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as Chester in England and Nuremburg in Germany, still have the old walls that were built for defense. The walls might be strengthened by towers and a moat outside. Most of the dwellers at first cultivated their strip of land outside of the walls, just as peasants. And the towns, like the villages, were subject to some lord. If the lord lived within the town his castle was likely to be on a rock or hill if there was one, as in Edinburg. The dwellers in the burg—or burghers, as they were called—had of course to defend the walls if attacked, and some who did not live within the walls had the right to come in when there was danger. Hence burghers had to keep arms and learn how to use them.
But besides the wall which served for the military aid of the town there was usually the market placea large open space where wares of all kinds could be taken for exchange or sale. These wares would be partly farm products, such as butter, eggs, cheese, poultry, partly articles made by craftsmen, as linen or bread. But in time it was natural that craftsmen should more and more settle in the towns. For one thing, it was the custom to give the craftsmen of a town the exclusive right to sell in that town. A weaver or saddler from another town would not be allowed to sell if there was a man of that trade living in the place.
The trade was largely direct, from producer to consumer. That is, the farmer did not usually sell to a grocer or butcher and he in turn to customers. The farmer brought his butter or poultry to the market place and the housewife went there to buy. It was even at times forbidden by law to buy provisions before they came into the market, or to buy and sell them again at a profit. It was thought that such practices would make them dearer. But there were of course
some articles not produced in the region. Foreign merchants would bring many goods. The more common kinds would be (1) spices and southern fruits, (2) dried and salted fish, (3) furs, (4) fine cloths, (5) wines. The rich people would buy a year's supply at a time. The poor could not afford this, and a retail trade to accommodate them with small amounts existed before there was wholesale trade-grocers, peddlers, and cloth dealers were among the earliest of retail traders. Traders, then, were the first important group in the towns.
The second important group in the towns were the Crafts craftsmen. There were of course, on the larger manors, carpenters, smiths, and other men who could make shoes and perform the various tasks needed wherever there is a considerable number of people; but in the towns the craftsmen had the chance to develop greater skill and form an important group by themselves. They developed a plan of work which is called the “ method of handicraft," which largely took the place of the older method of domestic work and to some extent also of wage work. In domestic work the farmers or housewives made tools, wagons, shoes, and cloths in their own houses. There was no capital,” no
wages," no “ laborer," no " exchange.” In wage work, the ordinary plan was for the craftsman, carpenter, shoemaker, tailor, to go to the house of the customer who provided the raw material and hired the worker by the day. In this stage no risk was taken by any one and no corresponding profit gained by buying and selling. The raw material was owned by the same man all the time until it was ready for his use. In the method of handicraft the craftsman, instead of going to the customer's house and using the customer's lumber or
cloth or leather, had his own shop, bought his own materials, and either made articles to order or carried them to market for sale. Custom tailors, small bake shops, and milliners follow this plan today. By it the workman gets both a return for his labor and also a return for his skill in buying material and using it in the best way. He gets both a wage and a profit. This kind of work flourished until the great discoveries of steam power and machinery.
Evidently this method of handicraft tended to make a new class of fairly independent people. By the housework plan, only the landowner was independent. He produced the raw material, and kept control of it until he used it, getting it worked up by slaves, or by serfs, or by hired workmen. With the handicraft plan a new independent class was formed, namely, those who buy the raw material, work it up, and sell to customers or at markets. This became a third great factor in building up town life and free citizens.
Besides the union of the towns-people in a “borough,” the merchants and craftsmen of most towns united in societies called “gilds." Much about the origin of these gilds is obscure. In early times in England, before the Norman Conquest, there had been brotherhoods called gilds which had various purposes, such as helping to pay the wergeld or blood money that would be assessed upon a man for killing some one, or helping to pay for losses, or to bury the dead, or to aid in distress of any kind. They had gild halls for meetings, held periodical banquets, and provided for prayers to be offered for dead members.
Later, when traders and craftsmen began to increase in towns, it was natural that they, too, should form such brotherhoods. The earliest of these traders' and
craftsmen's gilds was called the gild merchant. It included both merchants and craftsmen. It was granted a charter from the king which gave it a virtual monopoly of the trade of the town. The members of the gild could buy and sell freely, whereas other traders had to pay for the privilege of buying and selling, and even then were under close restrictions.
“ Being asked what liberties they claim to have pertaining to the aforesaid Gild (of Newcastle) they say that no one unless he should be of the liberty of the Gild can cut cloth to sell in the town, nor cut up meat and fish, nor buy fresh leather, nor purchase wool by the fleece, except by great weight (wholesale).” So too at Chester the member of the Gild" can buy within the liberty of the said city, all kinds of wares coming to that city by sea or land, without paying any fine thereon; and that no one who is not admitted into the said Gild can buy anything within the liberty of the said city without the license and assent of the said stewards.”
On the other hand, gild members had to pay assessments, “to be in scot and lot” as it was termed, and they had a fine system of mutual help. Among the rules of a gild at Lynn were the following:
If any of the brethren shall fall into poverty, or misery, all the brethren are to assist him by common consent out of the chattels of the house, or fraternity, or of their proper own.
If any brother should be impleaded, either within Lenne or without, the brethren there present ought to assist him in their council, if they are called, to stand with him and counsel him without any costs; and if they do not, they are to forfeit 32 pence.
If any one should sleep at the gild, either at the general meeting or at their feasts and drinking, he is to forfeit 4 pence.
If any one turns him rudely to his brother, or calls him by any rude name, (he is) to be amerced 4 pence.
If any poor brother shall dye, the alderman and brethren shall see that his body be honourably buried, of the goods, or chattels of the house, or out of alms, if he has not wherewith to bury himself.*
It will be noticed that the gild, like the old clan, or the state, was good to those within, but quite indifferent or hostile to those without. But at least it made a new kind of a “we-group.” And it secured many privileges for its members which for a time, at least, helped the members, although it was often so selfish as to be shortsighted.
Later, besides the gild merchant, which included both merchants and craftsmen, separate gilds or companies” were formed by those belonging to special crafts. Thus at Andover sixty-one particular trades are enumerated. In some countries of Europe these craft gilds had violent struggles with the rich rulers of the towns. And still later there were, in Germany especially, divisions in the craft gilds between the “masters,” or employing members, and journeymen, or workers. All classes were thus finding out the power of union. They were in training for democracy.
* Groos, The Gild Merchant, vol. II, pp. 161-162.