The Gild (or Guild) Merchant was the body that from the 12th century assumed control of the municipal administration in the medieval town. It was first mentioned in a charter of Henry II in 1154, but it seems to have been in existence prior to this. At first it co-existed with other forms of authority but gradually assumed control of the town’s administration. Probably before 1300 the Gild Merchant possessed not only trading privileges and sole control of the town’s commerce, but had also installed its chief officer, the alderman, as head of the whole town and had made the town’s other officers responsible to him.

The ordinances of the Gild Merchant were set out at various times in the documents of the town. The earliest version is contained in the Oak Book, dating from c.1300. The Oak Book, written in Anglo-French, was translated by William Overey, town clerk in 1473, and presented to the Gild in 1478. Davies (History of Southampton) states that this version was to become known as the ‘Paxbread’, but P Studer in his introduction to The Oak Book of Southampton thinks it more likely that this name was applied to the original Anglo-French version. The origin of the name Paxbread (or Paxbred) is not obvious, but Studer believed ‘bred’ means board or tablet, while ‘pax’ could refer to the Easter meeting of the Court Leet, at which the Oak Book would have been used.

see also

Further reading:

History of Southampton, by Rev. J. S. Davies, p132-151. (HS/h)
Medieval Southampton, by Colin Platt, p17-22. (HS/h)
'Southampton from the Norman Conquest to 1300', by J. B. Morgan, in Collected Essays on Southampton p31-33. (HS/h)
History of Southampton, Vol. 1, by A. Temple Patterson, p5-6, 23-24. (HS/h)
The Oak Book of Southampton, (3 vols) by P Studer (ed). HS/l


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