A History of the County of Oxford: Volume 4, the City of Oxford. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1979.
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MARKETS AND FAIRS
Oxford market was first mentioned in the mid 12th century, but probably dated from at least c. 900 when the town was fortified. (fn. 1) By 1279 it was held twice weekly, presumably, as in the early 14th century, on Wednesdays and Saturdays with an extra market on Sundays in harvest. (fn. 2) In the early 17th century it was complained that hucksters made every day a market day. (fn. 3) Although a covered market, opened in 1774, was open daily, the most popular days were Wednesday and, above all, Saturday. (fn. 4) In the late 19th century almost all the country carriers to Oxford travelled on those days only. (fn. 5) An outdoor general market, which had developed around the cattle market, was still held on Wednesdays in 1975, in addition to the daily covered market.
By the mid 12th century the market centred on Carfax and extended into the surrounding streets. (fn. 6) In 1320 the townsmen claimed that 56 sites were traditionally reserved for the sale of victuals, paying £12 5s. to the farm of the vill; (fn. 7) in 1329 bakers' standings at Carfax, worth £8 a year, were recorded, in 1338 butchers' stalls at All Saints, worth £5 a year, and in 1352 fishmongers' stalls worth £4 a year. (fn. 8) By 1331 the market had spread down High Street at least as far as St. Mary's, causing such disturbance to the church that the pope banned buying and selling in church or churchyard. (fn. 9)
In 1319 Edward II ordered the mayor and bailiffs to allot a separate place for strangers to sell victuals, and to forbid purchases from strangers except at that place. (fn. 10) The order was repeated in 1320 after the university had complained of forestalling and the harassment of strangers, but the town claimed that the traditional sites in the central streets were the only suitable places for buying and selling victuals. (fn. 11) A description of those sites c. 1370 shows that the stalls and standings in the streets were a supplement to the freemen's open-fronted shops, for many trades were not represented. The only stalls expressly allotted to non-freemen were for fishmongers and poulterers; presumably the fishmongers' stalls in Fish Street (St. Aldates) were reserved for Oxford men, whose permanent shops appear to have been grouped in a side street, Winchelsea Row, perhaps inconveniently placed for the market. The Oxford poulterers did not require stalls because they appear to have occupied a group of shops on the south side of High Street close to Carfax. The other stalls and standings listed c. 1370 were probably largely used by non-freemen; on the north side of High Street, starting from Carfax, were places for foreign fishmongers, woollen- and linendrapers, glovers and whitetawyers, and, between All Saints and St. Mary's, sellers of pigs and hogs. On the south side of High Street were butchers, ale-sellers, and sellers of timber and faggots, and in the middle of the road were sellers of coarse bread, earthenware, and coals, and, between All Saints and the east gate, straw-sellers. On the west side of Northgate Street were sellers of rushes, brooms, thorns, and bushes, and on the east side tanners, foreign poulterers, and, between the Cross inn and the north gate, corn sellers; in the middle of the street were sellers of hay and grass. Cheese, eggs, milk, butter, peas, and beans were sold at the top of Queen Street, white bread at Carfax. On the west side of St. Aldates Street were sellers of dishes and scullery ware, and on the east side greengrocers and, by the town hall, sellers of meal and seeds; lower down, probably on both sides of the road, were fishmongers and wood-sellers. The butchers appear from other evidence to have had stalls on the south side of High Street from Carfax to no. 135 High Street. (fn. 12)
