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The Black Death, which broke out in England in 1348, was a terrible calamity, and it is estimated that at least half of the population of the country perished by the pestilence, including a large proportion of the inhabitants of London. The churchyards were speedily filled, and additional pieces of land were given by the Bishop of London and other persons for the burial of the victims of this fearful plague. The most important result of the 47 pestilence was the dearth of labour which was immediately caused, and the consequent rise in wages was a source of considerable trouble to the legislature and to all employers of labour. Parliament passed the Statues of Labourers,* which were intended to fix the wages of workpeople at the rates which had been customary before the plague, and in London an attempt was made towards the same object by this Proclamation, in which wages are laid down “to be observed for ever.” It seems strange that in a commercial city like London it should be considered possible to regulate wages and prices by an arbitrary enactment of this kind, and it does not appear that the ordinance was obeyed. There is little doubt that it was generally ignored, and the craftsmen continued to make the most of the situation, just as the agricultural labourers and craftsmen in the country were able, on the whole, to set at defiance the Statutes of Labourers.
To amend and redress the damages and grievances which the good folks of the City, rich and poor, have suffered and received within the past year, by reason of masons, carpenters, plasterers, tilers, and all manner of labourers, who take immeasurably more than they have been wont to take, by assent of Walter Turk, Mayor, the Aldermen, and all the Commonalty of the City, the points under-written are ordained, to be held and firmly observed for ever; that is to say. —
In the first place, — that the masons, between the Feasts of Easter and St. Michael [September 29], shall take no more by the working-day than 6d., without victuals or drink; and from the Feast of St. Michael to Easter, for the working-day, 5d. And upon Feast-days, when they do not work, they shall take nothing. And for the mending of their implements they shall take nothing.
Also, — that the carpenters shall take, for the same time, in the same manner.48
Also, — that the plasterers shall take the same as the masons and carpenters take.
Also, — That the tilers shall take for the working-day from the Feast of Easter to St. Michael 51/2d., and from the Feast of St. Michael to Easter4½d
Also, — that the labourers shall take in the first half year 3½d., and in the other half 3 d.
Also, — that the master daubers (laying on) shall take between the Feast or Easter and St. Michael 5d., and in the other half year 4d.; and their labourers are to take the same as the labourers of the tilers.
Also, — That the sawiers shall take in the same manner as the masons and carpenters take.
Also, — that no one shall pay more to the workmen aforesaid, on pain of paying 40s. to the Commonalty, without any release therefrom; and he who shall take more than the above, shall go to prison for forty days. . . .
Also, — that one person of every company may see that the vessel into which their wine is drawn is clean, and from what tun their wine I drawn; on pain of imprisonment, and of paying to the Chamber, for the first time, half a mark; for the second time, one mark; for the third time, 20s., and every other time a person shall be found in like default, let his fine be increased by half a mark.
Also, — that the measures shall be standing upright, and sealed with the seal of the Alderman of the Ward; and he who shall sell by other measures, let him go to prison, and further, be amerced in half a mark.
Also, — That the pelterers shall make their furs according to the ancient ordinances, of olden time ordained, and according to the purport of their Charter; on pain of forfeiture and punishment for the same, as of old ordained.
Also, — that no one should go to meet those who are bringing victuals or other wares by land or by water to the City for the sale, for the purpose of buying them or bargaining for them, before that they shall have come to certain places assigned thereto, where they ought to be sold; on pain of forfeiture of the 49 victuals and other wars, and of their bodies being committed to prison, until they have been sufficiently punished, at the discretion of the Mayor and Alderman.
* For the Statute of Labourers, see this page on Elfinspell.