sick if they have obtained leave.

The Master of the Farmery ought frequently to . . ask them, with kindly interest, whether they wish for anything. . . Further, he should provide . . . a fire on the hearth, should the state of the weather require it, a candle, a cresset, and a lamp to burn all night ; and everything that is necessary, useful and proper.


Lay-brethren are not to be admitted to the habit, unless they are instructed in some craft which is useful to the monastery ; for, as regular Canons ought to be occupied day and night in things spiritual, so lay-brethren ought to labour for the profit of the Church in things corporeal ; for in a monastery no one ought to eat his bread unless he work for it.


He who makes an accusation is first to say : ” I accuse such or such a brother.” The accused .. is to answer nothing from his place, but to come in front of the Abbot, to bend the knee, and then, standing upright, to await patiently . . . if he is not conscious of it he is to say briefly . . . ” My lord, I do not remember that I did or said what my brother mentions.” Then his accuser may not repeat his accusation, and the accused, if the Abbot so direct, may go and sit down. . . . When anybody has to receive discipline, he is to rise to his knees and modestly divest himself of his garments. Then, bending forward, he is to remain covered with the same garments from his girdle downwards, and as he lies there he is either to be completely silent or to say merely : ” It is my fault, and I will amend myself.” Meanwhile no other brother is to speak unless one of the Priors should humbly intercede for him ; and he who flogs him is not to cease from flogging till the Abbot bids him. When he has ceased, he is to help the brother to put on his clothes ; who clothed and standing upright, is not to stir till the Abbot says : ” Go and sit down.” Then he is to bow, and go to his place.

Ely had long been another of these great houses. Since Hereward’s day Normans from 1081 to 1199 were building its magnificent cathedral, and in Ely, Barnwell and Cambridge had a keen rival. Ely was a centre for pilgrimage and the first good harbour for incoming ships, but Cambridge at the Conquest became the seat of the King’s Sheriff who had to gather his dues from towns and traders. When men might trade at Soham or Reach, Bottisham or Ely, just as they chose, it would be hard for the Sheriff’s men to make sure that no little boats escaped them, and the King’s dues must often have gone unpaid.

This, rather than care for the welfare of Cambridge, probably caused Henry V to issue a writ addressed to all great people who might raise claims to levy dues in any part of the county. It runs :—

” Henry, King of the English to Hervey, Bishop of Ely, and all his Barons of Cambridgeshire, Greeting : I forbid that any boat shall ply at any hithe in Cambridgeshire, save at the hithe of my borough of Cambridge, nor shall barges be laden save in the borough of Cambridge, nor shall any take toll elsewhere but only there ; and whosoever shall do forfeit in the borough, let him there do right ; but if any do otherwise, I command that lie be at right thereof before my justice when I command that there be plea thereof.

As witnesses : the Chancellor and Miles of Gloucester and Richard Basset at London.”

The effect of this writ must have been to decide the rivalry in favour of Cambridge by drawing all the shipping away from Ely : perhaps it was now that the wares at St. Awdry’s Fair became ” tawdry,” being reduced to such light trifles as could be carried overland, while the heavy goods went up by barge to the hithes that lined the banks of the Cam above and below Magdalene Bridge.

Cambridge became in practice a Staple town, the only channel of trade for the countryside, and the burgesses waxed fat accordingly.

Soon they began to try to shake off the hand of the Sheriff in money matters. The way to do this, which was becoming usual since London had set the example in 1100, was to get leave from the King to ” farm ” the dues which the town had to pay to him. Such dues were the ” haw gavel,” a small rent on each house, the ” land gavel,” a rent on the strips of the plough land, a payment for the right to have a market and the tolls which were taken there, the fees paid by men who had to go to the King’s court for justice, payments to the King’s miller for grinding corn in his mill, and so on. These three last might vary very much from year to year ; if, instead of them, a lump sum of a fixed amount were to be paid year by year, both parties might gain. The king would be certain what revenue he could expect; and if the tolls, etc., increased, the town would reap the benefit by collecting them themselves. Thus somewhere between 1161 and 1189 the men of Cambridge must have asked for this privilege, for there is a charter from Henry II. granting the town the right to ” farm ” the dues :—

” Henry by the grace of God King of England and Duke of Normandy and Aquitaine and Count of Anjou, to his Justices, Sheriffs, and all his Ministers and faithful people Greeting. Know ye that I have delivered at farm to my burgesses of Cambridge, my town of Cambridge to be holden of me in chief by the same farm which my Sheriffs were wont to render to me, and so that they themselves do answer therefor at my exchequer. And therefore I command that ye guard and maintain the said burgesses and all things to them belonging as though they were mine own, so that no one may in any wise cause to them injury or damage or grievance. For I will not that they answer therefor to any but to me and at my Exchequer. As Witness : Roger the son of Reinfrid at Quevilly.”