Horses appear to have been sold outside the north gate in Broad Street, which was named Horsemonger Street in the 13th century but not thereafter. (fn. 13) There may have been a cattle market in the same area, perhaps in St. Giles Street: cows were purchased outside the north gate in 1294, (fn. 14) and the absence of other references to cattle sales may be because the cattle market lay in Northgate hundred, a jurisdiction whose early records have not survived. The shambles lay in High Street, in All Saints' parish, by 1260. (fn. 15) There are also references to butchers' stalls between St. Martin's and All Saints churches in 1248 and 1338, and outside St. Mary's church c. 1429. (fn. 16) In 1360 the fishmongers' stalls in St. Aldates comprised 18 stalls for 'Winchelsea fish', and others for stockfish and herrings; there were permanent fishboards against properties near the town hall by the late 14th century. (fn. 17) A daily market for all kinds of goods, called Jaudewyne's market, was apparently held outside the walls between Smith gate and Crowell in the mid 14th century; it was probably a small affair and was closed by Merton College c. 1362. (fn. 18)
Despite what may have been an attempt in 1601 to remove the market to Gloucester Green (fn. 19) the street market continued until 1774. In 1556 it was extended to the end of the new 'causeway', almost certainly the newly paved Queen Street. In the same year posts and rails were bought for a 'coney market', but its location is not known. (fn. 20) Market women sold dairy produce at Penniless Bench c. 1600. (fn. 21) The churchwardens of St. Martin's leased stalls against the churchyard wall in the 16th and 17th centuries. (fn. 22) When Carfax conduit was built in 1616 the hucksters frequenting that area were removed, (fn. 23) but in 1629 stalls at Carfax were still causing obstruction and further removals were ordered. (fn. 24) In 1637 the conduit with its surrounding stalls was presented in the university leet as a 'great wrong to the market place', an obstruction that on market days placed passersby in danger of being 'thronged to death'. (fn. 25) By 1662 the only survivals of the market arrangements of c. 1370 were said to be the places for hog and pig sellers ('confined now under the walls of All Saints church and the yard thereof'), for poulterers, and sellers of coarse bread, corn, herbs, and scullery ware. (fn. 26)
The fishmongers, because they were spreading themselves towards Carfax, were ordered in 1531 to stand only between the guild hall and the Blue Boar inn. (fn. 27) The university claimed c. 1530 that sea-fish and oysters were traditionally sold in High Street also, but it seems unlikely. (fn. 28) In the 17th century they were leasing permanent stalls near the guild hall from the corporation, and holding them in order of their seniority in the trade. (fn. 29) A lean-to covering five fish-boards under the guild hall, let for 40s., was replaced in 1712 by a more substantial structure, comprising five fishboards, two chambers above them, and three other rooms or shops; chandlers sold fish there not only on market days but on Fridays and other fast days. (fn. 30) The market-place was enlarged between 1709 and 1713 when a house at the south-west corner of Carfax was demolished and an open butter-market with an arcade around it built. (fn. 31)
Corn continued to be sold in Northgate Street until 1751. In 1536 John Claymond, president of Corpus Christi College, built a covered market for corn, a lead roof supported by stone pillars, in the middle of the street. It was destroyed in 1644 to make bullets and engines of war, (fn. 32) and replaced by 'the Knowle on Market Hill', which the city considered improving in 1653. (fn. 33) When the town hall was rebuilt in 1751 its lower storey comprised a corn-market, opening upon the street through nine archways. (fn. 34)
A new shambles in Queen Street was built in 1556. (fn. 35) The shops were leased to butchers according to their seniority, (fn. 36) and throughout the 17th and 18th cen turies it was forbidden to sell meat elsewhere, except on market days, when the butchers' stalls on High Street continued in use. (fn. 37) There were only 12 shops in Butcher Row in 1623, (fn. 38) and the shortage of space caused recurrent trouble; (fn. 39) in the 1630s butchers were defeating the order of precedence by renting shops elsewhere. In 1636 Alderman John Sayer, with the approval of the council, began to build six additional shops in the shambles, but university and town opposition forced him to remove the frames. (fn. 40) In 1642 the council allowed permanent stalls to be set up at the west end of Butcher Row and held in seniority. (fn. 41) In 1644 the shambles were burnt down and not rebuilt until 1656, the butchers meanwhile using their High Street stalls. (fn. 42) In 1773 the shambles were sold to the Paving Commissioners and the meat market moved into the covered market; (fn. 43) as late as 1888 a prohibition on butchers selling outside the market was enforced. (fn. 44)
