A History of the County of Essex: Volume 9, the Borough of Colchester. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1994.
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MARKETS AND FAIRS
Colchester presumably had a market from the late Anglo-Saxon period or earlier. The charter of 1189 directed that the markets should remain as they had been when they were confirmed by the justices in eyre under Henry II. (fn. 1) No market days were specified in later charters, but in 1285 the market days were Wednesdays and Saturdays; (fn. 2) in 1380 there was a complaint about an unlicensed Thursday market. Nevertheless, the claim made in 1452 and 1464 that the common market was held every day is supported by references to the sale of goods on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday during the 14th and 15th centuries. (fn. 3) Not all goods were sold every day; a jury for the assize of bread summoned on a Friday in 1341 quoted the price of corn in the market the previous Wednesday, implying that it had not been sold on the Thursday. (fn. 4) Orders issued in 1575 indicate that Wednesday and Saturday were market days but that Saturday was the principal day for 'foreign' butchers. (fn. 5) In 1594 the market days were Wednesday, Friday and Saturday, but Saturday was the only market day reported in 1634. (fn. 6) An attempt in 1653 to move the market to Friday seems to have failed, for Saturday was still the market day in 1670. (fn. 7) The charter of 1693 granted a weekly general market on Tuesdays in addition to the ancient markets, but by 1697 that was a separate livestock market, and in 1724 the general market days were Thursday and Saturday. (fn. 8) In 1768 Wednesday was the market day for fruit, fowls, and country goods, Friday had been the principal day for fish, and Saturday was the day for meat and all kinds of provisions. (fn. 9) In 1825 there were some stalls open on most days, but Saturday was the main market day for corn and cattle, and Wednesday for poultry and fruit. By 1837 the Wednesday market was 'of trifling importance'. (fn. 10) In 1888 the borough claimed markets on Tuesday, Friday, and Saturday, although by then the market was actually held only on Saturdays. (fn. 11) The street market was held daily in 1929, (fn. 12) but had reverted to Saturdays by 1989.
The borough courts and assemblies made orders for the market, mainly to assign standings or stalls to particular trades. Not all trades were assigned stalls, however, and the claim made in 1452 and 1464 that the market was held everywhere (fn. 13) suggests that there was less formal organization than in some towns. Market standings or stalls were for country people; freemen sold from their shops or from stalls outside their houses. (fn. 14) The sale of butcher's meat, however, was limited to the market, except for one butcher at the Hythe and one in Lexden permitted by an order of 1598. (fn. 15) In 1607 the assembly set up a market bushel, which was repaired in 1645. (fn. 16) In 1726 butchers were ordered to weigh at the public scales provided by the town. (fn. 17)
The borough was leasing the market tolls by 1310, and seems to have continued to do so until c. 1800. In the early 19th century the tolls and other profits of the market were given to senior members of the corporation to support them in their old age. (fn. 18) The corporation appointed a collector of dues in 1835, but by 1888 the tolls were again leased to a contractor, Mr. Percy who leased the tolls of c. 50 other markets in England. (fn. 19) The stalls too were leased, those in the wool and butter markets by 1400. (fn. 20) In the late 14th century the town received rents from only 21 stalls and the butchers' shambles and in 1549 from only 9 stalls; other stalls, apparently in private possession, were being bought and sold in the 15th century. (fn. 21) From the 17th century the butchers' stalls were normally leased to contractors. The borough assembly agreed to lease the fish market, whole or in parcels, in 1715, and the meat and green markets in 1810. (fn. 22)
Henry VI in 1447 granted the clerkship of the market to the bailiffs, and the grant was confirmed, with the assizes of bread and of ale, of wine, and of weights and measures, by Edward IV in 1462. (fn. 23) Two clerks of the market were appointed in 1515, and a salaried deputy clerk in 1557 'for the more speedy punishment of offenders'; a head clerk of the market was recorded in 1693. (fn. 24) In 1565 the clerk of the market employed men to arrest forestallers on the outskirts of the borough; in 1656 the clerk himself was among those ordered to confiscate meat from butchers who stayed in the market after closing time. (fn. 25) Masters or overseers of butchers, leather workers, and the fish market, whose duties included presenting sellers of faulty goods or unwholesome food, were appointed in the borough courts intermittently from 1443, (fn. 26) and forestallers and other market offenders were regularly presented in the borough court in the middle ages and the 16th century and in the borough quarter sessions in the 17th century. (fn. 27) A court of piepowder was held occasionally between 1448 and 1482. (fn. 28)
