Many of the historic market towns of England and Wales were established by royal charter. This was usually granted by the monarch to a local nobleman, affording him the right to hold a market in a specified place and on a particular day or days. Many of these grants formalised an earlier right to trade that may have existed as far back as Roman times.
The south Midlands, East Anglia and Wales were either ruled, or economically influenced, by the Saxon kingdom of Wessex. Six of the market charters here were granted during the reign of Edward the Elder (899 - 824) - the first being to Worcester in 899, his coronation year. The last in the area was granted to Ipswich in 973 by Edgar the Peaceable (859 - 975).
The country would soon enter a period of growth. A knight previously paid eight pence a day by Henry II (1154 - 1198) would be paid 24 pence (two shillings) by King John (1167 - 1216). This prosperity in England, 134 years after the Norman Conquest, put the kingdom in a position to exploit the growth in domestic and world trade.
The Market Charter
Inspeximus and confirmation by Edward IV of (among others) a charter of Henry III and its confirmations by Edward I and Richard II, granting to the burgesses of Northampton quittance from toll and lastage throughout England and the sea ports.
- Extract from The Charter of Northampton, 1462.
There were two purposes to a market charter. First, it formalised the market and made it difficult for any rival to set up close by. 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 charter tax and toll exemptions that could be granted were:
Passage - The right to pass through the town and borough freely and without charge.
Pedage - A safe passage toll, granting the entitlement to safe, protected travel through the town.
Pontage - A local tax for bridge maintenance.
Payage - A payment allowed by charter where a peasant could pay a day's wages to his lord in lieu of a day's work on the lord's land.
Stallage - The cost or rent for stall space at a market, and the right to put up a stall at the market.
Tallage - A tax imposed by the king or lords on towns or dwellings on their land or private estate.
Tithe or Tythe - A contribution of one tenth, by way of a tax on goods and produce. This could be relieved in a market charter.
A town with a chartered market also benefited from the ability to attract people to the town. This in turn gave the town powers to hold a court, levy fines and create local laws. The area over which the town's powers extended was clearly defined and known as the borough, or burh.
The Chartered Markets of the South Midlands, East Anglia and Wales
The early history and formation of the counties of the south Midlands was largely influenced by conflict between the kingdom of Wessex and the Danes. The Danelaw treaty with Alfred the Great granted the Danes the lands to the north of Watling Street, the Roman road which ran between London and Birmingham. It is interesting that more use was made of the Roman road network in this part of the country than in the North, and its towns have market charters that pre-date the Norman Conquest. The Watling Street boundary area escaped the 'Harrying of the North', William the Conqueror's vengeful act of mass slaughter, looting, pillage and destruction directed against the northern settlements that had supported a Viking invasion of Britain.
There follows a brief history of the counties in this region and the first market established by charter in each.
The East Anglian Grywas people were the first English to settle in the county. The Danes took the region in 740, and the area around Huntingdon became their trading and military centre. The Saxon king Edward the Elder then recaptured the area and strengthened Huntingdon in 915, including it in the Earldom of Anglia.
The area changed hands several times between 1011 and 1050, when it became part of the earldom of Northumberland. Following the Norman Conquest, Huntingdonshire formed a part of the land granted to one of William's favourites, Count Eustace of Boulogne.
The first market was established in this wealthy area in 917, to serve the national wool trade, as well as the local corn and coal trade. Huntingdon was sited at the major crossing point of the river Great Ouse by Ermine Street, the main London to York route. It was named Huntantun by the Saxons and Hunters dune in the Domesday Book, derived from its woodland location and plentiful supply of deer for the chase.
The town was granted its charter by Edward the Elder, who built the first castle (which has now disappeared) and established a mint in the town. Huntingdon's strategic position enabled it to become the major market town in the area.
Northamptonshire has pre-Celtic origins. The Romans also left their mark, establishing some major towns, the most important being Towcester1. The county became part of the kingdom of Mercia following the Romans' departure. It was then conquered by the Danes and became part of the Danelaw settlement between Alfred and Guthrum in 886, which laid down the boundaries of their respective kingdoms.