An area just within west gate, called Newmarket in the later 15th century, probably the site of a latemedieval extension of the market, was no longer used for the purpose by 1532. (fn. 45) No evidence has been found for a 17th-century statement (fn. 46) that until c. 1500 it was a market for cattle. A Wednesday cattle market was confirmed or re-established in 1520, and a Saturday cattle market in 1563; both were to be toll-free, except for tolls payable on the completion of sales. (fn. 47) The tolls were recorded from 1569 but very few cattle appear to have been sold, and sales 'in the open market', but not its location, were recorded. (fn. 48) Presumably a short-lived market held on Gloucester Green in the early 17th century included a cattle market. (fn. 49) Pig-sellers had been moved to Gloucester Green by 1684. (fn. 50)
In 1601 the corporation was granted a Wednesday market and three fairs on Broken Hays and Gloucester Green, (fn. 51) the outcome of a campaign begun in 1591 when the council, having purchased Northgate hundred, agreed to obtain a market and fairs there, ostensibly at the request of the inhabitants. (fn. 52) The charter of 1601, presumably echoing the council's petitions, stressed the unsuitability of the narrow city streets as a site for the market, which was said to be in decay. It seems likely, however, that the council's intention was to outflank the university by acquiring in the new market a control denied it in the old. The plan failed, for the university's rights were largely safeguarded by the charter, and whether for that reason or because of the unpopularity of the new site, neither the market nor the fairs established themselves. (fn. 53)
Between 1772 and 1774, under the provisions of the Oxford Mileways and Improvement Act of 1771, a new covered market designed by John Gwynn was built on a site between High Street and Jesus College Lane (later Market Street). (fn. 54) The building was of wood and stone and comprised a block of 40 butchers' shops separated from a smaller block of poultry shops by an east-west avenue. Each block was surrounded by a colonnade and divided by a north-south avenue, and each of the four blocks of shops thus created was separately roofed. North of the shops was a large roofed area for fish boards, and there was a separate north-west extension containing two shops, a butter bench, and a market-house. (fn. 55) In 1838–9 a new avenue of shops was built on the north-west, running from Market Street to the east-west avenue, (fn. 56) and in 1880–1 it was extended to High Street. (fn. 57) The market was reroofed in stages in the 1880s and 1890s, (fn. 58) and the shops and stalls appear to have been rebuilt at the same time. Meat, fish, poultry, and vegetables were sold in the new market from 1774, butter, eggs, and fruit from 1781. (fn. 59)
In 1755 a toll-free cattle market on Gloucester Green was revived; it was still held in 1765 but had ceased by 1797 when the council again established a Wednesday cattle market there, remitting for the first year all tolls, except on pigs. (fn. 60) In 1818 a cattle market was still held at Carfax, and was moved thence to Gloucester Green, where in 1835 it was re-established on a monthly basis. (fn. 61) From 1860, when it was already developing as a general market, it was held fortnightly. (fn. 62) The site was enlarged in 1877 when the prison was demolished, and the market was rebuilt with money raised by mortgaging the tolls. (fn. 63) It was fitted with pens and stalls in 17 avenues, with a settling-house in the centre. (fn. 64) The market was mainly a local one, and in the early 20th century much of it was leased to auctioneers. (fn. 65) In 1932 it was moved to a site on Oxpens Road in St. Thomas's parish, (fn. 66) where it remained as a flourishing general market in 1975.
