Regulating Supply and Price
Home ] Up ]



Studies: Publications

Educational Resources

Historic Sites in Scarborough Heights

Links for Toronto Links

Scarboro Heights Record

Search This Site

Table of Contents



Of Food

Mr. Weir, as the owner of the substantial estate of Stonebyers in Lesmahagow, you are one of Lanarkshire's most influential men. Along with others of your class you were appointed a Justice of the Peace. Part of your original mandate was to weaken the private jurisdictions of the old boys' club -- the heritable sheriffs, lords of regalities, barons of baronies and bailies of Royal Burghs. Even though many of these barons and bailies served with you as Justices, as a body you did have a broader perspective on local government. It was important to regulate the supply and price of food to ensure some level of fairness so that all could eat.

You and the Justices attempted to regulate against "forestallers" who bought up goods before they reached the official market (or "cryit fayr") in order to resell them at higher prices. And the "regraters" were another nasty lot -- they would buy up all the goods at the official market in order to sell them outside the market at higher prices.

Mr. Weir, what was the background and purpose of your Act of 1709?

The Justices of the Peace for the Shire of Lanark considering the excessive pryces to which victuall of all sorts hath been in the land for sometyme bygone, and that it is incumbent on them, by vertue of their office, to provide as much as in them lyes for the relieff of the poor and to prevent the dearth and scarcity so much felt, and aprehended [feared] to be increasing, as also that by several laues and Acts of Parliament it is provided that none hold victuall to a dearth, and that none hold more than will sustain themselves and their meinzie / family till neu corn, and that none hold victuall in girnalls, save for their own use... the poor people are brought to great wants and straits... And because of the grosse abuses committed by meall men, couppers and cariers of victuall, through lodging of great quantities thereof into their hands...

What did your Act require?

That all owners of wheat, bear, pease and oats must thresh by June 20 and that no one may keep more than for their own use, either in barns, barn yards, girnals or magizins. And that they shall sell the surplus grain in small and reasonable quantities not exceeding a bol to any one person in the week as might best supply the necessities of the country. And that any meal maker or person who buys up corns before it comes to the public market at the respective burghs of royalty, regalitys or baronys shall be punished as forstalers.

Was your Act effective in keeping food prices down?

That the forsaid act hath not been observed and many persons have contraveened the same, and that the constables have not given due obedience to the charge thereby committed to them, and that the excessive prices of victuall are nothing abated and seem to increase more and more, and in a great part through the forstaling of victuall and keeping of the same up to a dearth.(1)

So, Mr. Weir, the Justices reiterated the Act in 1710 and hoped that the constables would enforce it. Alas, human nature just did not cooperate and the "abuses" continued -- convictions under the Act were rare.

(1) Scottish History Society, The Minutes of the Justices of the Peace for Lanarkshire, 1707-1723, 1931, p. liii, 91-2

From The Scarboro Heights Record V9 #8