Tuesday, April 04, 2006

The Employees of Durham Priory, 1494-1519

The Employees of Durham Priory, 1494-1519 - This is a research project by Durham University on conditions of employment in the late Middle Ages, derived from an exceptionally rich monastic archive.

The monastic order provided employement for a large number of people in Durham, England. One of the findings of the study is that while the priory provided steady work for a few, it was only an occasional job for must who worked here. It noted, "The employment offered by Durham priory was irregular and piecemeal for all but a handful of leading employees, most of whom were involved in the repair and maintenance of buildings. Rates of pay were structured, and working arrangements too to some extent, in accordance with different types of work, but individual careers were much more unpredictable, and it is difficult to find regularity of work and pay even amongst the Priory's most favoured employees. "

The priory itself has been studied in detail. In his book Durham Priory 1400–1450, R.B. Dobson wrote about the universal aspirations and pre-occupations of medieval monasticism. He reconstructed life in Durham in the century before its final dissolution and concluded that it was an example of "comparatively successful conservatism" during a period in English history characterized by institutional resistance to social and intellectual change.

From the site:

The research employed the accounting and rental material of Durham Priory to survey the characteristics of the priory's employment structure during the priorate of Thomas Castell (1491-1519). The bursar's accounts, from which the greatest quantity of information is derived, are available for 22 out of these 25 years (all except 1502-3, 1516-17 and 1517-18). The bulk of the evidence is found in expenditure noted under the headings Expense Necessarie and Reparaciones. Complementary evidence survives in the accounts of several other obedientiaries, namely the almoner (available for 14 years in this period), the hostillar (5 years) and the commoner (4 years), though these accounts are shorter and record significantly fewer employees (Table 1). The identification in the accounts of a considerable number of employees by name creates a rare opportunity to plot the employment record of individuals from year to year. Altogether 2,484 separate job entries have been identified across the accounts analysed, of which 2,048 provide details of named employees. The majority of these jobs, 1,650 in all, are in the accounts of the bursar. Since many jobs involved more than one person, the number of references to individuals is much greater than the number of jobs. The names and occupational status of 560 individuals were identified. Background information concerning some of these individuals (almost all men) was recovered from priory rentals of the period.

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