chapter  4
28 Pages

‘Loving companions who are dwelling in the good city of London’: The Commonalty of the Mercery

It is entirely appropriate that the first reference to the Mercers’ commonalty occurs in connection with a lawsuit of 1304 protecting the privileges of London citizens. From 1304 the commonalty can be taken as an accepted fact; and some suggestions can be made for its meeting places: St Thomas of Acre, a local parish church, or the great taverns of Cheapside. The mercers’ link via the lawsuit with the literary society of the London Puy also suggests the social life and interests of some of the better educated mercers. By this date the city’s records provide a full sequence of aldermen and more details about other civic offices: the mercers begin to be aldermen and take on civic responsibilities more regularly. Better property records reveal some substantial estates built up by individuals. As yet, mercers’ success in trade cannot be fully gauged, but the first surviving inventory provides an important window on what a mercer’s shop might stock. How the average mercer fared is less easy to evaluate, even with the evidence of the lay subsidies of 1292 to 1334. The economic conditions of these fifty years were often harsh but London’s trade continued to expand rapidly. The city now had a population in excess of 80,000, it had captured the cloth market by about 1320, there was an ever-expanding range of specialist goods being made, and transport and roads had improved.