The general market was held in High Street, from its junction with North Hill and Headgate down to St. Nicholas's church. The medieval shambles were in the middle of the market near the moot hall. In 1428 two butchers were presented in the borough court for throwing entrails in front of their neighbours' doors at the end of West Stockwell Street. (fn. 29) In the 16th century the free butchers' shambles adjoined the east end of St. Runwald's church. (fn. 30) The medieval fish market seems to have been on the south side of High Street, west of St. Runwald's church; in 1515 it was in front of the Red Lion inn. (fn. 31) An oyster stall recorded in 1336 may have been in a separate oyster market: in 1671 the oyster sellers were ordered to move from their old marketplace to St. Peter's parish, at the west end of High Street. (fn. 32) There was a separate fish market at the Hythe by 1443 for the sale of fish caught in the borough's water in the Colne; it continued until 1594 or later. (fn. 33) The corn market was held at the west end of High Street, called corn hill by 1336. (fn. 34) From 1463, and probably from 1400 or earlier, the butter market or butter stall was outside the moot hall. (fn. 35) The cook row, probably also near the moot hall, was recorded in 1381. (fn. 36) A permanent leather stall, possibly with an upper storey, built onto a house in the middle of the market, was leased by the bailiffs and commonalty in 1428. (fn. 37) Four leather-dressers' stalls recorded in 1548 may have been in St. Peter's parish, like the tanners' stalls recorded in the same year. (fn. 38)
In 1583-4 the free butchers' shambles at the east end of St. Runwald's church were rebuilt as a two-storeyed, timber-framed building with a tiled roof extending down the middle of High Street. (fn. 39) The country butchers had separate stalls, probably in St. Peter's parish where there was a shambles in 1604. (fn. 40) About 1590 a new fruit and poultry market, with an open ground floor and a covered upper storey, was built in the middle of High Street opposite the moot hall, on the site of the earlier butter stall. (fn. 41) It was known as the market cross by 1605, and the butter market by 1639. (fn. 42) In 1592 the assembly ordered the vegetable market to be held on the south side of High Street from the Red Lion inn down towards St. Nicholas's church, an order repeated in 1621. (fn. 43) Between 1627 and 1629 a cornmarket, probably part of the Red Row (later the Exchange) at the corner of High Street and North Hill, was repaired or rebuilt. Although that was a separate room or building, as it had a key, corn was also sold from stalls or galleries 'against the red row' in the mid 17th century. (fn. 44)
In 1659 and 1660 the assembly decided to let ground in the market place to the highest bidder, and perhaps in order to clear the road outside the moot hall, ordered the demolition of the country butchers' stalls, and the removal of the fishmarket to Wyre Street (presumably the later St. Nicholas's Street). (fn. 45) The country butchers' stalls were replaced by moveable stalls erected on Saturdays on the south side of High Street in the 'High Town' in St. Peter's parish. By 1698 they had spilled over onto the north side of the street. (fn. 46) A lease of land for stalls on the south side of the street in 1698 allowed the lessee to charge 12d. for a butcher's stall and 6d. each for stalls for other traders, including shoemakers, glovers, knackers, basketmakers, dishturners, pedlars, and chapmen. (fn. 47) In 1715 butchers who had no stalls stood on the south side of High Street in St. Peter's parish; more butchers' stalls were available by 1730 when there were as many as 66 of them. (fn. 48) The fishmarket in Wyre Street was replaced in 1697 by a specially built market beside the free butchers' shambles in High Street, east of St. Runwald's church. It was repaired by St. Runwald's parish in 1751, and was still there in 1803, but by 1880 it had moved to St. Nicholas's Street. (fn. 49) The shambles were extensively repaired in 1800, and the fishmarket was paved in 1804. (fn. 50) In 1765, after complaints that the market was concentrated in the Exchange, the sellers of butter, eggs, poultry and other goods, except corn, were ordered to move back to the old market cross. (fn. 51) By 1803 that market place was disused and was turned into a guard house; it was demolished in 1808. (fn. 52) The butter market had meanwhile moved back to the Exchange, the vegetable market to the south side of High Street between Pelham's Lane and the Red Lion inn. (fn. 53) In 1810 the vegetable market was moved eastwards, to a site near the obelisk, in the middle of High Street near the shambles. (fn. 54)
