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Interactive version ©2006 R.J.PENHEY

The Bourne Archive


Fenland Notes and Queries. This will have been originally in the quarterly Part 2, July 1889. Edited by W.H. Bernard Saunders, F.R. Hist. Soc.

Articles 1 to 237 (April 1889 to October 1891) were re-published as Volume 1, in 1891, by Geo. C. Caster, Market Place, Peterborough.

This quarterly periodical which, from the second volume (part 12) became associated with the name of W.D. Sweeting, took the form of a forum in which people sent in questions about the history, ecology and so on of the Fens and the region’s environs and others replied with some sort of answer. Some ‘answers’ seem to have been spontaneous, so qualifying as ‘notes’.

My thanks are due to the trustees of the Willoughby Memorial Library for the loan of the copy from which the following was transcribed.


26. – Price of Wheat, &c., at Ramsey, in 1317. – From Dugdale’s Monasticon and other sources, it appears that “During the great dearth which commenced in 1314, after great floods, and lasted until 1318; the price of corn at Ramsey in 1317 was 24s. per quarter; three years before it was 7s. per quarter at Oxford, and in 1324 it was 6s. 8d. But in 1318, immediately on the cessation of the dearth, through an abundant harvest, the fall in price was far greater; wheat fell from 40 pence the bushel to sixpence; lambs were a penny each; hens were six a penny and eggs 2s. per thousand.


Sixpence (6d.) is one fortieth (0.025) of a pound Sterling, while 40d. is £0.16666. An imperial quarter of grain is eight bushels or 8 x 0.036369 = 0.290952 cubic metre. The quarter used in dealing in medieval Ramsey will have differed from this but have been broadly comparable but that is not really important. The key issue is the fluctuation over a short period. This was a simple case of supply and demand.  The climate had been relatively kind since the beginning of the millennium and by the standards of the time, people had become prosperous. They had also become more numerous. For example, in Bourne, by the early 13th century, economic and population pressure had caused the south Lincolnshire fens to be disafforested (cf. Magna Carta); the forest law no longer applied and people had moved onto the Fen. This was possible because the climate was clement and there was labour for cutting the Bourne Eau and its related channels, to replace its silted up predecessor.

Towards the end of the thirteenth century, in Bourne, The Watergang (South Street) was laid out and new housing and business plots were laid out there and on the south side of West Street, in the same way as the many houses have been built in Bourne since 1960. Both sets of speculation were done for the same reason; economic demand was there and people saw a way of making a profit. The economic demand existed because there were more people and those were more prosperous. However, in the years around 1316, things went badly wrong because the hitherto kind climate turned wet and cold. This is the period when the population began to be cut back. The Great Plague of 1348-50 gets the publicity but it was not the whole story.