This charter marks in a sense the beginning of the self-governing life of the town. Henceforth it is a tenant in chief of the king ; the Sheriff, while he still held the King’s court in the borough had no longer any excuse for 1 The King way this year in Normandy; his hunting seat was at meddling with its trade or making any exactions on the burgesses. It is quite in keeping with Henry II.’s treatment of his sheriffs, whose power he sternly checked. Before his reign they were usually local men and used their local influence to make themselves almost strong enough to defy the King, often too their sons succeeded them. To prevent this Henry in 1167 had removed every sheriff in England from his office, replacing only the upright among them, and sending even those to fresh counties.

It is to be noted that this charter does not give the right for good, but only for the king’s reign, unless it were renewed. The final grant or ” fee farm ” was given by King John.

Thus the most opposite interests, those of the King, the Prior and Nun, the down-trodden Shylock of the Jewry, the worldly-minded, comfortable burgher, and the grasp-ing Norman noble, all played their part in developing the wealth and fame of the new royal port of Cambridge.

Hitherto history has rarely recorded the life of the people, but now and then when some king moves across the stage ” the light that beats upon a throne ” throws the humbler, attendant figures into relief.

King John is such an one. In the second year of his reign he granted a charter which confirmed the old rights and gave important new ones to the townsmen :—

I. That they should have a gild of merchants [a most important right which was often the beginning of self-government.

II That no burgess should plead without the walls of the borough of any plea, save pleas of exterior tenure (except the King’s moneyers and servants).

III. That no burgess should make duel ; [i.e. trial by battle] and that with regard to pleas of the Crown the burgesses might defend themselves according to the ancient custom of the borough. [Probably by bringing a certain number of neighbours to swear to their uprightness.]

IV. That all burgesses of the merchants’ gild should be free of toll, passage, lastage, pontage, and stallage in the fair, and without, and throughout the ports of the English Sea, and in all the King’s lands on this side of the sea, and beyond the sea (saving in all things the liberties of the City of London). [Toll a payment to the King ; passage payment made by a passenger ; lastage payment on every load passing ; pontage payment for crossing bridge ; stallage payment for right to erect a booth to sell goods.]

V. That no burgess should be judged to be in mercy as to his money, except according to the ancient law of the borough which they had in the time of the King’s ancestors. [To be in mercy to be liable to fine.]

VI. That the burgesses should have justly all their lands and tenures, wages, and debts, whosoever may owe the same, and that right should be done to them of their lands and tenures within the borough, according to the custom thereof.

VII. That of all the debts of burgesses that should be contracted at Cambridge and of the pledges there made, the pleas should be holden at Cambridge.

VIII. That if anyone in all the King’s dominions should take toll or custom of the men of Cambridge of the merchants’ gild, and should not make satisfaction, the Sheriff of Cambridgeshire, or the Reeve of Cambridge should take therefor a distress at Cambridge (saving in all things the liberties of the City of London).

IX. That for the amendment [upkeep] of the borough, the burgesses should have a fair in Rogation Week, with all its liberties as they were accustomed to have.

X. That all the burgesses of Cambridge might be free of yereshive and scotale if the King’s Sheriff or any other Bailiff had made scotale. [Yereshive or Geares-Gifu was an annual gift or exaction commonly required by Sheriffs : Scot-ale a feast at which only the Sheriff’s ale might be drunk. In a second Charter, of the year 1207 King John granted the farm for good or ” in fee-farm.”]

XI. That the burgesses might have all other liberties and free customs which they had in the time of the King’s ancestors, when they had them better or more freely.

XII. That if any customs should be unlawfully levied in war, they should be quashed.

XIII. That whosoever should come to the borough of Cambridge . with his merchandise, of whatever place, whether stranger or otherwise, might come, tarry, and return in safety, and without disturbance, rendering the right customs.

XIV. That anyone causing injury, loss or trouble, to the burgesses, should forfeit £10 to the King.

XV. That the burgesses and their heirs, might have and hold the foregoing liberties, of the King and his heirs, peaceably, freely, quietly, entirely, and honourably in all things.

In this year 1201 John lodged for a night or so at Barnwell Priory. Its Early English Church to St. Giles and St. Andrew, with its central tower, unhappily struck by lightning in 1287, formed the heart of a great group of buildings, standing amid fields and groves by the waterside, where a ferry crossed to Chesterton. Behind the church lay Maids’ Causeway, while between road and river stood the farmery, and the Canons’ land stretched out to the site of Stourbridge Fair. The Fair brought crowds of merchants and drovers, fishermen with oysters and herrings from Colehester, etc., whose tolls no doubt made a good sum.

