Medieval Southampton, having no major industries, depended for its prosperity on trade through its port, for which it charged customs and taxes. The port possessed significant natural advantages for trade with Atlantic and Mediterranean ports, particularly its central position on the south coast. The wine and wool trades were most important for the town. Italian, French and Spanish ships brought a wide variety of wines to the town, and much of the king’s wines were stored in vaults below the castle. Most large medieval houses had cellars for the storage of wines and many of these vaults still survive. In the 13th century some Southampton merchants, not content to let foreign traders dominate the trade, built and equipped their own ships which they filled with their own merchandise to exchange for wines in foreign ports. Nevertheless, in the 14th century it was foreign merchants who dominated the trade with some of them settling, temporarily or permanently, in the town, usually in the French Quarter around Bugle Street and French Street. The wars with France in the 14th century caused a decline in trade which was partially offset by a developing trade with Gascony. In the 15th century, a revival of trade with the Italian maritime republics of Venice and Genoa led to an increased prosperity which lasted into the 1530s. Much of this prosperity was dependent on London merchants using Southampton as a staging post between them and the Mediterranean ports. An improvement in Thames pilotage in the mid 16th century led to a rapid decline in the wine trade through Southampton, and a subsequent decline in the town’s fortunes.

Further reading:
'Commodities: Wine' by Winifred A Harwood in English Inland Trade 1430-1540: Southampton and its Region, by Michael Hicks (ed.), p115-132. (HS/h)
Medieval Southampton, by Colin Platt, p69-77. (HS/h)
Southampton – Points in its Development to the End of the 18th Century, by G. H. J. Daysh, p9-13. (HS/h)
History of Southampton Vol. 1, by A. Temple Patterson, 1, 3, 4, 26. (HS/h)
Alien Merchants in Southampton in the Later Middle Ages, by Alwyn Ruddock. (HS/h)
Italian Merchants and Shipping in Southampton, by Alwyn Ruddock. (HS/h)


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