General history: Market and borough towns and fairs

Magna Britannia: Volume 3, Cornwall. Originally published by T Cadell and W Davies, London, 1814.

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Daniel Lysons. Samuel Lysons, 'General history: Market and borough towns and fairs', Magna Britannia: Volume 3, Cornwall, (London, 1814), pp. xxxvi-xlii. British History Online [accessed 16 June 2024].

Daniel Lysons. Samuel Lysons. "General history: Market and borough towns and fairs", in Magna Britannia: Volume 3, Cornwall, (London, 1814) xxxvi-xlii. British History Online, accessed June 16, 2024,

Lysons, Daniel. Lysons, Samuel. "General history: Market and borough towns and fairs", Magna Britannia: Volume 3, Cornwall, (London, 1814). xxxvi-xlii. British History Online. Web. 16 June 2024,

In this section

Market and Borough Towns.

This county returns forty-four members to parliament, two knights of the shire and forty-two burgesses, the borough-towns being twenty-one in number. "Cornwall," says Carew, "through the grace of its Earl, sendeth an equal if not a larger number of burgesses to any other shire. The boroughs so privileged, more of favour (as the case now standeth with many of them) than merit, are these following, Launceston," &c. (he omits Grampound and Penryn). However honourable this privilege may be esteemed, and whatever advantages may have been derived from it of later days, it appears that there have been times, and those not very remote, when the burden of maintaining their burgesses in London, during their attendance in parliament, was esteemed a grievance which was illcompensated by the honourable privilege of electing them. The following letter from Mr. Richard Edgcumbe (fn. n1), then one of the burgesses for Totness, to his constituents, written in the year 1565, seems to intimate that the customary fees or wages were not then paid with the greatest alacrity:—

"To the Right Worshipful the Mayor and Burgesses of Totness.

"After my most harty commendations: where I at my brothers request and for your sakes have been your burgess for the parliament to my no small coste, for myne expence were above twenty marks over and above the forty shillings (fn. n2) I received of you; and forasmuch as it is like the parliament will go forward at this time, which causeth me to call to mind the charge I took in hand, which with like charge should be prosecuted if otherwise I prevented not the same. These are therefore to require you either to bestowe the same upon some other, or else to allow me but the bare fee, which is two shillings a day, and as I have begun so will I end, God willing, to your contentation. Truly at this present season I have no occasion, as I know of, to travel up to London, which considered, I think it reason that I demand, and hope you will take it as very reasonably demanded. Thus trusting you will return an answer of your determination herein with convenient speed, I most hartily commit you to God.—From Mount Edgcumbe this 8th of September 1565. Yours to command,

"Richard Edgecomb. (fn. n3) "

Seals of Borough Towns, &c. 1.
1. The Seal of the Borough of Bodmin, representing a King sitting under a Gothic canopy, (being a bad imitation of the ancient Seal, apparently of as early a date as the reign of King Henry III.) with this inscription, "Sigill. comune Burgensium Bodminie."
2. The Seal of the Borough of Camelford, representing a camel passing through a ford of water, being the arms of the town, with this inscription, "Sigillum vill: de Camillford."
3. The Seal of Falmouth, having a spread eagle with a castle on each wing, and a rock on its breast, inscribed with only the name of the town.
4. The Seal of Fowey, having on a shield a ship of three masts on the sea, with top-sails furled, inscribed "Sigillum opidi de Fowey, anno Dom. 1702."
5. The Seal of the Borough of Grampound, representing a bridge of two arches on a river, on the centre of the bridge an escutcheon of the arms of the family of Cornwall, viz. Arg. a lion rampant Gules, within a border Sa. bezantie; inscribed, "Sigillum Majoris et Burgensium Burge de Grandpont als Ponsmur."
6. The Seal of the Borough of Helston, apparently as old as the fourteenth century; it contains a figure of St. Michael holding a shield, charged with the arms of England, and standing between two towers, with this inscription, "Sigillum comunitatis Ville de Hellestone Burgth."