In 1813 a new covered market for meat, butter, fruit, and vegetables was built by public subscription just west of the moot hall on the former garden of the Three Cups hotel. The disused shambles were leased by the corporation to the improvement commissioners for demolition in 1816, but were apparently still standing when they were offered for sale in 1819. In 1821 butchers were forbidden to set up stalls in High Street. (fn. 55) The new covered market was unpopular with the traders, most of whom had returned to High Street by 1825, and in 1837 the general market was regularly held there. (fn. 56) In 1888 the market consisted of c. 25 stalls in High Street and St. Nicholas's Street selling sweets, fish, and birds; hawkers sold vegetables and some poultry. (fn. 57) By 1929 poultry and eggs were being sold in the cattle market in Middleborough; the remainder of the general market of 53 stalls, 40 of them for agricultural produce, was held daily in High Street. (fn. 58) The general market was moved from High Street to the east end of Culver Street in 1961 and to a site near the west end of that street in 1968. It moved back to High Street in 1981. (fn. 59)
The corn exchange, formerly the Red Row, was extensively repaired and remodelled in 1800 and 1801; its projecting central bay had a broken pediment supported by Corinthian columns, and was surmounted by a clock turret and cupola; four Doric columns supported a cornice and frieze below a flat roof which projected into the street in front of the central bay. (fn. 60) The exchange, described as the former butter market, was offered for sale in 1819 and was demolished the following year. A new exchange, designed by David Laing, was built at the expense partly of local farmers and corn merchants and partly of the Essex and Suffolk Equitable Insurance company which had occupied the upper floor of the old building. The open ground floor has a colonnade of cast-iron fluted pillars extending onto the pavement; the facade of the upper storey is balustraded with a central pediment. (fn. 61) By 1844 the new building was inconvenient, dark, and too small for the market, and in 1845 a second exchange, later the Albert Hall, with a further 50-60 stands for merchants, was built on an adjacent site. (fn. 62) In 1884 the corn exchange moved into a new building on part of the Cups hotel site (the former vegetable market) near the town hall. In 1929 there were 110 stands there and c. 300,000 cwt. of grain was sold. (fn. 63) The number of farmers and dealers attending the market declined in the mid 20th century, to c. 30 in 1962 when the corn exchange was taken over by the Metropolitan Railway Surplus Lands Company. It closed in 1967, and the building was demolished in 1972. (fn. 64)
By 1427, when two cows were sold in the north ward, (fn. 65) the main livestock market was being held at the top of High Street, in St. Peter's parish. Another livestock market, granted by the charter of 1693, was held on Tuesdays on St. Anne's field in Harwich Road from 1694. It was held only fortnightly by 1748. (fn. 66) The market, field, and fair held there were leased in 1733, and 1738, and the fair field and tolls in 1769, by which time the market was probably no longer held. (fn. 67)
By the early 19th century the Saturday livestock market in High Street had become an obstruction and a nuisance; in 1819 it was moved briefly to a site on the east of Balkerne Hill but returned to High Street at the petition of the traders. (fn. 68) Loose cattle apparently stood east of St. Runwald's church, pigs between George Lane and the Swan inn, extending into St. Nicholas's Street if necessary, and bulls were kept near St. Runwald's church. (fn. 69) In 1855 the market's removal from High Street was an election issue, and in 1857 the town council set up a cattle market removal committee which experimented with holding the market in the castle bailey and examined other possible sites. (fn. 70) In 1861 a public inquiry recommended a site at the bottom of North Hill, and the market moved there in 1862. (fn. 71) The new market, at Middleborough, had permanent pens for animals and an octagonal settling house or office to which a small clock turret was added in 1898. (fn. 72) The cattle market moved to a new site in Severalls Lane, on the northern edge of the town, in 1975. In 1985 it was held on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. (fn. 73) An attempt to hold a general market on the site on Tuesdays failed after only seven months in 1976-7. (fn. 74)
