Bristol’s trade

Bristol’s trade with Ireland and the Continent: 1503-1601 The evidence of the exchequer customs accounts.  Edited by Susan Flavin & Evan T. Jones

Published by Four Courts Press Dublin 2009 €65 ISBN 978184682 182 0


This 1094 page tome reproduces the details of the cargoes of ships bound for Ireland and the Continent for a hundred years. Two factors make the work remarkable, the first is that the records survive and the second that they have been reproduced in an easily accessed format. The records were originally written in mediaeval Latin on parchment making a certain amount of clarification appropriate. Ireland’s Tudor records were lost in the Four Courts Explosion of 1922 during the civil war. Some aspects of the trade can be reconstructed from the Bristol records. The bulk of the Irish trade was with Waterford and some south coast ports because the Dublin – England trade was predominantly with Chester. There is a tantalising mention that a Chester port book of 1588/9 exists. Obviously, this would be source material for a similar study at some time in the future and yield much Dublin information. The trade itself is divided into two distinct categories. Wine is imported to Bristol from the Iberian Peninsula. Skins, hides and fish come from Ireland. The exports tend to be more sophisticated. Hops feature prominently along with knives, iron, playing cards, fabric and cloth, seeds. This suggests the more industrial character of Bristol compared with the south of Ireland. Interpretation of the data indicates a shipf in this balance of trade after the 1530s. Merchants e.g. in Kilkenny, Cashel, Wexford, New Ross, Clonmel for whom the goods are destined are recorded. This gives information on trade to the towns involved. It is remarkable to find ship owners names like Stafford and merchants like Butler mentioned so early Luckily, the data is also available in electronic format (Bristol University ROSE project) enabling scholars to carry out their own numerical analysis on the raw data. This makes the work useful to anyone interested in trade during the period examined. It will shed considerable light on Waterford trade. Ships are named as well as their masters so there is insight into ship owning of the period as well. This work will provide the basis for many a thesis or historical society article on very early recorded trade. This is a source of data not bedtime reading but will stimulate considerable further research into early trade and shipping. It is a valuable piece of work and indicates the treasure trove yet to emerge from archives. One wonders if electronic archives will ever reach the same level of detail or if freedom of trade has obliterated this type of customs data. I have no doubt that this meticulous work will kick start several trade and shipping historical studies among serious maritime historians as well as local historical study groups. The book itself is competently produced by Four Courts and printed in England, the binding is robust which is essential for the number of pages. The dust jacket design is elegantly based on an image of the records themselves.

reviewed by Dr Edward Bourke