Medieval markets, the Portable Antiquities Scheme, and the IPMs

The Inquisitions Post Mortem are a key source for the study of economic history in the Middle Ages; among the wealth of varied historical evidence they contain are included records and valuations of medieval markets and fairs. Our project, 'Placing Medieval Markets in their Landscape Context through the Portable Antiquities Scheme Data', hosted by the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS, at the British Museum, examines medieval commercial sites and their relationships with the small archaeological finds in the PAS database. The PAS was established in 1997 and today contains information on over 1,200,000 objects found by members of the public, mostly by metal-detecting. Some 190,000 finds are medieval (1066-1540). We aim to study the emergence, growth and decline of medieval markets, and associated infrastructure such as roads and navigable waterways, through this archaeological evidence.

The IPM data gathered by the Mapping the Medieval Countryside Project is important to our work as it substantially enhances the national picture of medieval market activity. Research over the last twenty years in the field of economic history has highlighted the important role of local weekly markets as catalysts for commercial growth during the Middle Ages. Market events not only provided crucial economic access and fostered entrepreneurial activity among the rural population, but, in many areas, connected them to broader interregional and international patterns of commerce. Understanding market activity is therefore essential to understanding local and regional economic development. The currently most comprehensive survey of medieval markets (Samantha Letters' Gazetteer of Markets and Fairs in England and Wales before 1516) did not use the IPMs, and it has been possible to identify new sites from the IPM data. Many local markets are otherwise known only by their foundation charter, and not all charters resulted in an active market. The IPMs therefore offer key evidence on the establishment, longevity and economic value of these franchises, and yield valuable information on market survival amidst the post-Black Death economic transformations of the later fourteenth century that reshaped the British society.

Michael Lewis and Eljas Oksanen
Portable Antiquities Scheme, British Museum