A wool market was apparently held privately in a hall in St. Runwald's parish until 1373 when the bailiff William Reyne moved it into the cellar below the moot hall. (fn. 75) The market seems to have been held on Tuesdays in 1393, but sales of wool were recorded on a Thursday in 1381 and on a Friday in 1425. (fn. 76) It was moved into the room above the fruit and poultry market in 1592. (fn. 77) In 1595 the Assembly complained that wool was being sold in inns and private houses, often by false weights, and repeated the order that the market should be held on Tuesdays and Thursdays in the fruit and poultry market, from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. and from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. The morning market was for free burgesses, the afternoon one for both burgesses and outsiders. The town maintained two sets of scales for weighing the wool, kept by the keeper of the wool market who was entitled to charge for weighing the wool and for storing it in the room above the market. (fn. 78) In 1602 there were separate stalls for 'foreign' and 'new' wool merchants, and the foreign merchants' stalls were recorded again in 1642. (fn. 79) In 1605 the inside of the market cross was planked to make a hall for weighing wool in the market. (fn. 80) The order of 1595 was repeated in 1651, 1660, 1681, 1686, and 1720. (fn. 81) In 1729 the keepership of the wool market was granted to the keepers of the bay hall, and although the borough made a lease of both the market and the hall in 1732, the market was not recorded thereafter. It had been discontinued by 1748. (fn. 82)
A fair for four days at the feast of St. John the Baptist (24 June) was granted to St. John's abbey at its foundation, and confirmed by Henry I c. 1104. (fn. 83) The fair may have been older, for in 1285 and 1290 the burgesses claimed that the abbot should pay 3s. towards the farm of the town for his fair, presumably to compensate the town for some loss of revenue when the fair was granted to the abbey. Although the abbot, relying on Henry I's charter, denied that the payment was due, a jury in 1290 found that it did belong to the farm of the town. (fn. 84) The abbot was still paying 3s. a year c. 1387 when he was said to hold the fair of the commonalty of the town. (fn. 85) After a dispute between the abbot's men and townsmen at the fair in 1272, both sides claimed to have been robbed and wounded. The town accused the abbot of bringing in the county coroner to view a body found on St. John's green during the fair, (fn. 86) but the town does not seem to have made any claim to the fair itself. After the Dissolution the fair appears to have descended with the manor of West Donyland in which St. John's green lay, being held in 1836 by Admiral Nicholas Tomlinson and his wife Elizabeth and Maria Ward as lord and ladies of that manor. (fn. 87) Nevertheless, from the mid 16th century or earlier the bailiffs, aldermen, and councillors, in their gowns, perambulated the fair, presumably asserting some jurisdiction over it. The custom continued until 1695. (fn. 88)
Goods on sale at the fair in 1587 included silk ribbons and leather belts, and linendrapers from Sudbury and Hadleigh in Suffolk attended with their wares in 1590. (fn. 89) A man from Earl's Colne brought a horse to sell at the fair in 1613, and the fair was described as a horse fair in 1767. (fn. 90) The fair was for sheep, cattle, and 'other merchandize' in 1836, but was said to be a cattle fair in 1837. (fn. 91) By 1861 it was a pleasure fair, and was blamed by many in the town for exercising a 'most demoralizing influence', particularly over working class girls. (fn. 92) It was abolished in 1872. (fn. 93)
Richard I in 1189 granted St. Mary Magdalen's hospital an annual fair on the eve and feast of St. Mary Magdalen (21 and 22 July). (fn. 94) In 1318 it was attended by traders from Greenwich (Kent), London, Sudbury (Suff.), Bury St. Edmunds (Suff.), and Tunstead (Norf.), among them a garlicmonger. Badly tanned leather was sold there in 1439 and salt in 1498. (fn. 95) The fair, held on Magdalen green, continued until 1872, but does not seem to have been of much importance. (fn. 96) Its profits, which belonged to the master of the hospital, were uncertain in 1582. (fn. 97) The fair, held on 2 August after the change in the calendar, was a toy fair in 1767; in 1825 it was known as 'Scalt Codlin fair', apparently a reference to the baked apples sold or consumed at it. (fn. 98) In 1863 it was only a small fair for 'pleasure and pedlary'. (fn. 99)
A third fair was granted to the burgesses by Edward II in 1319, to be held on the eve and feast of St. Dennis (9 Oct.) and on the six following days. (fn. 100) The grant may simply have regularized a fair already being held, for in 1310 there was a dispute over a leather-seller's stall, set up under the wall of St. Botolph's priory outside the town, on the Saturday and Sunday after St. Dennis's day. (fn. 101) That stall appears to have been for a fair rather than for the general market, and Bury field, in which part of St. Dennis's fair was held by the mid 16th century, (fn. 102) extended as far as the priory walls. London merchants attended the fair in 1364. (fn. 103)
