English Chartered Markets: The North Midlands Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

English Chartered Markets: The North Midlands

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The North | The North Midlands | The South Midlands, East Anglia and Wales
The market town of Chester.

The markets listed below were the first established by charter in each county. A charter was usually granted by the monarch to a local noble, granting him the right to hold a market in a specified place and on a particular day or days. Many grants were given to formalise a right to trade that may have pre-existed as far back as Roman times. The North Midlands were dominated by the Kingdom of Mercia and later the Norse invaders. It is worth noting that all the chartered markets post-date the Mercian kingdom's union with Wessex in 883. The last Mercian king chosen by the Mercian council (or Witan) was Athelred Mucil (883-911), but he may have been a promoted earl (or puppet king) who owed allegiance to King Alfred of Wessex.

The Market Charter

There were two purposes of a market charter: first it formalised the market and made it difficult to establish a rival market nearby. Second, the charter granted privileges to the town and the traders, such as exemptions from tolls and taxes, which rival markets did not enjoy.

The Chartered Markets Of the North Midlands

The early history and formation of the Northern Midland counties was dominated by many things, but the most influential were two kingdoms. The Kingdom of Wessex had risen to dominate the area south of Watling Street by defeating the Danes and establishing the Danelaw (an area controlled by Danes north of a line between Chester and London). This effectively gave the area north of Watling Street to the Danes, in return for their accepting the independence of Wessex and ceasing further raiding. The Kingdom of Wessex overran the formerly influential Kingdom of Mercia1, and after the establishment of the Danelaw, ruled them.

The North Midlands was border country; the most fought over area of the time. Trade was brisk, but in some areas economic development was slow until the end of the Danish Kingdom and the unification of the country.

In this part of the country, more use was made of the Roman road network than in the north, and the town market charters pre-date the Norman conquest. The only exception is in Overton, because the county of Rutland was created after the conquest, and therefore had its market chartered after the conquest.

The North Midlands was experiencing growth and prosperity, unlike the North, which fell victim to the events in 1069 known as the Harrying of the North. This was the personal revenge of King William I for the slaughter of his army of 700 men in Durham. The cultural and economic structure of the North was also destroyed, evidenced by the lack of chartered markets in the area (though not unchartered ones). The area did not have a chartered market established until 1086, when the first charter was granted to Penwortham, probably established as a market to serve an area around a local seaport.

Chester, Cheshire

The county name comes from the 990 original name Legecaestrescir, or 'shire of the city of the legions'.

The Romans arrived in the area and found it occupied by the Cornovii tribe. There were important deposits of silver and lead a few miles away, and a fort was erected in Chester in AD 60 to protect access to these. When the Romans left, there was a period of Danish settlement; the Welsh and Danes separated, forming what was to become the border between England and Wales. The first indication of the separation was Offas Dyke, built by King Offa in 760 to mark the border of his Kingdom of Mercia and Wales; it remained until the arrival of the Normans. The area to the east was controlled by King Ceowolf, and there were raids until Alfred the Great brought peace to the area by granting right of settlement to the Danish raiders. From 990, the county was part of an administrative area that included Staffordshire and parts of Shropshire. The last governor before the conquest was Earl Edwin of Mercia.

When the Normans arrived in 1069, they encountered resistance that they overcame by burning large areas of the county villages and killing livestock. By the end of the period of resistance, the county was destroyed; the Domesday Book refers to the county as 'abandoned' or 'useless land'. Hugh d'Avranches was the first Norman governor of the county; he built 19 new castles to maintain the peace and slowly rebuilt the area.

Situated to the north of Wrexham, the town of Chester is situated on the main coastal road (east to west) from north Wales into England. It is also on the road to the north from Shrewsbury. The town is placed at the first practical (and therefore ancient) crossing point of the River Dee from which it gained access to the sea. Originally founded by the Romans (Deva Victrix), it was prosperous. After the Romans withdrew, it became part of the Kingdom of Powys, until 616 AD when Æthelfrith of Northumbria took it by force and it became a Saxon burgh. Fortified against Viking raiders by the Saxons, it remained an important trading centre until the conquest when Hugh d'Avranches was granted the town and became the first Earl of Chester. The town was granted a market charter in 939 AD.


The area that is now Derbyshire was actively controlled by the Roman legions and centred on Little Chester until their departure. The area was then taken over and ruled by the Saxons as part of the Mercian Kingdom. After the Norman conquest, Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire were given to one of William's favourites, William Peveril.