In 1847 the council decided to use the town hall yard as a 'pitched market for corn', and in 1849 allowed the hall itself to be used in the winter; by 1853 the yard had been made into a 'convenient place' for the market. (fn. 67) In 1861 the corporation built a corn exchange behind the town hall and leased it to a company which used it once a week; it was also used for concerts and other functions. (fn. 68) The building was designed by S. L. Seckham and built of brick in Gothic style. (fn. 69) It was demolished with the rest of the town hall in 1893, and a new exchange, designed by H. W. Moore, was built between 1894 and 1896 on the north side of George Street. (fn. 70) The corn merchants, however, preferred to do business in the settling-room of the cattle market, and when the market moved in 1932 to Oxpens Road they acquired stands in the settlingroom there. (fn. 71)
Control of the market and of the assize of bread and ale at first belonged to the town, but in 1248, after an outbreak of violence between scholars and townsmen, the king ordered that the chancellor or his representative should be present at the assize, and the order was repeated in 1255. (fn. 72) In 1254 each baker was ordered to seal his bread with his own seal, and each brewer to display his sign, so that offenders against the assize could more easily be identified. (fn. 73) Complaints by the university that the town officers were not punishing offenders sufficiently led in 1285 to the assize being taken into the king's hand; forfeitures for breaches of the assize were granted to the constable of the castle c. 1292 and 1318. (fn. 74) The assize itself continued to be kept by the town bailiffs in the chancellor's presence. (fn. 75) In 1320 it was ordered that the chancellor and mayor jointly should choose jurors for the assize and in 1324 the assize was committed to both. (fn. 76) Although the aldermen claimed that it belonged to their view of frankpledge, (fn. 77) the grant to the mayor and chancellor was repeated in 1328 with the proviso that if the mayor did not attend when summoned the chancellor might hold it alone. (fn. 78) In 1355, after the riot of St. Scholastica's day, sole custody of the assize, together with other forms of control, was granted to the chancellor who retained it until its abolition in 1836. (fn. 79)
The assize of weights and measures was committed to the mayor and chancellor in 1327, after complaints by the university about the weights and measures used in Oxford. (fn. 80) The town protested, and in 1328 the assize was granted to the chancellor and aldermen. (fn. 81) In 1346, however, it was confirmed to the chancellor and the mayor, and in 1348 it was agreed that the mayor and chancellor should hold the assize and the aldermen should try the weights and measures. (fn. 82) In 1355 the chancellor was given sole custody of the assize, (fn. 83) and the university had charge of weights and measures until the Oxford Police Act of 1868 transferred control to the city. (fn. 84) Weights and measures offences were regularly presented in university courts leet. (fn. 85) In 1427 the chancellor at his installation was given sets of measures for grain and liquids, two sets of weights, and two seals for measures and pots. (fn. 86) In the 1530s the town complained that the university charged unjust fees for ale-weights and that the commissary had struck out the mayor's marks from butchers' weights, placed there by royal authority. Thomas Cromwell rebuked the university for its actions, but it was probably only a temporary reverse. (fn. 87) In 1556 the vice-chancellor ordered the clerk of the market to try and to seal all measures in the town; in 1579 the standards were placed in St. Mary's church, and about that time a clerk was appointed to measure corn and take toll for his services. (fn. 88) In the 1580s the city complained of charges levied on victuallers for their marks and vessels, but seems to have accepted the practice by the end of the century. (fn. 89) The university weights and measures were renewed periodically, and the last set, dated 1778 and 1826, remained in use until 1965. (fn. 90) The appointment of the clerk and the collection of toll-corn, a small portion taken from each measured bushel, lapsed in the early 17th century but was revived, against stern city opposition, in the 1630s; tolls were frequently disputed between the two bodies thereafter. (fn. 91) It is not clear why, in 1670, the Exchequer sent a standard bushel measure to the corporation as well as to the university. (fn. 92) Responsibility for control of weights and measures passed to the police committee in 1869 and to the new city council in 1889. (fn. 93)
A condition of the settlement between town and university in 1214 was that food and other necessities should be sold to scholars at reasonable prices. (fn. 94) In 1280, after complaints by the university, the king fixed the prices of oxen, cows, pigs, sheep, geese, hens, doves, and eggs. (fn. 95) About the same time there seems to have been a formal agreement that there should be no more than 32 regrators in Oxford, and a document of 1278 laid down the locations of 31 regrators in the town and suburbs. (fn. 96) The university frequently com plained that the agreement was ignored, claiming in 1305 that there were over 100 regrators in the town; (fn. 97) there were also many complaints of townsmen preventing outsiders from selling. (fn. 98)