But the crowd would also bring beggars and vagabonds, as the races do now, and so certain Friars of St. Mary Magdalene set up a refuge for those most miserable of all wanderers, the lepers. Camp-followers of the Crusaders spread this Eastern disease all over Europe at this time. Charity for their distress and a wise care for the health of the town were no doubt equal motives for the rule by which they were forbidden to pass through Barnwell to go within two miles of Cambridge. King John supported this regulation by granting to the friars the dues of the fair to be held in the close of the leper’s hospital of St. Mary Magdalene at Stourbridge, and at the same time authorised the Prior and Canons of Barnwell to hold Midsummer Fair. Stourbridge Fair was to be held on the Vigil and Feast of Holy Cross, which would begin on September 7th.

By Barnwell Station still stands the hospital chapel raised by those friars, a solid stone building made for long use, but with the rare decoration of a hooded doorway and windows with fine Norman work. Though we have no lepers now we might well use it for other needs. Many are glad to have it lit and cared for in God’s service again.

Not far away on the road to Ely stood another Norman house built by other Benedictines, Denny Abbey, perhaps the finest piece of Norman work in the county ; it passed into the hands of Templars, and later became a nunnery. It is now a farmhouse.

Much later than the Benedictine monks and Austin Canons, whose houses since Saxon England became Christian had been springing up all over the land, there had come to Cambridge in the 13th century new streams of puritanic Christians, the friars. Sworn like the early monks to poverty, they differed from them in their aims, which were, not by leaving the world to rescue their own souls, or by eeaseless prayers to atone for the worldliness of others, but to go about the world doing good and preaching to the poor. Already in 1201 the Friars of St. Mary Magdalene were caring for the lepers at Barnwell, and in 1224 the Grey Friars came to Cambridge. These had been founded by the devoted, gentle St. Francis of Assisi, and lived in the Old Synagogue ; fifty years later they began to build a noble church ” where Sidney Sussex now is.

These Franciscans were vowed to complete poverty ; and in Cambridge, as elsewh ere, they settled in the poorest quarter. The contemporary account, written by T. of Eccleston, says :

” At Cambridge the brethren were at first received by the burgesses who made over to them an old synagogue near the prison. The neighbourhood of the prison, however, was intolerable to the brethren, since both they and the gaolers had to use the same entrance ; so our lord the King gave them 10 marks, with which they were able to buy out the lease from the Court of Exchequer. Then they built a chapel so very poor that one carpenter made and set up in one day fourteen pairs of rafters. So on the feast of St. Lawrence (Aug. 10th), though there were as yet but three brethren, namely, Brother William of Esseby, and Brother Hugh of Bugeton, both clerics, and a novice named Brother Elias, who was so lame that he had to be carried into the choir, they sang the office solemnly according to note, and the novice wept so much that the tears ran freely down his face. Now this novice afterwards died a most holy death at York.” . . .

” The first guardian of Cambridge was Brother Thomas, of Spain.” ” The custody of Cambridge was particularly remarkable for its want of temporal goods, so much so that at the time of his first Visitation of England, Brother Albert of Pisa found the brethren . . . to be without mantles.”

Other reformers followed, the Austin Friars settling on Peashill, the Carmelites or White Friars on the site of Queens’. Before the end of the century the Pope’s ” Black Dogs,” the Dominicans, took up their place outside Barnwell Gate, opposite Dowdiver’s lane.

The Fairs

IN the commercial as well as the religious life of Cambridge, monks and friars played their part. At the great religious festivals, to which pilgrims from all parts of England and from abroad used to flock, fairs were held. In Cambridge there were four. The oldest seems to have been Midsummer Fair, held ” from the time of which the memory of man does not run.” The name suggests that it may even have been a survival of pagan, midsummer revels. However that may be, this fair came under the sanction of the church. The Prior and convent of Barnwell held a charter from Henry III., dated 1229, giving them the right to hold this fair. In 1298, the Prior having seized the goods of a felon who had fled from the fair, the Mayor challenged his jurisdiction ; but the following agreement was reached between them :

I. That all who lived within the town or liberties of Cambridge, and who, according to the custom of the town, sustained or were obliged to sustain the burdens arising in the town, as in watches, tallages, scotages, suits of court, and other contributions, should be free in the said fair of stallage, boothage and toll.

