More on the Stourbridge Fair

I’ve mentioned the Stourbridge Fair here before, in terms of what Daniel Defoe had to say about it.

Well, today I found a little more information that’s coming in handy for my novel-in-progress. Here’s a nice page on the Stourbridge Fair’s history: they sold more than hops–including ale and beer!–and from that page, here’s a segment regulating the sale price of ale and beer. (And yes, the seem to rules make clear a distinction between the two, beer being hopped and ale being unhopped. Evidently this is reflected in the provisions for soured ale, and the lack of same for beer, which would have enjoyed the preservative qualities of the hops used in them.) The rules were set out by a “Cry” (as in “crier”–someone shouting the rules out on the first day) and fixed maximum prices for a lot of goods, including malt liquors (ie. beers and ales), and this is the pertinent passage from one dating back to the early 1500s:

Also that no brewers sell into this fair nor anywhere within the precincts of the university, a barrel of good ale above two shillings, nor a barrel of hostel ale above twelve pence, no long ale, no red ale, no ropey ale, but good and wholesome ale for man’s body under the pain of forfeiture, and that every brewer, have a mark upon his barrel whereby it may be known whose it is under the pain of imprisonment and fine at the discretion of the officers of the university.

Also that every barrel of good ale hold and contain fourteen gallons, thirteen gallons of clear ale and one gallon for the rest and the hogget seven gallons that is to say six gallons and one pottle Of clear ale and the residue of rest under the pain of forfeiture and for the punishment after the discretion of the officers of the university.

Also we command that the beer brewers shall sell a kilderkin of double beer in this fair for two shillings and a kilderkin of single beer for twelve pence.

Also that no tipper nor gannaker sell in the said fair, nor within the precincts of the university, a gallon of good ale above four pence nor a gallon of hostel ale above two pence, And the beer brewers a gallon above four pence and a gallon of single beer above two pence under the pain of twelve pence for every time.

Also where great detriments, hurts and deceits hath been to the King’s subjects in times past by reason of false and unlawful measures brought by potters and other persons to be sold and bought in this fair and the precincts of the same in avoiding therefore the said hurts and untrue measures, we strictly charge and command that every potter and all other persons that bring such pots to be sold in this fair or precincts of the same that they and all other from henceforth sell and buy true goods and lawful measures as gallons, pottles, quarts, and half pints under the pain of imprisonment, and there to remain till they have made fine at the will of the said officers.

Also if any brewer or beer-brewer be found faulty in any of the premises after that they have been in times amerced, then the said brewer shall be committed to prison, there to remain till he have fined at the pleasure of the officers of the university.

Also that every tippler and gannaker that selleth ale in this fair that ye have the measure well and lawfully sealed and assized according to the standard of the university, and that every gannaker and beer-brewer that hath beer to sell have a sign at the booth whereby they may the better be known under the peril of imprisonment.

You hear that? No ropey ale, no long ale, no red ale… just the “good stuff.” No cheating customers by selling barrels with a ton of sediment in the bottom. No using containers with a false volume marking. Mess about on any of that, and you go to jail till the university authorities deal with you! If I understand the history correctly, the lack of hops in the ale would make ropey ale pretty problematic–one wonders just how sour and weird it had to get before it would be deemed ropey by the standards of the day–and of course, we’re talking Renaissance-era sanitation–so, lacking the preservative qualities of hops, “ropey” and “long” ale would probably mean really sour and funky, if not weird and nasty. (Not to mention smoky as all get-out.)

And then the cry proceeds straight to wines (for a brief paragraph) and straight on to barrels and firkins of fish… but really, it’s great to know Stourbridge was sort of a marvel of its time, the biggest fair of its kind in Europe at its height. Lots of room to sneak in all kinds of fun stuff: conspirators in disguise, performers and feats of magic and prestidigitation, other customers, local craftspeople… all sorts of things to add color and mood to my protagonist’s visit, and hopefully some things that can add color and complication to the mounting problems he’s dealing with.


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