In 1290, after an outbreak of violence, the chancellor was given joint cognizance with the mayor of bad food, forfeited food being given to St. John's hospital. (fn. 99) Market officers were appointed by the town: in 1287 two keepers of panimenti, in 1289 four aletasters, four keepers of the shambles, and two keepers each of fresh fish, sea fish, and poultry, and in 1325 five surveyors of the meat-market and seven sellers of different sorts of fish. (fn. 100) The town still controlled the market in 1327, but in 1355 the investigation and punishment of regrators and forestallers and sellers of bad meat or fish was given to the university. (fn. 101) University market officials were presumably appointed thenceforth, but the first recorded were two inspectors of brewers appointed in 1434. In 1454 and succeeding years the proctors appointed two surveyors each of bread, wine, and ale. (fn. 102) Town officials such as tasters of flesh and fish continued to be appointed, but presumably were not concerned with the market. (fn. 103) The chancellor's court dealt with market offences, and in 1449 an inquest into victuals and their sale, mainly the price of bread and fish and the quality of ale, was held before the chancellor. (fn. 104) In 1507 the university appointed two surveyors of the market, and from 1513 the same officers were called clerks of the market. The clerks held a court for market offences, kept the assizes of bread and ale, and weights and measures, and controlled the price and quality of food and clothing. They were occasionally helped by aletasters, flesh-viewers, and other officials. (fn. 105) In the 1530s the town complained of the university's high-handed control of the market, the exaction of high tolls on salmon, the setting of unfair prices; the university in reply attacked the townsmen's greed and venality. (fn. 106) The town unsuccessfully claimed to appoint the clerk of the market, and in 1553 town overseers of the market were recorded. (fn. 107)
From at least the mid 15th century the chancellors and vice-chancellors issued proclamations for the government of the market. (fn. 108) Their right to do so was challenged by the town occasionally, as in 1533 when the mayor's interference caused a riot in the market. (fn. 109) A general proclamation of the 1550s forbade regrating, ingrossing, and forestalling, regulated the sale and quality of bread, beer, and meat, and fixed the prices of wine, bread, rabbits, capons, geese, pigs, butter, eggs, and candles; one clause forbade the sale of 'unwholesome cakebread', rotten prunes, and bad custards, cheesecakes, and apple-pies. (fn. 110) In 1556 the sale of grain except in the open market and the hoarding of grain by hucksters and badgers was prohibited. (fn. 111) Orders of c. 1575 reserved to Oxford market the sale of all grain from within five miles of the town, limited the sale of meat on Sundays to 'necessary' sales, forbade the resale of goods in houses within 100 yds. of the market-place, ordered the use of weights and measures approved by the chancellor, and appointed a keeper of the market bushel. (fn. 112) Similar proclamations were made in 1579, 1591, between 1591 and 1603, in 1606, and 1634; (fn. 113) one restricted the sale of spice cakes, buns, and biscuits to Christmas, Good Friday, and days of burials, others ordered butchers to sell tallow with their meat, to ensure a good supply of candles. (fn. 114) There was much concern c. 1640 over hucksters, who had 'made a combination' to forestall the market, meeting country people and carriers outside the city. (fn. 115) At the same time there was a careful enquiry into the activities of butchers. (fn. 116)
In 1636 a new charter increased the university's control, confirming the clerkship of the market with complete ordering of the market and the placing of stalls, besides the trying of weights and measures, and the overseeing of the sale of victuals; an arbitrator's judgement of that year, however, declared that the market belonged to the town, the clerkship and traditional fees associated with it to the university. (fn. 117) The town at once claimed the right to place stalls in the market, to charge pitching pence to a wider range of tradesmen, and to proclaim alterations in the market days. (fn. 118) Similar disputes broke out again in 1649, the 1660s, and 1680 but the outcome is not clear, (fn. 119) and the university continued to control the price and quality of foods. (fn. 120) A move in 1772 to prosecute forestallers, ingrossers, and regrators seems to have been strated by individual townsmen, but the order that no one should buy before 9.00 a.m. was issued by the vice-chancellor. (fn. 121)
The Act of 1771 which set up the new market provided that earlier arrangements for the control of the market should continue, the university appointing the clerks and, with the consent of the town, fixing the number of market days; the profits were to be divided evenly between the university and the town. (fn. 122) A market committee, composed of six members of convocation and six city councillors, was created. (fn. 123) An Act of 1835 gave the committee, with the consent of the vice-chancellor, power to make by-laws for the market. (fn. 124) The committee employed a bedel who adminis tered the market with the aid of an assistant in charge of cleaning, and two men to prevent hawking. (fn. 125) The university continued to appoint clerks of the market, although by the end of the 19th century their powers had been reduced largely to checking the weight of butter, the only item in the market then sold as of a given weight; (fn. 126) in 1975 their only duty was to declare twice a year to college bursars the prices of wheat and barley, (fn. 127) on which certain college rents were still based.
