The Hostmen of Newcastle play a pivotal (and brutal) role in Blood of the Moon. But surely the Hostmen are just some figment of a thriller writer's fevered imagination?
The Hostmen are real.
Before industrialized society was addicted to oil, it was addicted to coal. And before OPEC, there were the Hostmen of Newcastle. Though their names and wares differed, their objectives are one.
The Hostmen of Newcastle upon Tyne was a cartel that created a monopoly to control the export of coal from the River Tyne in northeast England. They were so known from the medieval practice of "hosting," whereby local businessmen provided visiting merchants with accommodation, and introduced them to local traders. Via a combination of force and royal decree, the Hostmen positioned themselves between coal's producers, sellers, shippers, and consumers, effectively controlling the entire coal industry in England, and often even beyond its borders.
From the mid-13th century when coal commerce began to traverse the River Tyne, the Hostmen conspired to establish a stranglehold over English coal. In 1216, King John permitted Newcastle to elect a mayor, and form trade guilds. These guilds sought to ensure that trade in various commodities was concentrated and controlled in Newcastle. The desire of Newcastle businessmen to monopolize trade on the Tyne led to strife with the Prior of Tynemouth over the shipment of coal from the nearby settlement of North Shields, which the Priory controlled. In 1267 the mayor of Newcastle, Nicholas Scott, attacked North Shields with a militia of "armed merchants" (Hostmen), burning buildings and wreaking bloody havoc. In 1290, the Hostmen petitioned the King to formally restrict competition from North Shields. They succeeded, gaining royal approval to suspend the export of coal and other trade from North Shields. Through violence, arson, and conspiracy with the Crown, the Hostmen reduced North Shields to a backwater fishing port. In 1350 King Edward III granted the Hostmen a license to expand their operations, controlling coal excavation and shipment from Forth Banks and the Town Moor area. By a royal decree in 1530, all shipments of English coal were constricted to control at Newcastle quayside. Their long deployment of violence, bribery and conspiracy at last resulted in the Hostmen achieving the coal monopoly they craved.
If you needed coal to power your business or heat your home, you did as the Hostmen said.
If you dared defy the Hostmen, your business perished. Your family shivered in a cold, dark house. And your very life was in peril.
Of course, with the rise of oil to take coal's place as our modern world's most ubiquitous energy source, the Hostmen's power faded into history.
Or did it?