Seals of Borough Towns, &c. 2.
1. Seal of St. Ives, with a shield of the arms of the Borough, Arg. an ivy-branch overspreading the whole field, Vert; with this inscription, "Sigillum Burgi S. Ives in Com. Cornub. 1690."
2. The Seal of Launceston, with a shield of the arms of the Borough: Gu. a triple circular tower within a border, Arg. charged with eight towers domed, Arg. without any inscription.
3. The Seal of Liskeard, containing a fleur de lys on which are two birds, with an amulet over the head of each, and under the fleur de lys on each side a prince's feather, with this inscription, "Sigillum commune Burgi de Liskeard."
4. The Seal of East-Looe, representing a one-mast vessel, with three escutcheons on the side, each charged with three bendlets, (the arms of Bodrugan,) inscribed "Si Communetatis de Loo."
5. The Seal of West-Looe, having the figure of a man with a bow in his right hand, and an arrow in his left, with this inscription, "Portuan otherwyse called Westlo."
6. The ancient Seal of Lostwithiel, appendant to a deed, dated 3 Hen. IV. representing a castle over a stream of water, in which a fish is swimming, with this inscription, "S. Oficii de Maoor de Lostiel."
The modern Seal of Lostwithiel is a large one, having a shield with the same device as the ancient one, only that the two objects on each side of the castle, which are not there very distinctly marked, are represented as thistles, with this inscription, "Sigillum Burgi de Lostwithyel et Penknight in Cornubia, 1732."

Seals of Borough Towns, &c. 3.
1. Seal of Marazion, representing a castle, with this inscription, "Sigill' majoris Ville et Borov. de Marghasion."
2. The Seal of Penzance, having the figure of John the Baptist's head, with this inscription, "Pensans anno Domini 1614."
3. The Seal of Penryn, having a shield, on which is the bust of a man in profile, couped at the breast, vested over the shoulder, and wreathed about the temples with laurel, tied behind with a ribbon flotant. Inscription, "Penryn Burgus."
4. The Seal of Saltash, having a shield of the arms of the Borough. "On the base, water proper, in pale an escutcheon Or, thereon a lion rampant Gules, within a border Sa. bezantie, ensigned with a prince's coronet of the third, on each side the escutcheon an ostrich feather Ar. labelled Or." Inscription, "Sigillum Saltasche in Cornwaile."
5. The Seal of Tregony, with the arms of the Borough on a shield, a pomegranate seeded, slipped and leaved: inscription, "Sigil. com. Burgo de Trigoni."
6. The Seal of Truro, with a shield of arms. "Gules, the base Barry-wavy of six Ar. et Az. thereon a ship of three masts under sail, all Ar. on each mast, a banner of St. George, on the waves in base two fishes of the second." This Seal has no inscription. A more ancient seal appears to have been inscribed "Sigillu. Communitatis de Truro."

It appears that the custom of the boroughs maintaining their members (fn. n4), had not been discontinued in the early part of the last century; Hals, whose collections were brought down till about the year 1739, speaking of Helston, says, "this place, and many others in Cornwall, are not able to maintain their burgesses in London, during the sessions, at their own proper costs and charges (as old was accustomed), in any tolerable port or grandeur, but have found that profitable expedient (as many others) of making country-gentlemen free of their town, who bear the burden and heat of the day for them, and many times, for the honor of their corporations, distress their paternal estates, to exalt the reputation, and perpetuate the privileges of a petty society, made up of mechanics, tradesmen, and inferior practitioners of the law." The same kind of connection, probably, is still kept up in many instances, between country-gentlemen and the boroughs, though not exactly for the same purpose, since it is not so difficult now to find persons who will accept a seat in the House of Commons, without insisting on the payment of daily wages, during their attendance on parliament. It is said that Padstow, Lelant, and Marazion, formerly sent members to parliament, but were excused, upon their petition, on the score of poverty. We cannot find any records to confirm the tradition, but it is certain that Marazion elected two members for the parliament of 1658 (Thomas Westlake and Richard Myll), though it does not appear that they ever took their seat. The borough of Polruan sent a ship-owner to the council at Westminster, in the reign of Edward III. Seven of the present boroughs sent members to parliament in the reign of Edward I. — Launceston, Liskeard, Lostwithiel, Truro, Bodmin, Helston, and Tregony. The latter, after a long disuse of its privileges, was restored by Queen Elizabeth, in 1564. Saltash, Camelford, West-Looe, Grampound, Bossiny, Michel, and Newport, were first made parliamentary boroughs in the reign of Edward VI.; Penryn and St. Ives, in that of Queen Mary; and St. Germans, St. Mawes, East-Looe, Fowey, and Callington, by Queen Elizabeth.

