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The Assize of Bread and Ale (Latin: Assisa panis et cervisiae) was a 13th-century statute (assize) in late medieval English law, which regulated the price, weight and quality of the bread and beer manufactured and sold in towns, villages and hamlets. This statute is usually attributed to act 51 Hen. III, occurring about 1266–1267. It was the first law in British history to regulate the production and sale of food. At the local level, this resulted in regulatory licensing systems, with arbitrary recurring fees, and fines and punishments for lawbreakers (see amercement). In rural areas, the statute was enforced by manorial lords, who held tri-weekly court sessions.
The law was amended by the Bread Acts of 1822 and 1836, which stipulated that loaves should be sold by the pound, or multiple thereof, and finally repealed by the Statute Law Revision Act 1863 (26 & 27 Vict. c.125).
The expensive equipment associated with brewing and baking, particularly the oven, created a commercial market for the goods. This resulted in a perceived need for regulations controlling quality and pricing, and checking weights, to avoid fraudulent activity by food providers. The Assize of Bread and Ale set the price of ale and the weight for a farthing loaf of bread. The act reduced competition and was purportedly given at the request of the bakers of Coventry, embracing several ordinances of Henry III's predecessors.
Some versions of the statute include an explanatory third paragraph which begins:
By the Consent of the whole Realm of England, the Measure of our Lord the King was made; that is to say: That an English peny, called a Sterling, round and without any clipping, shall weigh 32 Wheat Corns in the midst of the Ear, and 20 d. do make an Ounce, and 12 Ounces one Pound, and 8 Pound do make a Gallon of Wine, and 8 Gallons of Wine do make a London Bushel, which is the Eighth Part of a Quarter.
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