A charter of Henry II granted to the town between 1154 and 1162 confirmed to the burgesses their rights of toll and team. (fn. 128) Toll on cattle was collected in 1294. (fn. 129) Stallage was first recorded in 1320 when 56 places yielded 4s. 4½d. each a year; in 1329 the town claimed that 30 bakers owed 1d. (or two 1d. loaves) each a week and 4½d. at Michaelmas for their places at Carfax. (fn. 130) In 1352 toll was worth c. £10 a year, and stallage from fishmongers, butchers, and bakers £17. (fn. 131) Carts carrying material for the building of New College were exempted from toll and other custom in 1383. (fn. 132) In 1428 the university ordered its officers to resist the mayor and bailiffs in taking toll, stallage, or other 'illegal exaction'. The stallage then was 1d. a day for a standing and 2d. a day for a cart space, about double that paid in the 14th century. (fn. 133) Royal justices attempted to settle the dispute in 1429, and the mayor and leading burgesses were made to state publicly before convocation that they would not demand extortionate toll from food-sellers. An alderman, the bailiffs, and two other burgesses were discommoned in 1429, and conflict between town and university continued into 1432. (fn. 134)
Toll, piccage, and stallage were objected to frequently between the 16th and 19th centuries but, in 1605 and 1687 at least, the bailiffs successfully recovered such dues in the central courts. (fn. 135) The income from toll is difficult to assess for it formed part of the revenue of the bailiffs, who were not accountable to anyone, so long as they paid the farm of the city. One of the reasons given in 1563 for being able to grant a toll-free cattle market was that bailiffs were no longer expected to provide an elaborate dinner at their election. (fn. 136) In a dispute with the university over stallage and pitching pence in 1620 or 1621 the bailiffs claimed that such payments had always been taken from butchers, sellers of sea fish, cheesemongers, foreign bakers, sellers of oatmeal and salt, and fruiterers who brought fruit by horse-loads. (fn. 137)
In the 18th and early 19th centuries the bailiffs usually leased the tolls to a farmer. A list of those exempt from paying toll c. 1814 included men of the 'chartered towns' near Oxford, notably villages in the Woodstock area formerly on royal demesne. (fn. 138) In 1815 the council took the tolls into its hands and from 1817 leased them to the highest bidder. (fn. 139) The tolls seem to have been questioned c. 1827, (fn. 140) but the city's right to them was reserved by the Municipal Corporations Act of 1835, under which the city claimed toll from the 'chartered towns'. (fn. 141) In 1838 the council decided not to collect toll from people living within the borough, but reserved its right to collect from all except freemen, soldiers, and the men of Eynsham, with whom a special agreement had been made. (fn. 142) In 1845 a group of market users challenged the city's right to cart or wheelage toll and to piccage and stallage. After a test case it was agreed in 1847 that the city should cease to demand 'back toll' (toll on carts leaving the town), which was of doubtful legality, and the public should pay one toll a day. (fn. 143) The city leased the tolls again in 1857, (fn. 144) but they were finally abolished in 1859. (fn. 145)
The town was holding a court of pie powder in the 1320s; of the four cases of which evidence survives three, including one arising from a scuffle at St. Frideswide's fair, were heard by the bailiffs and one by the mayor. (fn. 146) At other times what appear to be pleas of pie powder were recorded on the rolls of the husting or mayor's courts, as in 1316 and 1342 when courts held on a Saturday and Sunday and adjourned from hour to hour were recorded. (fn. 147) In 1361 the mayor's and in 1405 the bailiffs' court heard pleas of pie powder. (fn. 148) The charter of 1601 gave the town a pie powder court; (fn. 149) there is no evidence that it was ever held and the town's right to it was disputed by the university in 1641. (fn. 150)
A fair on the eve and feast of the translation of St. Benedict and the five following days (10–16 July) was granted to St. Frideswide's priory at its foundation in 1122. (fn. 151) The fair was of much greater antiquity for its profits were part of the farm of the county, and after the grant to St. Frideswide's the sheriff was compensated for the loss of revenue. (fn. 152) In the 1130s the fair was held from 8 July to 14 July, and in 1228 the date was altered to the eve and feast of St. Frideswide and the five following days (18–24 October). (fn. 153) In 1279 the prior claimed the fair with all regalian rights in the town, including those of receiving tolls and holding courts and the assizes of bread and ale. (fn. 154) At the dissolution of St. Frideswide's in 1524 the fair, then lasting eight days, passed to Cardinal College and Henry VIII's College, which in 1542 granted a 40-year lease of it to Robert Smith. (fn. 155) Smith may have assigned his interest to the city which in 1543 ordered that the fair should be held for eight days. (fn. 156) In 1549 Edward VI granted the fair, lengthened to 15 days, to the city (fn. 157) which held it thereafter.
