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Culross Market Place

Mercat Cross and Tolbooth: Exploring... Scotland's Old Burghs

Crail Tollbooth










Crail Tollbooth


Scottish Burghs and Trade

In the 12th century David I granted particular towns rights of manufacture and trade. These were called royal burghs. They were also centres of government, with a direct link to the crown.

The residents with most influence were the burgesses, usually men, who had commercial privileges and civic responsibilities. Burgesses alone could own and operate businesses, but in effect wives and daughters often played an important part in trade.

The bustling market place with its stone cross was the focal point of burgh life. Here, traders competed for attention among milling townspeople and visitors, some of whom were probably from overseas. It was not just goods that were on sale - information was exchanged too, and the tolbooth or town hall was the administrative centre. Domestic and working life spilled into the street, which brought men, women and children together.

The burghs regulated trade, but how did the traders keep account of their transactions? The counters displayed here were moved on a counting board as an aid to calculation. The counters were known as jetons, from the French jeter, to throw, as they were literally tossed around on the board. Jetons appeared in France and England in the late 13th century. Although first used only by the court and the government, later they were produced in large quantities for merchants and other people who needed to make calculations. Main centres of production were Tournai in France in the 15th century, and Nuremberg in Germany in the 16th and 17th centuries.

As trade became more sophisticated people increasingly depended on money to purchase goods and services they could not supply for themselves. There were no banks in medieval times so surplus money was often concealed or buried.

Where did the money come from? The earliest coins to circulate in Scotland were brought by the Romans in the first century AD. Coins were not struck in Scotland until much later. The earliest Scottish coins were based on those of the English king Stephen, whose mint at Carlisle and silver mines nearby were captured by David I in 1136.

Until the late 15th century Scottish coins were minted in several burghs. For security reasons, mints were often within royal households. As the monarch moved from residence to residence, coins were minted wherever the king or queen happened to be.

Foreign coins circulated freely in Scotland, often accepted at a similar value to Scottish coins of the same size and general appearance. Scales were used to make sure that coins were made of pure metal of the right weight. Forgeries, very worn and clipped coins were rejected. Clipping metal from coins, for other uses, was common.

The two sides of a coin are known as obverse and reverse. Distinctive features of early Scottish coin design are profile portraits of the monarch on the obverse and stars in the angles of a cross on the reverse.

Until the late 13th century silver pennies were the only coins struck in both Scotland and England. The appearance of Scottish coins of the 12th and 13th centuries was influenced by that of English (sterling) coins, although there were also distinctive Scottish features. It was advantageous for Scottish coins to look like English coins, as at the time English pennies were accepted as sound currency all over Europe.

In the 12th and 13th centuries, before the border between Scotland and England became fixed, Scottish pennies were sometimes minted at places which are now in England, such as Berwick, Carlisle and Corbridge. Groats - large silver coins - of Robert II and Robert III and of James I and James II (between 1371 and 1460) were minted in Aberdeen, Dumbarton, Dundee, Edinburgh, Linlithgow, Perth and Stirling.

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