Explore Your Archive: Scalding swine and casting bones

Today we’re used to different tiers of government.  Archives provide insight into times when rights and responsibilities for ordinary people weren’t always as straightforward.

The ‘Red Books’ of Gloucester Borough were created by the Mayor and burgesses and contain details of the various decisions, acts and ordnances made by the borough for governing the city.  They provide a great insight about the governance of the local population and how the daily life of the city was administered by a wealth of eclectic by-laws.

Image of open book

The ‘Red Book’ of Gloucester Borough, 1486 to 1648 [GBR/B2/1]

The volume for 1486 to 1648 [GBR/B2/1] is especially good, containing lots of the gems that make archives so absorbing.  Among the numerous yet mundane Acts of Common Council regulating the prices of bread, ale, meat, fish, coal and candles are more exotic regulations such as orders stating that no pigs or ducks were to be allowed on the streets.


The Council also looked to the cleanliness and safety of the city.  Butchers were forbidden “to scald swine or cast their bones in the open street”, no ‘filthy vessels’ were to be washed at the high cross, and “no long swords or knives [are] to be worn within the town”.

Image of a watermark

‘Red Book’ watermark

The ‘Red Books’ are also attractive documents, inside and out.  As well as the beautiful writing, occasional pages have a magnificent watermark of an ox’s or bull’s head.  Most paper in England at this date came from the Troyes region of France and so hints at Gloucester having trading links with this area.  Interestingly, the British Library’s copy of the Gutenberg Bible has an almost identical watermark!


“For the Record” is our collaborative approach to gathering, keeping and sharing the documented heritage of local communities in Gloucestershire and South Gloucestershire. You can find out more about the project by visiting www.gloucestershire.gov.uk/archives/fortherecord.

Most of the project costs are being covered by grants and contributions from project partners, but we are seeking donations too. Please donate online at www.foga.org.uk or in person at Gloucestershire Archives.

Funders and partners

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