‘Hostmen’, in the Middle Ages, were borough freemen to whom were assigned the duties of entertaining visiting foreign merchants, supervising their business transactions, and guaranteeing their peaceful conduct. A Company of Hostmen might, therefore, be no more than an association of principal traders in a town. By the late sixteenth century the Newcastle Company of Hostmen had come, however, to dominate the coal trade of that town. Though its early attempts to monopolize this trade were resisted by other Newcastle merchants, a Royal Charter of 1600 gave legal confirmation of its monopoly. The Crown’s purpose in granting this monopoly was to facilitate the collection of a tax of 1s. per chaldron on all coal carried by sea from the river Tyne. Not unnaturally, subsequent rises in the price of Newcastle coal in its principal market — London — were attributed by the consumers to monopolistic rigging. The following answer by the Hostmen’s Company to such a complaint from the City of London of the years 1608–10 illustrates incidentally many details of the organization both of the mining industry and of the coastal trade in coal.
Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.