COLE, John III, of Bridgwater, Som.
Available from Boydell and Brewer
Family and Education
m. Margery, 2s.1
Tax collector, Som. Dec. 1372.
Cole was the most prominent and successful Bridgwater merchant of his time, yet despite a career lasting from no later than 1364 until at least 1409 he is not known to have held office in the town and apparently represented it in Parliament only once. He does figure, however, as a frequent witness to local deeds. Royal licences issued to him in 1368 and 1370 reveal him as a merchant shipping beans to Bayonne and Bordeaux, as well as being engaged in coastal traffic to Wales, Devon and Cornwall. At an inquest held in Bridgwater in 1380 he was found to have been withholding the lord’s customs on corn sold to foreign merchants over a period of 12 years. This sale allegedly ran to 10,000 quarters, and besides the corn the jurors found that he had dealt in uncustomed iron, fish, salt and wine. These commodities suggest a wide-ranging interest in the Biscayan trade. In the years 1378 to 1380 Cole was also in trouble in the borough court for having used false wine measures, for leaving timber and other refuse opposite his house and elsewhere, and for placing millstones and grindstones on the ‘Back’ where they blocked the town drain. He seems to have taken little notice of the court orders. Besides his overseas trade Cole also had an interest in the manufacture of cloth at Bridgwater; and between 1395 and 1397 he was assessed for alnage on 32 ‘dozens’ produced there.2
Cole invested his profits from trade in land, both in Bridgwater and outside. His largest purchase was the manor and hundred of North Petherton, together with 400 acres of pasture, which he acquired from Sir John Erlegh in 1370 and sold 20 years later to Thomas Beaupyne* of Bristol. He paid £5 5s. a year for the Exchequer lease of a water-mill and other property at Cannington and Wembdon. As a prosperous local landlord Cole became one of the targets of the rebels at Bridgwater in 1381, and although he was not apparently subjected to personal attack, they stole and burnt court rolls and title deeds relating to his property.3 Cole’s business connexions inevitably went beyond the immediate locality. In 1370 he had entered into recognizances to pay £40 to William de Montagu, earl of Salisbury, and in 1382 he agreed to pay the prior of Hinton £180. At home, in 1395 he and five others promised to raise £200 if Sir John Trivet’s bequest of such a sum proved insufficient for the rebuilding of the town bridge. That same year the townspeople gave him 20s. for his parliamentary service. He was still alive in 1409.4
Ref Volumes: 1386-1421
- 1. Som. Feet of Fines (Som. Rec. Soc. xvii), 149-50; Bridgwater Bor. Archs. (ibid. liii), 320.
- 2. Ibid. (xlviii), 212; (liii), 318, 330-2, 334, 337, 340, 344, 348, 350-1, 353, 355, 357, 359; (lviii), 511; CPR, 1367-70, pp. 109, 339, 467; E101/343/28, 30.
- 3. CPR, 1367-70, p. 457; 1370-4, p. 136; 1381-5, p. 270; 1388-92, p. 503; Som. Feet of Fines, 79, 131-2, 149-50.
- 4. CCR, 1369-74, p. 194; 1381-5, p. 130; Bridgwater Bor. Archs. (Som. Rec. Soc. liii), 476-8; (lviii), 529; E143/20/2/43.