Between 1135 and 1139 the burgesses of Oxford granted meadowland to St. Frideswide's priory in compensation for stalls at the fair which, with royal permission, they had taken away. The incident was not closed until an agreement of c. 1180 whereby the prior and convent quitclaimed to the townsmen the site of their stalls and the townsmen confirmed the priory's right to the fair itself and to hold courts during the fair. (fn. 158) In 1292, however, the mayor's court had heard a case arising out of the fair; the portmoot met during the fair in 1294, (fn. 159) and in 1338 the town coroners held an inquest on a man killed inside the priory during the fair. (fn. 160) In 1329 the priory complained that the mayor and burgesses were holding courts, distraining for customs, and otherwise hindering the fair. (fn. 161) The town presumably made counter-complaints, for the prior was ordered to see that the assize of bread and ale was observed during the fair. (fn. 162) There was further trouble in 1344 and 1346 when the prior accused the mayor and bailiffs of taking toll and other profits worth £1,000. (fn. 163) In 1382 university men used force to impede the fair, overthrowing tents and cutting ropes. (fn. 164) The university was attempting to extend its market rights to the fair but in a settlement of 1383 its rights over the assizes of bread, ale, and other food were limited in fair time to the town outside the priory's precinct, while the prior and convent held the assizes inside the precinct. (fn. 165) In the late 14th and 15th century the fair seems to have been an important cloth fair (fn. 166) but books were sold there in 1520. (fn. 167) Merchants from Coventry and Bedfordshire attended in the early 15th century. (fn. 168)
After its sale to the city in 1549 the fair was moved from the priory or college precinct to the guildhall and its courtyard, the street outside, and the Blue Boar below the guildhall. (fn. 169) From 1551 the city appointed two stewards or fairmasters to look after the fairs. (fn. 170) The profits of St. Frideswide's fair, which were only £13 14s. in 1554, fell to £1 or less in the early 17th century. (fn. 171) The number of standings declined from 31 in 1570 to 4 in 1613. (fn. 172) Among stall-holders in the later 16th century were goldsmiths, upholsterers, pewterers, a capper, a grocer, a mercer, a seal-maker, a hosier, a clothier, a linen-draper, and a book-seller. (fn. 173) The city tried to revive the 'decayed' fair in 1600 by ordering all tradesmen able to make 'reasonable show' to attend, and in 1602 and 1605 threatened to fine those who failed to continue their support, (fn. 174) but in 1608 standings were taken only by two chapmen, a turner, and a pedlar. (fn. 175) Although the fair may have revived slightly in 1638, when the fairmasters were ordered to take over the shops below the lower guildhall, by 1663 it was 'hardly acknowledged to be a fair' (fn. 176) but it continued to be held until the mid 19th century. (fn. 177)
In 1474 Edward IV granted the Augustinian friars of Oxford an annual fair outside their church, for the six days from the eve of the feast of St. John before the Latin Gate (5–10 May). (fn. 178) At the Dissolution (fn. 179) the fair passed to the Crown, and in 1542 was leased to John Molton of Bathford (Som.). In 1547 Molton sub-let it for 15 years to William Frewen, (fn. 180) who in 1549 assigned the residue of the lease to the city. (fn. 181) The city presumably renewed the lease in 1562 from Edward Frere who had obtained the site of the friary in 1553, (fn. 182) and in 1587 it bought the site of the friary, with the fair, from Edward Frere's son, William. (fn. 183) The fair, by then almost extinct, was not included in the sale of the friary site to Dorothy Wadham in 1610, but was moved to the town hall. (fn. 184)
Men from Leicestershire and London were attending the Austin fair in the late 15th and early 16th centuries. (fn. 185) A riot at the fair in 1500 was apparently started by scholars. (fn. 186) Books were sold there in 1520. (fn. 187) While the fair was in the city's hands between 1553 and 1570 its profits ranged from c. £4 to c. £9 a year; there were c. 21 standings let to merchants who included two pewterers and a goldsmith. (fn. 188) In 1571 the fair was leased for £7 a year, (fn. 189) but in the late 16th century it declined to the sale of 'small vendibles of hucksters and such like', (fn. 190) and by 1662 consisted only of 'trumperies'. (fn. 191) It seems to have died out soon afterwards.
