A case study: markets and fairs in the IPMs

Among much else the Lincolnshire IPM of Thomas de Roos, knight, taken in 1430, recorded the existence at Wragby of a weekly market on Wednesdays, and an annual fair on the feast of the Ascension. Both had also been recorded in 1421. [1. CIPM xxi.845, xxiii.548.] The Wednesday market is known from other sources and is listed in a comprehensive Gazetteer of markets and fairs. [2. http://www.history.ac.uk/cmh/gaz/gazweb2.html; print version, S. Letters et al., Gazetteer of Markets and Fairs in England and Wales to 1516, List and Index Society Special Series 32-33 (2003). Information on fairs and markets is drawn from the online text unless otherwise noted.] The fair is not listed, although its existence is confirmed by an account of 1423-4. [3. SC 6/1121/16 m. 17.] This is not unusual: the IPMs are a significant source of information on markets and fairs, and they are particularly valuable for the fifteenth century when the history of many such institutions is obscure. IPMs can shed light on the decline and disappearance of markets, and consequently on economic contraction and changing patterns of trade. As is often the case, though, the inquisitions need to be used with caution: detailed study of markets and fairs in the IPMs tells us not only about those institutions but about the value and reliability of the inquisitions themselves.

Those who are thoroughly sceptical of IPM extents will be surprised by the frequency with which their information on markets and fairs is corroborated by other sources. This is particularly true regarding the dates on which markets and fairs were held. Time and again an IPM's statements confirm the evidence of the establishing charters. Examples include the fair on the Decollation of John the Baptist (29 Aug.) at Latton (Essex); the Tuesday market, and fair on SS Peter and Paul (29 June), at Great Limber; the Thursday market and All Saints (1 Nov.) fair at West Rasen (both Lincs); and many others. Such correspondences establish a certain degree of confidence in the IPMs' reliability.[4. CIPM xix.120; xxii.180, 312, 737; for details of the charters, see the Gazetteer.]

As at Wragby, the IPMs also provide evidence for a number of markets and fairs not currently known from other sources. These include the Tuesday market at Babingley (Norf), recorded in 1434; the Wednesday market at Chelsworth (Suff), recorded in 1438; the Michaelmas (29 Sept.) fair at Minehead (Somers), recorded in 1428 and 1435; the Whitsun fair at Dunster (Somers), recorded in 1428; and so on. In several cases this information can often be verified in other sources. [5. CIPM xxiii.52; xxiv.122, 470; xxv.107; For the fair at Dunster see VCH draft text (http://www.victoriacountyhistory.ac.uk/sites/default/files/work-in-progress/dunster_economic_history_1st_draft_edited.pdf); the 1428 IPM apparently supplies the first evidence of its date on Whitsun Monday, confirmed by Leland in the 1530s (The Itinerary of John Leland, ed. L. T. Smith, 5 vols. (1906-10), i.166).]

The Butter Cross at Dunster, probably the market cross recorded in 1461 but moved from its original site in the nineteenth century. Image copyright Phil Champion and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 license. (http://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/1702292)

IPMs may record, where other sources do not, the days on which markets or fairs occurred: Friday as the market day at Wakefield (Yorks); Thursday at Weobley (Heref); Saturday at Wantage (Berks); and so on. [6. CIPM xxi.625; xxiv.262, 475.] Or they may provide evidence for changes of date subsequent to the original charter. This seems to have happened at Penrith, for example, where a market chartered for Wednesdays is recorded in 1370 and 1440 as taking place on Tuesdays. [7. CIPM xiii.66; xxv.517.] In conjunction with other sources, this evidence can add to our understanding of local trading networks. Kersey (Suff), for example, was chartered for a Monday market in 1252; by the fourteenth century IPM evidence suggests that the market-day had changed to a Friday. [8. CIPM xxii.504.] Presumably this reflected competition from nearby Toppesfield (now Toppesfield Hall in Hadleigh), which had also been chartered for a Monday market in 1252. Similarly IPM information on the dates of fairs can refine our picture of their seasonality (the natural tendency of fairs to take place in summer and autumn), and also of the relationship between fair dates and the dedications of local churches.

IPMs also cast light on the continued functioning of markets and fairs. We need to be cautious, because of the possibility (in some cases, indeed, virtual certainty) that extents were duplicated from earlier documents, rather than being compiled on the basis of current information.  At Great Bardfield (Essex), for example, IPMs of 1425 and 1432 both seem to have derived ultimately from an earlier extent of 1398. [9. CIPM xxii.499; xiv.78; C 136/105/34 m. 39.] Nevertheless there are a number of instances where details of markets and fairs do not appear to be derived from earlier extents, as for example at Wragby in 1430, Castle Acre in 1440, Kersey in 1425, or Chelsworth in 1438. [10. CIPM xxii.504; xxiii.548; xxv.107, 376.] These markets and many others were presumably still functioning, even if many (as we shall see below) had low valuations and may have been in decline. In many cases IPMs appear to provide the only evidence for the survival of trading institutions in the fifteenth century.

