The Origins of the Freemen (vi)
During the next two centuries other tradesmen and craftsmen also joined together in trade or craft guilds such as Bakers and Brewers, Butchers, Coopers and Goldsmiths. In all there were forty six of these Guilds or Companies as they are now called in Newcastle.
These craft Guilds of the Middle Ages were in effect the equivalent of the modern Trade Unions. The members agreed on and controlled conditions of labour, standards of work, admission to the trade after apprenticeship and associated matters.
Considerable jealousy arose between the Freemen and the Merchants as the Merchants were trying to claim exclusive use of the Freemen's ancient customary trading rights.
In 1305 the Freemen were successful in legal proceedings against the Merchants. The dispute continued, however, during the 14th and 15th centuries between the Merchant Companies and the craft companies. The members of the Merchant Companies (succeeded later by the Merchant Adventurers Company and the Hostmen's Company), however, managed to retain the real control of the town's affairs.
No doubt the origins of the tension which followed between the Freemen and the Corporation, is to be found in these disputes.