Derby is situated in the centre of the Midlands where the major routes of the area converge to cross the River Derwent. The settlement was founded by the Romans (Derventio), and after they withdrew, the town was settled by the Vikings and named after the Danish words 'deor by', meaning 'deer settlement'. The town was one of the five boroughs of the Danelaw (the others were Leicester, Lincoln, Nottingham and Stamford). It passed into Saxon hands in 917 AD, was granted the charter in the same year, was peacefully annexed by the Normans after the conquest and the Domesday Book entry for the area records a population of 2,000 by 1086 AD.

Nottingham, Nottinghamshire

The first people arrived in this county 42,000 BC (during the Paleolithic period). The Romans established a settlement at Nottingham and Mansfield. The Fosse Way, a main artery Roman road, passes through the county. After the Romans left Britain, the Angles occupied the area, migrating from the Lincolnshire area and occupying the valley along the River Trent. By 451 the county was part of the Mercian Kingdom. Saxons appear to have established a settlement at Tuxford and Oxton, where traces of settlement were found. The first documented mention of the area as Nottingham is in 876, in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, where it is referred to as Snottingham.

In 878, the Treaty of Wedmore gave parts of the county around Nottingham to form one of the five Danelaw (Danish burghs). The others were Stamford, Leicester, Derby and Lincoln.

The first documents to mention the shire of Nottingham and give the name Sherwood to the nearby woodlands was in 1016, when the area was ravaged by Canute. When the kingdom was united with the rest of Britain in 1049 by Hardicanute, the area became the Earldom of Mercia and was granted to Leofric.

The county boundaries and its eight wapentakes2 are defined in the Domesday Book, and are largely unaltered since that time.

Nottingham has a long history, there may have been a Roman settlement on the site since the Fosse Way passes near the town. The River Trent, which provides the site for an inland port, is first crossable at this point. Nottingham is located on the main route north from London and is situated between Leicester and Lincoln on the route to the east-coast port of Grimsby. Little is recorded of the town until the Anglo-Saxons settled and founded the burgh of Snottingaham3. The next occupants were the Danes, who in 850 took the town and fortified the outcrop of sandstone above it. They also encircled the town with a ditch and wooden wall.

In 918, the English Edward the Elder retook the town, granted the charter, established a mint and ordered the building of the first bridge in town. The Normans took the town in 1067 and built a castle. So, many French people subsequently moved in to the new settlement that it was called 'the French borough'. The area was hostile to the Norman rule, so motte and bailey castles were built at Cuckney, Laxton and Newark.

Lincoln, Lincolnshire

The Romans arrived in 43 AD and found it occupied by the Cornovii tribe, who also occupied part of Cheshire. They improved the area, established 15 forts in the county and built the Roman roads Ermine Street and the Fosse Way through the county. After the Romans left, the peoples known as the Angles established the Kingdom of Lindsey, with Lincoln as the capital. The kingdom became part of Mercia in the 690s, but in 865 AD, all Anglo-Saxon kingdoms (with the exception of Wessex) fell to the Danish army. There followed a period of Danish settlement in the county when Lincoln was given the status of burgh (or borough) as part of the Danelaw division agreed to in the treaty of Wedmore by Alfred the Great and Guthrum. The transition to Norman control was facilitated by the construction of castles at Tattershall and Lincoln.

Lincoln began as the Roman fortified settlement of 'Lindum', which means 'pool' in Celtic. It was built on the north-south route from London to Kingston-upon-Hull, in 48 AD, when the local tribes allowed the Romans to turn the settlement into a colonia4 in exchange for their lives. The Romans improved port facilities on the river Witham and canal connecting Lincoln to the River Trent. The town was prosperous from the start, but after the Roman withdrawal it was almost deserted. The Angles occupied the area until the Danes took over in 890 AD and made it one of the five burghs. In 917 AD, the town passed into Saxon hands and the town was granted its market charter in 924 AD by Athelstan the Glorious in the year of his coronation, following which it grew into an important town with a full range of local trades and a royal mint.

The town had a fairly smooth transition to Norman rule and had a castle built to keep the peace in the town. The town prospered, and by 1086 AD had a population of over 6,000. Because of its location, it became an important trading centre.

Shrewsbury, Shropshire

The county name Shropshire is thought to have come from the old English 'Scrobbesbyrigscir', or Scrob Shire, from Richard Fitz Scrob, a Norman knight granted lands in the Ludlow area of the county prior to the conquest by Edward the Confessor. The town and associated parish became known as Richard's Castle.

