fonds STAPLE - Records of the Company of the Merchants of the Staple of England

Identity area

Reference code



Records of the Company of the Merchants of the Staple of England


  • [late 15th century]-1978 (Creation)

Level of description


Extent and medium

0.07 cubic metres

7 boxes

Context area

Name of creator


Administrative history

Although a community of English merchants concerned with the export trade existed before this time, the Company of the Staple can be confidently traced back to 1359, when the first royal grant was issued giving the merchants unequivocal control of the export trade in staple commodities. In 1363 the "Community of the Merchant of the Staples" moved to Calais from Bruges and soon became known as the Mayor and Company of the Merchants of the Staple of England.

In order to ship wool to Calais a merchant had to be a member of the Company and to obey its ordinances. Admission could be gained through a three to four year apprenticeship or by purchase and by the end of the fifteenth century, nearly 400 men were members.

The Company enjoyed great wealth and controlled the English wool trade here until the loss of Calais in 1558, by which time changes in the English textile industry were also undermining their trade. Attempts to set up again at Bruges with the backing of a new royal charter did not restore their prosperity and this decline led the Company, anxious to emphasise its historical and national importance, to collect its documents, creating the register of royal grants found in this collection. In 1565 they also established an ordinance book to regulate their merchants' trading activities.

Moves between Bruges and Hamburg followed until in 1614 the export of English wool was forbidden and the Company was forced to seek a new role for itself. They established new ordinances and were allowed to trade wool within England. London continued to be their focus however, where they owned the Staple Inn and other property. Throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries the Company managed the supply of wool throughout England. In 1825, the export of English wools was once more allowed and overseas wool began to arrive in England, reducing the Company's importance as a wool-broker. Through the nineteenth century it functioned as a Livery Company of sorts meeting in London twice a year.

In 1928, with few remaining members, the Company was terminated and its records deposited in the British Museum. The records were discovered by Professor Rich in 1932, and his enquiries, with those of Mr Bernard Johnson, revealed that three members of the Company still existed, two of them in Yorkshire. There was support for reviving the Company at York and the Company began to meet twice a year there, and once in London. The Company continues to the present day.

Archival history

Part of this archive was originally deposited in the British Library in 1928 but was withdrawn by the Company in 1954.

Immediate source of acquisition or transfer

The records were kept for some time in the Merchant Adventurers Hall strongroom and were deposited in the Borthwick Institute in 1989.

Content and structure area

Scope and content

Royal charter, 1669; copies of royal grants and confirmations, covering dates 1341-1617; ordinances, 1565-1923; minute books, 1619-1923; agendas for Court meetings, 1828, 1839, 1915, 1927, 1961; administrative correspondence and papers, 1889-1955, 1960-1978; committee report on the property, resources, income and expenditure of the Company, 1914; financial records, comprising bonds, 1610, 1615, receipts, vouchers and cheque stubs, 1913-1961, and accounts and expenses of the Clerk of the Company, n.d.; membership records, comprising lists of members and correspondence and papers, 1913, 1923, 1949-50, 1963-1972; brass seal matrix, n.d.


Further accruals are expected.

System of arrangement

Conditions of access and use area

Conditions governing access

Records are open to the public, subject to the overriding provisions of relevant legislation, including data protection laws.

Conditions governing reproduction

A reprographics service is available to researchers subject to the access restrictions outlined above. Copying will not be undertaken if there is any risk of damage to the document. Copies are supplied in accordance with the Borthwick Institute for Archives' terms and conditions for the supply of copies, and under provisions of any relevant copyright legislation. Permission to reproduce images of documents in the custody of the Borthwick Institute must be sought.

Language of material

  • English
  • Latin

Script of material

Language and script notes

Physical characteristics and technical requirements

Finding aids

A typescript finding aid, to file level, is available for consultation in the searchroom of the Borthwick Institute.

Allied materials area

Existence and location of originals

Existence and location of copies

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Related descriptions

Notes area

Alternative identifier(s)

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Description control area

Description identifier

Institution identifier

GB 193

Rules and/or conventions used

ISAD (G): General International Standard Archival Description, International Council on Archives (2nd edition, 2000); Rules for the construction of personal, place and corporate names, National Council on Archives (1997).

Level of detail

Dates of creation revision deletion



  • English



Accession area