Oak book

Oak book

...written in both latin and French and fine calligraphy...

Southampton has an extensive series of archival documents dating from 1199.

The 14th century Oak Book is a beautiful item in its own right with its decorative text written in both latin and French and fine calligraphy but its real purpose was as a repository of the laws or ordinances under which merchants could trade in the town.

Among the ordinances are details of who should be a guildsman and what the various officials should do. Many of the ordinances are prescriptive e.g. ordnance 19 ‘…No one shall buy anything (in the town of Southampton) to sell again in the same town, except he be a guildsman… if so all he bought would be forfeit’.

Others perform a welfare function e.g. ordinance 22 has provision for payments to any guildsman who ‘fall into poverty and not have the wherewith to live’

Many towns had guilds and as with Southampton their powers and membership by the late medieval period merge with the town council.

Quick Facts

  • Made of parchment bound on oak boards
  • Written in latin and French
  • Date written 14th century


  • This book, on parchment and bound in wooden boards, is one of the Southampton Archives' treasures. It is the earliest surviving minute book of the Town and contains the bye-laws by which the old Corporation was governed, particularly in connection with the trade in the Town. The book has a handle and the back board is carved with merchants' marks.
  • The oak book is held in the archives at Southampton City Council Arts and Heritage, but you will be able to see a digital copy in Sea City.

Did you know?

The Southampson archives collections amount to almost 2 linear miles and are stored in environmentally controlled strong rooms.


Oak book front board
Oak book back board

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