The failure of an IPM to mention a fair or market does not provide clear evidence of its disappearance, since comparison of IPMs with other sources (including other IPMs) indicates that the recording of markets and fairs is erratic and inconsistent. To take only one example, a fair at Ayot St Lawrence (Herts) was recorded in an IPM of 1375 but not in another of 1421; accounts show that it was still being held in 1470-1. [11. CIPM xiv.192; xxi.499; BL Harley Roll A. 15.] As we saw in an earlier feature, markets and fairs were not part of the ‘core' features in model extents and so they may not have been a feature that escheators readily remembered to record or enquire about. Nevertheless, scepticism must not be taken too far, and the testimony of IPMs must not be dismissed too rapidly. On some occasions the absence of a particular fair of market may be significant. For example at Withernsea (Yorks) an IPM of 1438 mentioned only fairs at the Assumption and Nativity of the Virgin (15 Aug. and 8 Sept.), and not the weekly market which had been chartered in 1338 and 1343; an account of 1423 likewise mentions only the fairs, perhaps implying that the market had lapsed. [12. CIPM xxv.238; SC 6/1083/11.] (Although it must be remembered that private accounts themselves do not always record markets and fairs with full precision.)

On very rare occasions the IPMs provide explicit evidence of a market's decline. In 1444 the Wednesday market at Ashill in Somerset was said to be worth nothing ‘because not used for many years' (fairs at Lady Day (25 March) and SS Simon and Jude (28 Oct.), in contrast, were still worth 2s. a year). Likewise in 1382 the market at Hanworth (Norf) had been ‘worth nothing because discontinued for many years.' [13. CIPM xxvi.218, xv.609.] It is less clear, though, that the changing values attributed to markets or fairs in IPMs provide a reliable index of their prosperity or decline. As elsewhere, it is difficult to assess the reliability of these valuations, but they are often significant underestimates.

Of course IPMs usually deal only with markets and fairs founded by lay tenants-in-chief, only a proportion of the total founded. It is striking, for example, that the IPMs from 1399 to 1447 do not record a single market in Cambridgeshire. Several successful markets in that county (e.g. Balsham or Cambridge) were in the hands of ecclesiastics, so do not feature in the IPMs. Of the numerous lay foundations, many (as at Abington Pigotts or Cottenham) seem to have failed to establish themselves or as (like Bassingbourn or Fowlmere) were early failures. Others (as at Barham, Barrington, Brinkley, or Foxton) simply failed to occur in the IPMs because the manors were not extended, or the tenants did not hold in chief.

The IPMs do nevertheless provide a snapshot, even if it is a partial and incomplete one, of the markets founded and maintained by lay landlords. Between 1399 and 1447 almost 75% of these were relatively minor affairs, worth £1 or less. That was something of a decline from the first half of the fourteenth century, when under half of the markets recorded in IPMs were worth less than £1. [14. Campbell & Bartley, Atlas, 301.] Evidently, and unsurprisingly, the general profitability of markets had declined in an age of contracting population and declining trade. What is perhaps more striking, however, is that so many markets had never been very profitable. Perhaps, as Richard Britnell has suggested, many were originally intended to serve only a restricted area. [15. R. Britnell, ‘Urban demand in the English economy, 1300-1600', in Trade, Urban Hinterlands, and Market Integration c.1300-1600, ed. J. A. Galloway (Centre for Metropolitan History Working Papers Series, no. 3; Institute of Historical Research, 2000), 1-22, at 11. Online: http://sas-space.sas.ac.uk/39/1/britnell.pdf] They were able to play such a function even in a period of economic contraction and many survived into the sixteenth century.  Possibly a large number of low-valued markets operated consistently within a limited radius and maintained an existence as institutions of purely local significance. The ‘frenzy' of market foundation between about 1250 and 1330, when many local markets emerged, may have been more rational than is sometimes supposed. [16. J. Masschaele, Peasants, Merchants, and Markets: Inland Trade in Medieval England, 1150-1350 (Basingstoke, 1997), 231.]

Above all the IPMs, with their notices of hitherto unrecorded markets and their evidence for the continued functioning of many others, invite fuller study of what exactly changed in the key period between about 1348 and 1500, suggesting that many marketing systems may have remained localized well into the sixteenth century. For all their difficulties, they can make an important contribution to our understanding of late medieval and early modern marketing.