Carew enumerates only eighteen market-towns in Cornwall; among these is Milbrook, the market at which place has long been discontinued; Bodmin and Launceston, he speaks of as the greatest. The following is a table of the present market-towns:—

Market Towns. Market Days. Commodities.
St. Agnes Thursday Butchers'-meat, &c.
St. Austell Friday Corn, butchers'-meat, fish, and other provisions.
Bodmin Saturday Corn, butchers'-meat, fish, and other provisions.
Boscastle Saturday Butchers'-meat and vegetables.
Callington Wednesday Corn and provisions.
Camborne Saturday (fn. n5) Butchers' meat and other provisions.
Camelford Friday Corn and provisions.
St. Columb Thursday Corn and provisions.
(and Saturday in the summer) Butchers'-meat,
St. Day (fn. n6) Saturday Butchers'-meat and other provisions.
East-Looe Saturday Butchers'-meat and other provisions.
Falmouth Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday Butchers'-meat, fish, and other provisions.
Fowey Saturday Butchers'-meat and provisions.
Grampound Saturday Butchers'-meat.
Helston Saturday Corn, provisions, &c.
St. Ives Wednesday Chiefly for vegetables.
Saturday Corn and provisions.
Launceston Saturday Corn and provisions.
Thursday Only for butchers'-meat.
Liskeard Saturday Corn and provisions of all kinds.
Lostwithiel Friday Corn and provisions (the corn is toll-free).
Marazion Saturday Butchers'-meat, fish, vegetables, &c.
St. Mawes Friday Butchers'-meat.
Mevagissey Saturday Butchers'-meat and other provisions.
Padstow Saturday Butchers'-meat and other provisions.
Penryn Saturday Butchers'-meat, fish, poultry and vegetables.
Penzance Thursday and Saturday Corn and provisions.
Polperro Friday Butchers'-meat.
Redruth Tuesday and Friday Corn and provisions (the latter is the principal market).
Saltash Saturday Almost disused.
Stratton Tuesday Corn and provisions.
Tregony Saturday Butchers'-meat and provisions.
Truro Wednesday and Saturday Butchers'-meat, fish, and other provisions.
Corn only on the Wednesday.

The chief markets for corn are Launceston, Liskeard, Bodmin, St. Columb, Truro, Helston, and Penzance, but the corn-markets of Cornwall are much reduced, the principal farmers selling their corn in large quantities at home. The most considerable general markets are Redruth, Liskeard, and Penzance.

The ancient market granted to the Bishops of Exeter, to be held within their manor of Pawton, is still held, though now very inconsiderable, on Friday, at Wadebridge. There are provision-markets of late establishment, for the convenience of the populous mining districts, at Port-Isaac on Fridays, and at Heyle Copperhouse on Saturdays.

The following places had formerly charters for markets, which have been long ago disused; St. Burian, Cargol in Newlyn, Crofthole in Sheviock, St. Germans, Inceworth (held some time in Milbrook), Kilkhampton, Lawhitton, Modeshole or Michel, Mousehole in St. Paul, Polruan, Probus, Shepestall (fn. n7), and West-Looe or Port Pigham.


