By George Rickword
Transactions of the Essex Archaeological Society, New Series 9 (1903-5)
Introduction: Among the most interesting documents connected with the history of Colchester are the Taxations made in the years 1296 and 1301. Extracts from these, mainly copied from Morant, who had “conveyed” the originals in some unexplained manner to his private collection, have been printed in every history of the borough. He transcribed them for the Rolls of Parliament, but their bulk-—they fill thirty-three tall folio pages, and would require as many again if translated and extended—prevents any idea of publication in these Transactions. Eminent writers, including Professor Thorold Rogers, in his “History of Agriculture and Prices,” Dr. Cunninghame in his “History of English Industry and Commerce,” and Mrs. J. R. Green in her “Town Life in the Fifteenth Century,” have used them to illustrate the social life of the people.
An accurate summary of their contents is the more to be desired, since each writer has dealt only with certain selected items. In the early days of the Essex Archaeological Society, the Rev. C. Hartshorne read a paper, published in the Proceedings of the British Archaeological Association for 1865, in which a partial survey of the field was undertaken, but his article contains several inaccuracies; and even the interesting notice written by the late Dr. Cutts, in his “Colchester” (Historic Towns Series), falls into error in some few particulars. The present writer, availing himself of the labours of his predecessors, proposes to supplement their work by printing the name of every person assessed to either taxation, to classify the goods as valued, thus avoiding the monotonous repetition of items common to all, to add such personal details of the burgesses as may be arrived at from other sources, and, with the aid of a few tables, to comment briefly upon the returns as a whole. It will then be seen that in their minuteness, their accuracy and their interdependence, they constitute a more valuable guide to the condition of the borough at the opening of the fourteenth century than has hitherto been realized.