In 1562, when new orders were made for it, the fair began under East gate and extended along both sides of High Street as far as the town well, presumably the later King Coel's pump near the junction with North Hill. It was then attended by, among others, fletchers, bowyers, sadlers, soapers, tanners, glovers, shoemakers, blacksmiths, goldsmiths, rope-makers, haberdashers, linendrapers, woollendrapers, hosiers, upholsters, coverlet-makers, mercers, grocers, pewterers, brasiers, ironmongers, turners, basket-makers, fishmongers, salters, and sellers of butter and cheese, from Colchester itself and from as far away as Ipswich, Bungay (Suff.), and London. Outsiders had standings assigned to them, according to their crafts; freemen stood in front of their market stalls. (fn. 104)
In 1578 the borough forbade the holding of the fair on a Sunday, and the charter of Charles I in 1635 reduced it from eight to four days. (fn. 105) Late 16th- and early 17th-century references to the sale of necklaces and bracelets, the purchase of silk, and to haberdashers' and cloth stalls (fn. 106) indicate that it was still a general fair, but it was also referred to as a horse fair in 1599 and 1613. (fn. 107) In 1662 the fair was attended by 'an incredibly large crowd of people, country folk, gentry and all', musicians played everywhere, and all sorts of goods were on sale. (fn. 108) It seems to have declined by the early 18th century; its profits, usually leased with the butchers' stalls in the market, were only c. £5 in 1736 and 1737. In 1698 the lessee was allowed to take only 2d. a square yard from freemen and 4d. a square yard from foreigners for stalls. (fn. 109)
In the 1760s the fair was for cattle, horses, cheese, butter, and toys. (fn. 110) The cattle and horses were sold in Bury field for four days; (fn. 111) the other goods on the north side of High Street from the exchange to the market cross. (fn. 112) Among the attractions in 1785 was a 'learned pig' which had previously performed in London. (fn. 113) In 1809 the cattle were moved to St. Anne's field because there was not room in Bury field for the large numbers brought to the fair. (fn. 114) In 1822 as many as 1,500-2,000 bullocks, 800 sheep, and 40 horses were sold. (fn. 115) The general fair in High Street was declining in 1825. (fn. 116) Despite attempts to move them to St. Anne's, traders were still setting up stalls in High Street in 1848, although by then the fair had dwindled to 'a toy and gingerbread fair of the lowest description'. It continued on the north side of the street into the later 19th century, reduced to one day by 1888, but by 1910 it was only a cattle and horse fair, and its tolls had declined from £13 in 1905 to £8 14s. in 1909. (fn. 117)
The bailiffs, later the mayor, and the aldermen permabulated the fair from 1563 or earlier; from 1715 the ceremony was described as one to proclaim the fair. (fn. 118) In 1814 the mayor and corporation were led by a band as they walked from the moot hall to Bury field. In 1910 the procession was led by the town serjeant carrying the borough mace and the four constables carrying the ward maces. (fn. 119) The fair was formally proclaimed for the last time in 1932. (fn. 120)
The charter of 1693 granted the town a fair for live cattle, goods, and merchandize, on 12 and 13 July each year. (fn. 121) In 1694 the assembly directed that the new fair be held near St. Anne's, in the fair field. (fn. 122) In the 18th century the mayor and corporation attended it, as they did the older fairs. (fn. 123) By 1861 the fair was a pleasure fair, and like that on St. John's green was blamed for corrupting the populace. (fn. 124) It was abolished in 1873. (fn. 125)
William III, in a charter of 1699 reincorporating the tailors of Colchester, granted to the mayor and his successors a cattle fair in St. Anne's field every year on the second Tuesday in April and the three days following. (fn. 126) It was called the Tailors' fair in the 18th century, and was said in 1767, possibly in error, to be for wholesale tailors. (fn. 127) It had ceased by 1803. (fn. 128)
Henry I in 1157 granted St. John's abbey a fair for two days at the feast of the Invention of the Cross (3 May), to be held on the castle waste between St. Helen's chapel and High Street. (fn. 129) The grant by Henry III in 1256 to the keeper of the castle of a fair for eight days at Whitsun (fn. 130) may have been an attempt to revive or replace the abbey's fair, but if so it failed, for there is no further record of either fair. In 1373 the bailiff William Reyne claimed to have reorganized a wool fair, held annually on the nativity of St. John the Baptist and the feast of St. Mary Magdalen. (fn. 131) There is no later reference to such a fair, and it seems likely that it was simply an expanded wool market held to coincide with the St. John's and St. Mary Magdalen's fairs.
A pleasure fair, whose attractions included custard throwing, was held at Easter and Whitsun in Middleborough in the late 18th century. It was known as the Wilderness fair from a wilderness or maze belonging to Lexden park which lay just north-west of North bridge. It was still held, without the custard throwing, in 1843, (fn. 132) and was probably the small Easter Tuesday pleasure fair wrongly identified with the Tailors' fair in 1863. (fn. 133)