"Fayres," says Carew, "there are many;" he enumerates about thirty. The following is, we believe, a pretty accurate table of the fairs now held in the county:—

Towns, &c. In what parishes situated. On what day held. Description.
St. Austell Thursday before Easter, Thursday in Whitsun-week, the Friday after July 22., Oct. 16., and November 30. For cattle and horses.
St. Blazey February 2. Holiday-fair.
Blisland, see Poundscawse Monday after September 22. Cattle.
Bodmin January 25., Saturday after Mid-lent Sunday, Saturday before Palm Sunday, Wednesday before Whitsuntide, December 6. Cattle and horses.
Boscastle Minster August 5. Lambs and cattle.
November 22. Ewes and cattle.
Boyton Monday fortnight after Aug. 1. Cattle.
Callington First Tuesday in March, May 4., Sep. 19., Nov 12. Sheep and cattle.
Camborne March 7., June 29., Nov. 11. For cattle, besides a holiday-fair in the Whitsun-week.
Camelford Friday after March 10., May 20., July 17., and 18. Cattle.
St. Columb Thursday after Midlent Sunday, November 13. Sheep and horned cattle, the latter principally for sheep.
St. Columb (Lower) July 9. Cattle.
Crofthole Sheviock Lady-day Cattle.
Easter Tuesday Holiday-fair.
St. Day Gwennap Easter Monday Holiday-fair.
St. Ewe Thursday after April 7. Cattle.
Thursday after April 7.
Falmouth August 7., October 11. Cattle.
Five Lanes Alternon Monday week after June 24. and first Tuesday in Nov. Cattle of all sorts.
Fowey Shrove Tuesday, May 1., September 10. Holiday-fairs.
St. Germans May 28., August 1. Horned cattle and sheep.
Goldsithney Perran-Uthnoe August 5. Large fair for cattle, coarse clothes, hardware, &c.
Grampound Jan. 18., March 25., June 11. Cattle.
Helston Saturday before Mid-lent Sunday, Whit-Monday, July 20., Sep. 9., Nov. 8., and December 12. Cattle.
Hessenford St. Germans Whit-Tuesday, Holiday-fair.
St. Issey First Monday in October. Cattle.
St. Ive Thursday after April 7. Cattle.
Thursday after November 4.
St. Ives Last Saturday in November Shoes, sweatmeats, &c. chiefly a holiday-fair.
St. Keverne Tuesday after Epiphany. Cattle.
Kilkhampton Holy-Thursday, that day three weeks, and Aug. 26. Considerable cattle fairs, except the second, which is more of a holiday-fair.
Landrake July 19., August 4. Cattle.
Lanreath Three weeks after Shrove-Tuesday (lately established), Whit-Tuesday, and November 18. Cattle.
Launceston First Thursday in March and third Tuesday in April. For all cattle, free of toll.
Whit-Monday, July 5., Nov. 8., and Dec. 11. Bullocks.
St. Lawrence Bodmin Aug. 21., Oct. 29., and 30. Horses, &c.
Lelant Aug. 15. Cattle.
Linkinhorne Last Thursday in April and last Thursday in October Cattle.
Liskeard Shrove-Monday, Monday before Palm-Sunday, Holy-Thursday, Aug. 15., Oct. 2., Monday after Dec. 6. Large cattle-fairs.
Lostwithiel July 10., Sept. 4., and Nov. 13. Horses, sheep, bullocks, &c.
St. Mabyn February 13. Cattle.
Marazion Midlent-Monday and Sept 29. Cattle, clothes, &c.
St. Andrew and St. Barnabas Very small fairs.
Marham Church March 25., August 12. Cattle.
St. Martin in Meneage February 13. Cattle.
Menheniot April 13., June 11., July 28. Horned cattle and sheep.
Michell October 15. Cattle.
Milbrook Milbrook May 1., September 29. Cattle, chiefly the former, established about 1795.
Millingy or Penhallow Perran-Zabuloe (sometimes held at one and sometimes at the other) Easter-Tuesday Chiefly a holiday-fair.
St. Neot May 5., Easter-Monday, and November 5. Holiday-fairs.
Newlyn First Tuesday in October, and November 8. Sheep and cattle.
Northill September 8. (if on Friday or Saturday the Monday after,) and the first Thursday in November Horned cattle and sheep.