In 1601 the city was granted three fairs a year at Gloucester Green on 3 May, 2 July, and 23 October, with pie powder court and tolls; (fn. 192) possibly those on 3 May and 23 October were intended to replace the Austin and St. Frideswide's fairs. There is no evidence that any of the fairs was ever held, and they had certainly been lost by c. 1675 when Ogilby recorded no fairs in Oxford. (fn. 193) An attempt to obtain a grant of four fairs in 1684 failed, as did an attempt in the same year to obtain a horse fair in St. Mary Magdalen's parish. (fn. 194) There were no fairs in Oxford in 1756, although efforts seem to have been made about that time to hold a cattle fair at Gloucester Green. (fn. 195) A fair on 3 May, presumably justified by the grant of 1601, was recorded in 1783 and 1834 when toys and small wares were sold. (fn. 196) In the later 19th century it became a pleasure fair, and continued as such until 1915. (fn. 197)
St. Giles's fair developed in the later 18th century from the St. Giles's parish wake, first recorded in 1624. (fn. 198) In the 19th and 20th centuries it was always held on the Monday and Tuesday following the first Sunday after St. Giles's day (1 September). In 1727 it was called St. Giles's feast, and in 1775 the attractions included back-sword playing in Gloucester Green; (fn. 199) in 1783 it was said to be a fair for toys and small wares. (fn. 200) At the beginning of the 19th century it was a children's fair with stalls of fruit, ginger-bread, and toys, (fn. 201) but by 1838 there were more adult attractions including shows and booths for drinking and dancing, and the city found it necessary to issue regulations. (fn. 202) Toll from the fair was sufficiently profitable in 1842 for St. John's College, which received toll as lords of Walton manor on the east side of St. Giles's Street, to protest because the city took toll from those attending the fair without carts. (fn. 203) The fair continued to grow throughout the 19th century, becoming a major holiday for the working people of the whole county and beyond. (fn. 204) It was always primarily a pleasure fair, but drapery, crockery, basket ware, tools, and in 1892 sewing machines, were sold at it. (fn. 205) In 1894, after an unsuccessful attempt to abolish the fair because of its 'baneful and injurious' influence and the 'coarse licence' displayed at it, extra police were brought in to keep better order. (fn. 206) In 1930 the corporation assumed sole control of the fair. (fn. 207) The fair has been held regularly throughout the 20th century, except for war years, (fn. 208) and continued in 1975.
A fair for toys and small wares recorded in 1783 and 1834 was held on the Thursday before Michaelmas in St. Clement's. (fn. 209) It too became a pleasure fair and continued into the 1930s. (fn. 210) A wool fair was held at Gloucester Green in 1852 and 1853 but thereafter discontinued. (fn. 211) A sheep or ram fair, held in St. Thomas's parish in August, was first recorded in 1902, (fn. 212) although in 1927 when c. 7,000 sheep were sold at it, it was said to be c. 40 years old. (fn. 213) Travelling pleasure fairs continued to visit sites at Oxpens Road and Eastwyke Farm each year in the 1970s.