In 1011, the county appeared in records for the first time as Hamtun. The prefix 'North' was added later, making it Northamtun Shire, as there was also a Southamtun Shire (now Hampshire). When the Normans arrived, they established a base at Rockingham and set up the administration of Northamptonshire by a 'shire reeve'.
Towcester was originally founded by the Romans as Lactodorum, a garrison stationed at the crossroads of Watling Street and the Bristol-Swindon-Peterborough road. After the Romans left, the town was eventually occupied by the Saxons and then the Danes, until they were displaced by Alfred the Great's son, Edward the Elder, in 917. The town became part of the kingdom of Wessex and received its charter at this time. Towcester was not unusual in having a relatively smooth transition from English to Norman rule following the Conquest.
The first settlers in the area were the Bronze Age predecessors of the Catuvelanni people, whom the Romans went on to conquer. This area was perhaps the most difficult to traverse because of the marshes around Ely. Cambridgeshire became part of the Saxon kingdom of Mercia, but it was overrun by the Danes, and the area was another granted to them as part of the Danelaw settlement. The Danes were eventually driven out of the area by Canute in 1016.
Cambridge, originally the Roman town of Durolipons, was established on a crossing of the river Cam by the Via Divana road that linked the town to Colchester in the south and Lincoln in the north. After the departure of the Romans, the Anglo Saxons established themselves in the town. Naming it Grentebrige or Cantebrigge, they built a defended settlement on the site of the castle. Cambridge was granted its charter in 973, during the reign of Edgar the Peaceable.
The Normans arrived, and established a castle in the town in 1068. This became a base for the forces dispatched to combat resistance to Norman rule by Hereward the Wake on the Isle of Ely. The area stayed under the control of the king until the resistance was quelled.
Norfolk, the original homeland of the Icini people, formed the northern part of the Roman province of Flavia Cæsariensis. After the Roman withdrawal, this region became the northern part of the East Anglian kingdom, the area's major settlements being Norwich and Sudbury. Lying to the north of Watling Street, the county was ceded to the Danes as part of the Danelaw division.
The foundation of the county was complete prior to the Norman invasion, and it was controlled by King Harold II's brother, Gurth. The Normans then established bases at Framlingham, Orford, Yarmouth, Clare and Walton, and set up the joint administration of Norfolk and Suffolk by a shire reeve: Roger Bigod of Calvados.
Norwich is situated on a major crossroads and, being sited on the river Yare, was a major east coast trading port with superb access to Europe. This provided Norwich with trade access to the Midlands and eastern England.
The earliest occupation of the town appears to be the scattered late-Roman period settlements of the Saxons and Icini, who established themselves along the banks of the rivers Wensum and Yare. These settlements were raided by Vikings, who sailed up the Yare. The raiders eventually settled in the area in 870, until they were subdued by Edward the Elder in 917. During this time, the Saxon village settlements began to grow and merge, and the largest of the villages, Norwic, gave its name to the new town of Norwich. The growing town was granted its charter in 924, and by the time of the Norman Conquest it was one of the largest towns in England, with a population of more than 5,000.
Before the arrival of the Romans, the area was home to the Dubunni tribe, and during the occupation Oxenaforda something of a backwater. After the Romans' departure, it became home to the Thames valley Saxon peoples, and was incorporated in the kingdom of Mercia (Mittlere Angelnen).
The county's importance grew during this period, and it became a focus of political influence with the birth of Alfred the Great at Wantage. Oxfordshire, at that time situated entirely to the north of the River Thames, was also a major producer of wool.
Oxenaforda (a ford for oxen) was situated on the major route from London to Gloucester and Stafford. As the name suggests, it was positioned on an important crossing point of the Thames, at this time an important trading river.
Wharves in the town date from Roman times, when they served the industry in the area. As an Anglo Saxon town, it became a burh, and was chosen as the site for a royal mint; there are examples of coins bearing the name Ohsnafordia.
The town was granted a charter by Athelstan (924 - 939) in 924, and from this time it started to expand.
In 1009, the Danes attacked Oxford, inflicting great damage on the town. After a short occupation, they were driven out by the Saxons.
In 1071, the Normans built a castle in Oxford. Lord Robert D'Oily was the first governor of the town, and Oxford University was founded shortly after, in 1096.