II. That the goods of thieves, fugitives and cutpurses, if any such should be thereafter taken, or found in the said Fair by the Prior or his bailiffs, should be immediately delivered to the bailiffs of the town, and that the burgesses of Cambridge should indemnify the Prior and Convent for so doing.

III. That all who live in the town and liberties, and do not bear nor are obliged to bear the duties or perform the services before mentioned, should be as much obliged to the Customs of the Fair as those that come from any other place.

This agreement left the Mayor the unchallenged authority for the keeping of the peace within and without the town. In the next year the Prior’s right to hold the Fair at all was inquired into by the king’s Itinerant Justices under the act of ” Quo Warranto,” passed twenty years earlier. He produced Henry M.’s charter, and his right was allowed.

It seems to have been exercised peacefully for two hundred years ; then in 1496, ” the Prior and Convent of Barnwell leased for one year to the Mayor and bailiffs, the Fair called Barnwell Fair.”

Another fair, said to have been called ” Garlic Fair,” was granted to the nuns of St. Rhadegund and held in the summer.

A third fair is said by Carter to have been held ” in the town of Cambridge ” in Rogation Week ; the town certainly enjoyed the profits of a fair held at Reach in that week. But by far the most important fair of all was that of Steersbrigge, or Stourbridge. This fair had been granted by King John to the Friars of St. Mary Magdalene for the support of the Leper Hospital which they had built. In early times this fair opened on the 7th of September, and. lasted until Michaelmas. By the time of Elizabeth, it begins on the Feast of St. Bartholomew the Apostle, i.e. August 24. A full account of the fair is given by Carter :

” Near half a mile east of this village [Barnwell} Sturbridge Fair is kept, which is set out annually on St. Bartholomew by the Mayor, Aldermen, and the rest of the Corporation of Cambridge ; who all ride thither in a grand procession, with music playing before them, and most of the boys in the town on horseback after them, who, as soon as the ceremony is read over, ride races about the place ; when returning to Cambridge each boy has a cake and some ale at the Town Han. On the 7th of September they ride in the same manner to proclaim it ; which being done, the Fair begins, and continues three weeks ; though the greatest part is over in a fortnight.

§ 14. ” This Fair, which was thought sonic years ago to be the greatest in Europe, is kept in a cornfield, about half a mile square, having the River Cam running on the north side thereof, and the rivulet called the Stour (from which and the bridge over it the Fair received its name) on the east side, and it is about two miles east of Cambridge market-place ; where, during the Fair, coaches, chaises, and chariots attend to carry persons to the Fair. The chief diversions at Sturbridge are drolls, rope-dancing, and sometimes a music-booth ; but there is an Act of Parliament which prohibits the acting of plays within fifteen miles of Cambridge.’

§ 15. ” If the field (on which the Fair is kept) is not cleared of the corn by the 24th of August, the builders may trample it underfoot to build their booths ; and, on the other hand, if the same be not cleared of the booths and materials belonging thereto by Michaelmas Day at noon, the plough-men may enter the same with their horses, ploughs, and carts, and destroy whatever they find on the premises. The filth, dung, straw, etc., left behind by the fair-keepers, make amends for their trampling and hardening of the ground.

§ 16. ” The shops or booths are built in rows like streets, having each their name ; as Garlick Row, Booksellers’-row, Cook-row, etc. And every commodity has its proper place, as the Cheese Fair, Hop Fair, Wool Fair, etc. ; and here, as in several other streets or rows, are all sorts of traders, who sell by wholesale or retail, as goldsmiths, toy-men, brasiers, turners, milliners, haberdashers, hatters, mercers, drapers, pewterers, china warehouses, and, in a word, most trades that can be found in London, from whence many of them come. Here are also taverns, coffee-houses, and eating-houses in great plenty, and all kept in booths, in any of which (except the coffee-booth) you may at any time be accommodated with hot or cold roast goose, roast or boiled pork, etc. § 17. ” Crossing the main road at the south end of Garlick Row, and a little to the left hand, is a great Square, formed of the largest booths, called the Duddery, the area of which Square is from 240 to 300 feet, chiefly taken up with woollen drapers, wholesale tailors, and sellers of second-hand clothes ;1 where the dealers have a room before their booths, to take down and open their packs, and bring in waggons to load and unload the same. In the centre of this Square was (till within these three years) erected a tall May-pole, with a vane at the top ; and in this Square, on the two chief Sundays during the fair, both forenoon and afternoon, Divine Service is read, and a sermon preached from a pulpit placed in the open air, by the Minister of Barnwell ; who is very well paid for the same by the contribution of the fair-keepers.