After the Romans left Britain, some of the local hill forts appear to have been reoccupied. When the Saxon Kingdom of Mercia became established, the settlements moved into more open areas. There were frequent Danish incursions - in 874 the Abbey at Much Wenlock was sacked - and the Danes were strong enough to stay in the county over the winter of 912.

In 866, the last Mercian King died without an heir and the county became part of the Kingdom of Wessex. In 1016, the Danes were still threatening the area, so Edmund Ironside laid waste to Shrewsbury to prevent its use by the Danish army.

A year after he defeated the Danish invaders, Edmund Ironside died and the Danes became the rulers of all England under King Knute. This did not bring peace to the county; in the years prior to the conquest, Welsh raiders laid waste to much of the county.

The arrival of the Normans had Shrewsbury fortified and its castle rebuilt in stone; consequently, the town began to grow. However, the raids of the Welsh continued. They took the town and held it for a short while in 1215. Shropshire's status as a 'border county' slowed its development for many years.

Shrewsbury was originally an Anglo-Saxon town, its name is thought to be derived from 'Scrobbesburh', meaning 'fort in a waste land'.

The town is situated near the river Severn on the end of Watling Street, the road from Kent that passes through London and Wroxeter (Virconium), where it crosses the River Severn. After the river crossing, the road makes a sharp southern turn, necessary to complete the journey south on Stone Street to Caerleon. Founded in 800, it was a major trading centre for wool. From the start, the town had access to Europe via the quays on the River Severn. The town started life as a wooden walled settlement with a strong connection to the new Christian church and Bishop Eata of Northumbria. Shrewsbury was granted its market charter in 901 AD.

Stafford, Staffordshire

The county of Staffordshire has no deep historical roots as it was founded in 1889. The county was mainly forest and moorland until then, and from the earliest times a provider of iron, coal and clay. The area was chiefly known as Mercia, and the county was formed from the old Mercian regions of Totmonslow, Pirehill, Cuttlestone, Senisdon and Offlow. The county symbol, the Staffordshire knot, comes from a pre-conquest Mercian monument in a church yard in the town of Stone.

The town is situated on the same eastern, north-south main route (now the A34) as Worcester, the road from London to the coastal ports clustered around Liverpool. It is situated on a major crossing of the river Sow. There is evidence of a history as far back as the Iron Age, and Romans may have settled the town. However, the first recorded history begins when the town was fortified against Danes by King Alfred's daughter Aethelflaed. The towns charter dated 913 was for a market to serve a huge rural area full of farming and forestry. When the Normans arrived, the market charter was not revoked, but Stafford Castle was built, as were many fortified houses and forts, evidence that the area was hard to subdue.

The Town of Tamworth also had a market established in 913 AD, but as Stafford is the county town and appears to have had the charter issued just prior to Tamworth, Stafford had the priority.

Market Overton, Rutland

The Romans arrived in 43 AD and found Rutland occupied by the Corieltauvi and Cornovii tribes; it appears to have been something of a border area. When the Romans left, the Angles occupied the area and by 451 the county was part of the Mercian Kingdom. Records report that Edward the Confessor left the county to his wife Erdith in 1066, so it must have been a royal estate. The county was recorded as being a part of Nottinghamshire and in the wapentake of Wincelsea. The county came into official existence in 1159 when it was referred to by the Normans and given the title 'Soke of Rutland'.

Market Overton was originally a Roman settlement, but nothing from that era was recorded. It later became a Saxon settlement. Overton was granted a charter in 1200, during the reign of King John, making it the last market to be established in the region. The town is situated on the main east coast north-south route from London to the ports of Grimsby and Hull. The route appears to diverge unnecessarily far inland - this was due to the wet and difficult passage through the area before it was drained in the middle ages.

All the markets in this region are pre-conquest, excepting Market Overton in Rutland, established in 1200 AD.

A map of each town mentioned in the Entry can be found on the links below. You can use this to get an idea of how the market fitted in the surrounding area. If you zoom out you will see how the markets relate to each other.

1From the old English 'The Border Peoples'.2Saxon Wæpen-tac or Weapon-touch, a military conscription or recruiting area.3The Saxon 'snotta' was a 'land owner'. In Saxon the word 'inga' means 'the property of' and the Saxon for 'village' is 'ham'. So the name of Snotta-inga-ham was created.4A state sponsored settlement, in that retired army veterans were given a grant of land in the area as a form pension.

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