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trinity house  hull | by siandara
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trinity house hull

It seems unlikely that there was a shipmen's guild in Hull during the early years of the town's history. The Trinity House, at any rate, possesses no earlier record, other than a few deeds of property acquired later, than a document of 1369, afterwards known as the 'First Subscription'. This sets out the intention of Robert Marshall, alderman, and some fiftyfive other persons, both men and women, to found a guild in honour of the Holy Trinity. (fn. 1) The annual subscription was 2s., payable quarterly, and the affairs of the guild were to be managed by an elected Alderman who was to choose two constables and four 'discrete' men. Admission was to be regulated by the officers, and the objects were those usual to a religious guild: the provision of candles and masses, and attendance at funerals of members. A member incapacitated by sickness was to receive 8d. a week, and if the accumulated funds of the guild were inadequate to meet this liability, provision was made for a collection from members.


One question that immediately arises is whether this can be regarded as in any sense a shipmen's guild. On the face of it, the document is merely the foundation deed of a religious guild of the normal pattern. Apart from the dedication to the Holy Trinity, which shared with St. Nicholas the especial veneration of sailors, there is nothing to link the 1369 document with the Hull shipmen. It has been suggested, however, that a group of traders or craftsmen might find it easier to unite under the cloak of a religious guild, and it has been shown that the founders of the religious guild at York which developed into the Merchant Venturers were, in fact, mercers and their wives. (fn. 2) It cannot be shown that the Hull founders were seamen. That they were substantial burgesses is suggested by the comparatively high rates of subscription and sickness benefit; but references in the document to members standing surety for one another probably refer not to trading activities, but to the payment of dues to the guild.


There is one peculiar feature of the guild: no return was made in 1389, when particulars were called for of all religious and other guilds in the country. Hull made returns of three religious guilds, those of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Corpus Christi, and St. John the Baptist. All these were founded in the same way as the Trinity Guild, by a foundation deed attested by the mayor, bailiffs, and other leading citizens, and sealed by the founding members. The inclusion of this information is an unusual feature in the returns of 1389, when most guilds simply sent a copy of their rules. It was perhaps due to the recent foundation of these guilds: the date of the foundation of St. John's guild is missing, but the others were founded in 1357 and 1358 respectively. (fn. 3) As the guild returns are notoriously incomplete, the omission of the Trinity Guild does not imply that it had ceased to exist in 1389. Indeed, the 'Second Subscription' of 1398 refers to 'the brothers and sisters who founded the guild and have continued it up to now'.


The deed later known as the Second Subscription is of the same form as the earlier one, witnessed by the mayor, bailiffs, chamberlains, and others. (fn. 4) Apart from the reduction of the annual subscription to 1s., the main purport of the document seems to have been to clarify the rules laid down in 1369. The Alderman was now to appoint two stewards, and these three were to keep the charters, money, and jewels of the guild, to distribute benefits to members, and to lend to members on approved security. The Alderman and stewards were also to choose four members without whose assent they themselves could not act. Refusal to accept office was punishable by fine—6s. 8d. for an Alderman, half that amount for a steward. Disputes between members were to be settled by the Alderman, and not referred to the borough courts. The rules concerning candles, masses, and funerals were modified, and in particular a trental of masses for deceased members provided for in 1369 was omitted. Members who died in poverty were to be buried at the expense of the guild, but it is noticeable that the provisions of 1369 for the support of impoverished members were dropped. Thus two of the more expensive of the earlier provisions disappeared. The terms of this deed were to be read over every year, apparently at the election of the Alderman. It is likely that they were also read to new members, for the deed served as a list of members, beginning with those whose names appear in the 1369 and 1398 deeds. In all, the names of 257 members are recorded. Some of them must have been shipmen, but there were many others, including priests, canons, drapers, shearmen, and goldsmiths. The guild presumably still had no habitation, other than Holy Trinity Church where the elections could be held.


About the middle of the 15th century the guild, quite suddenly as far as can be gathered, changed its whole character. In 1456 twenty-four shipmasters, with the assent of the Vicar of Hessle, whose parish included the chapelry of Holy Trinity, and of the mayor and aldermen of the town, agreed to found a perpetual chantry in Holy Trinity Church. To pay for this they agreed to give the money accruing to them by way of 'lowage and stowage'; the money was to be paid to two Aldermen to be elected yearly on Trinity Sunday, and no shipmaster was to hire any mariner, under penalty of £10, unless he agreed to pay in his lowage and stowage to the guild. (fn. 5) Lowage and stowage was a payment made to mariners for handling cargo: stowing it in the hold, loading it on deck. Towards the end of the 16th century, the term is replaced by 'primage', which was a payment on each ton of freight. (fn. 6)

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Uploaded on May 30, 2009