§ 18. ” In this Duddery only, it is said, there have been sold £100,000 worth of woollen manufacturers in less than a week’s time ; besides the prodigious trade carried on here, by the wholesale tailors from London, and most other parts of England, who transact their business wholly in their pocket-books, and meeting here their chapmen from all parts, make up their accounts, receive money chiefly in bills, and take further orders. These, they say, exceed by far the sale of goods actually brought to the Fair, and delivered in kind ; it being frequent for the London wholesale men to carry back orders from their dealers for £10,000 worth of goods a man, and some much more. And once in this Duddery, it is said, there was a booth consisting of six apartments, all belonging to a dealer in Norwich stuffs only, who had there above £20,000 worth of those goods.

§ 19. ” The trade for wool, hops, and leather here is prodigious ; the quantity of wool only sold at one fair is said to have amounted to £50.000 or £60,000, and of hops very little less. ” September 14, being the Horse Fair day, is the day of the greatest hurry, when it is almost incredible to conceive what number of people there are, and the quantity of victuals that day consumed by them.

” During the Fair, Colchester oysters and white herrings, just coming into season, are in great request, at least by such as live in the inland parts of the kingdom, where they are seldom to be had fresh, especially the latter.

§ 20. ” The Fair is like a well-governed city ; and less disorder and confusion to be seen there than in any other place where there is so great a concourse of people : here is a Court of Justice always open from morning till night, where the Mayor of Cambridge, or his Deputy, sits as Judge, determining all controversies in matters arising from the business of the Fair, and seeing the Peace thereof kept ; for which purpose he hath eight servants, called Red-coats, attending him during the time of the Fair and other public occasions, one or other of which are constantly at hand in most parts of the Fair : and if any dispute arise between buyer and seller, on calling out Red-coat,’ you have instantly one or more come running to you ; and if the dispute is not quickly decided, the offender is carried to the said Court, where the case is decided in a summary way, from which sentence there lies no appeal.

§ 21. ” About two or three days after the Horse Fair day, when the hurry of the wholesale business is over, the country gentry for about ten or twelve miles round begin to come in with their sons and daughters ; and though diversion is what chiefly brings them, yet it. is not a little money they lay out among the tradesmen, toy-shops, etc., besides what is flung away to see the puppet shows, drolls, rope-dancing, live creatures, etc., of which there is commonly plenty. § 22. ” The last observation I shall make concerning this Fair is, how inconveniently a multitude of people are lodged there who keep it ; their bed (if T may so call it) is laid on two or three boards, nailed to four pieces that bear it about a foot from the ground, and four boards round it, to keep the persons and their clothes from falling off, and is about five feet long, standing abroad all day if it rains not. At night it is taken into their booths, and put in to the best mariner they can ; at bed-time they get into it, and lie neck and heels together until the morning, if the wind and rain do not force them out sooner ; for a high wind often blows down their booths, as it did A.D. 1741, and a heavy rain forces through time hair-cloth that covers it.

§ 23. ” Though the Corporation of Cambridge has the tolls of this Fair,’ and the government as aforesaid, yet the body of the University has the oversight of the weights and measures thereof (as well as at. Midsummer and Reach Fairs3) and the licensing of all show-booths, live creatures, etc_ ; and the Proctors of the University keep a Court there also to hear complaints about weights and measures, and see that their Gownsmen commit no disorders.”

The great concourse of people to this fair brought much fame and profit to the town, helping to spread its European repute of the The tolls were originally granted (by King John) to the Lepers’ Hospital at Stourbridge.

§ 24. Midsummer Fair is held on Midsummer Common, between Cambridge and Barnwell, and was of old connected with Barnwell Priory. The Common derives its name from the fair.

Reach is situated at the Fenward extremity of the Devil’s Dyke, and is about seven miles from Cambridge; It is now quite a small village, but its position made it a place of great importance in early times. A Roman villa has been unearthed there, and local tradition declares that the place once possessed seven churches. Its situation at the River Gate of the Icenian and East Anglian realms must have made it from the first a place of traffic, and its Fair remained famous for many centuries place among classes other than merely intellectual, especially in the Empire and the Low Countries, where the sacks of English wool were worked up into bales of cloth, until English merchants began to compete in this stuff.

With the Renaissance and the religious changes of the sixteenth century, the system of fairs began to yield place to the use of permanent shops, and in 1516 the burgesses of Cambridge got control of Stourbridge Fair.

The award runs ” the mayor, bailiffs and burgesses and their successors for evermore shall have, hold and enjoy, keep and maintain the said fair called Stibridge Fair . . . yearly from the feast of St. Bartholomew to the feast of St. Michael the Arcangel in September.”