Suffolk (known as Sudfole or Suthfolc) was first populated by the Icini, and then became the southern part of the Roman province of Flavia Cæsariensis. Following the Roman withdrawal, it became the southern part of the kingdom of East Anglia, with major settlements at Ipswich and Sudbury. As with Norfolk (see above), the region was ceded to the Danes by Alfred the Great, retaken by King Harold II's brother, Gurth, and eventually controlled by the Norman shire reeve
The town of Ipswich was established by the Romans as a trading port, connecting inland towns with the rest of the empire. It sat at the eastern end of the major Roman east-west route, at the junction with the north-south road between London and Castor St Edmunds.
As the Anglo Saxon town Gipeswic, it continued as a port and was the main trading centre in the area between York and London. Famous for its pottery, the town sent its wares to all parts of England.
Ipswich was occupied by the Vikings from 868 to 900, and was then recaptured by the English. King Edgar granted the market charter in 973, and also established a mint in the town.
The Romans built several roads through the region, which was peaceful and prosperous. After their withdrawal, the area became part of the Hwiccan kingdom. It then passed into the hands of the Danes, and a burh may have been established at Worcester. Edward 'the Elder' recovered Mercia from the Danes, and it is at this time that the county became established. The only mention the county has in the Anglo Saxon Chronicle is the town of Wocerster being burned by Harthacanute due to a tax revolt in 1041. The transition to Norman rule was without incident, and Worcestershire became the fief of Urse d'Abitot, the first shire reeve and builder of Worcester castle. The county was famous for the establishment of religious houses, and by the time of the Domesday Book it is noted that over half of the county was owned by the Church.
The town of Worcester was founded by the Romans to guard a strategic point on the River Severn, the first safe crossing upstream of Bristol. The Roman settlement was possibly called Vertis. Records from the 7th Century list it as the Anglo Saxon settlement of Weogomacaester. Granted a market charter in 899, it is one of the oldest in England. The town had some port facilities on the river, and became an import and export centre.
This area formed the western edge of Roman Britain for the first 40 years after the invasion, and there was a concentration of forts and bases. Many settlements were established around these military establishments, especially along the roads that crossed the county: Watling Street, Ryknild Street and the Fosse Way. After the Roman withdrawal, the area, together with neighbouring Worcestershire, became part of the Hwiccan kingdom.
Alfred the Great ceded the area to the Danes for a period, as part of the settlement in the treaty known as the Peace of Wedmore. Castles were started at Warwick and Tamworth during this period. In 1000, the county was referred to by the name of its principal town - 'the dwellings at the weir' or Warwick.
The transition to Norman rule was without incident. The castles of Kenilworth and Warwick were rebuilt and the county became an important earldom in 1088, the first earl being Henry de Beaumont.
The town of Warwick, the oldest in the Midlands, is situated on the main north-south route from London to Liverpool and the trade routes from Wales. Originally founded by the Romans on the site of an earlier settlement, it became the Anglo Saxon town of Wiogoraceastre after their withdrawal. Warwick became a royal city, and in 640 a diocese was created and a cathedral built. The town, awarded its market charter in 914, marked one of the four main English crossing places on the River Severn, the others being Gloucester, Stourport and Shrewsbury.
The area was the first part of Wales in which the Romans settled. They established a base at Chester, where they exploited the lead in the area. They also founded the port at Rhuddlan, the county’s only chartered market.
There was strong resistance to the Normans throughout Wales. The first castle to really control the area was built by Roger Mortimer, 1st Earl of March, in 1295, as part of the defences ordered by Edward I. Resistance to the English crown caused the economic development of Wales to stagnate, as evidenced by the few charters granted to the area.
The town of Rhuddlan is a sea port situated at the end of the main eastern road between the Midlands and London; the route passes through Stafford and Worcester on the way. There was only one pre-Conquest market in Wales and it was founded by the English, who controlled this area as part of the kingdom of Mercia. Edward the Elder built the first castle there in 921, and established the market the same year.
The town fell to the Welsh under Gruffydd ap Llywelyn, who held it for 10 years. The Normans removed the Welsh in 1073 and installed Robert of Rhuddlan, a relation of the Earl of Chester.