Padstow April 18., September 21. Little more than holiday-fairs.
Pelynt June 24. Cattle.
Penrose St. Ervan Tuesday before Ascension-day A large cattle fair.
Penryn Gluvias May 1., July 7., Oct. 8., and December 21. Considerable cattle fairs.
Penzance Madron May 28., Thursday after Trinity-Sunday, and Thursday before Advent Cattle.
South Petherwin Second Tuesday in May, and Second Tuesday in Oct. Mere holiday-fairs.
Pillaton Whit-Tuesday Cattle.
Polperro Lansalloes July 10. Holiday-fair.
Port Isaac Endelyon Holy-Thursday Holiday-fair.
Poundscawse Blisland Last Monday in November Cattle.
Poundstock Monday before Ascension-day Chiefly a holiday-fair, — very few sheep and cattle
Probus April 5. and 23., July 5., and September 17. Large fairs for cattle and horses.
Rialton June 9
Redruth May 2., August 3., and October 12. Cattle and Osier manufactures.
Saltash St. Stephen's Tuesday before each quarter-day, Feb. 2., and July 25. Horned cattle and sheep on the two last-mentioned days.
St. Stephen's near Launceston May 12., July 31., and September 25. Horned cattle and sheep.
Stoke Climsland May 29. Horned cattle and sheep.
Stratton May 19., November 8., and December 11. Cattle.
Summer-Court St. Enoder Holy-Thursday, July 28. and September 25. Very large fairs for horses, cattle, &c. The July fair of late establishment.
St. Teath Last Tuesday in February and first Tuesday in July Cattle.
Treganatha St. Wenn April 25., Aug. 1. Cattle.
Tregony Shrove-Tuesday, May 3., July 25., Sep. 1., and Nov. 6. For cattle, but are declining fairs.
Tresilian Bridge Merther Second Monday in February, and Monday before Whit-Sunday Cattle, &c.
Trevena or Tintagel October 19. if Monday, otherwise the first Monday after Horned cattle.
Trerule-soot St. Germans Shrove-Tuesday Cattle.
Trew Breage Holy-Thursday and July 25. Cattle.
Trewen May 1., October 10. Colts, sheep, and lambs.
Trewithian Gerrans Tuesday before Holy-Thursday
Truro Wednesday after Mid-lent Sunday, Wednesday in Whitsun-week, Novem. 19., and December 8. Cattle.
St. Tudye May 30., September 14. Sheep and cattle.
Tywardreth July 19. Cattle.
St. Veep First Wednesday after June 16. Horned cattle and sheep.
Wadebridge St. Breock May 12., June 22., and Oct. 10. Sheep, bullocks, &c.
Wainhouse Corner St. Gennys June 24., September 29. Cattle.
Week-St. Mary September 8., December 10. Cattle.
West Loo May 6. Cattle, &c.

The largest cattle fairs are those of Bodmin (Whitsun fair), Grampound (June 11.), Probus (July 5.), Menheniot (June 11.), and Launceston (November 17.).


  • n1. In Dr. Borlase's MS. collections, from the original, at Mount Edgcumbe.
  • n2. This must allude to the expences of the election.
  • n3. Younger brother of Peter Edgcumbe, Esq. who was one of the knights for Cornwall in four of the parliaments of Queen Elizabeth.
  • n4. See some particulars respecting the wages paid to parliamentary burgesses in the account of Bodmin, p. 32.
  • n5. An ancient prescriptive market, lately revived.
  • n6. Established in 1802.
  • n7. There is some reason to think that this place was in Ruan-Lanihorn. It was granted by John Archdekne, in the reign of Edward III., to be held of his manor of Shepestall; his father, Thomas Archdekne, was summoned to parliament as a baron, being described of Shepestall in Cornwall. No place of that name is now known, but we suppose it to have been the original name of the site of the castle of the Archdeknes, in Ruan-Lanihorne. There is a small farm called LittleShepestall, in the adjoining parish of Veryan, which comprises the greater part of the manor of Elerky, formerly belonging to the Archdeknes.