Warminster: Market and fairs

Pages 115-117

A History of the County of Wiltshire: Volume 8, Warminster, Westbury and Whorwellsdown Hundreds. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1965.

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There was a market in Warminster in the time of Thomas Mauduit, lord of the manor c. 1204-44. (fn. 1) In the middle of the 13th century the toll of it belonged to his son William Mauduit, (fn. 2) and stalls and shops in it were the subject of conveyances before 1300. (fn. 3) The toll of the market and fair of St. Laurence was said to be worth only 15s. a year in 1300, (fn. 4) but was valued at 100s. in 1327. (fn. 5) In 1322 the toll of the market for about six weeks was 32s. (fn. 6) In 1348-9, perhaps a bad year, the markets and fairs together produced almost £8. In 1379-80 the market alone produced over £18 and fines paid for stalls another £4, and in 1385-6 the profits of the market were almost £20. In the 15th century profits were accounted for in 'home' and 'foreign' boxes; perhaps traders from the town paid at a different rate from those from outside. Together they amounted to between £8 and £10 in 1443-4, 1454-5 and 1455-6, but were under £6 in 1462-3. (fn. 7)

From the 16th century the tolls of the market and the profits of the stalls and shambles in the Market Place were let with the bailiwick of the town. (fn. 8) In 1711, however, the tolls alone were let at rack for £100 a year, reduced to £82 in 1737. The other profits of the bailiwick were added to this lease in 1758, (fn. 9) and let at rack until 1802. When the market rights were in hand between 1802 and 1805 the profits amounted to over £100 a year, of which the largest part was toll on corn, and the remainder profits of stalls and pig pens. (fn. 10) The whole was re-let at rack rent in 1806, and remained so until 1856 when the toll of corn was taken into hand on the building of the new corn market. (fn. 11) This toll was still in hand and collected in kind in the late 19th century, and the rest of the market profits were let at £25 a year. (fn. 12) In 1904 the Urban District Council became lessee of the whole of the tolls and in 1920 purchased them of the Marquess of Bath for £1,600. (fn. 13)

Tolls of corn and other produce sold in front of a certain house in the Market Place had in 1801 been taken from time immemorial by the lessee of the house, which was held on a 1,000-year lease. In that year they were given up to the Marquess of Bath in return for the reversion of another house. (fn. 14) It is possible that the right of taking them originated in a mid-13th century grant of a house in Warminster quit of tolls at markets and fairs. (fn. 15)

The market was held on Saturday in the 17th century, (fn. 16) and that continued to be the day of the corn market as long as it was held. Although cattle were sold at the Saturday market in 1887, a separate monthly cattle market was held by 1903, and Monday has been the cattle market day since then; sales have been sometimes weekly and sometimes less often. (fn. 17)

In the 16th century Leland mentioned Warminster as a great corn market. (fn. 18) Its fame was probably well-established by his time, for there can be little doubt that the large tolls collected in the 14th and 15th centuries came from the sale of corn. (fn. 19) In the late 16th century the quantity brought to the market was 'scarce credible', (fn. 20) and in Aubrey's time it was held to be much the greatest corn market in the west of England. He was told that 12 or 14 score loads were brought there on market days, but that it had declined somewhat, owing, it was said, to the growth of the market at Bristol, where farmers from Gloucestershire took samples in bags. (fn. 21) In contrast, Warminster remained a 'pitched' market, in which one sack from every load was pitched in the street, a practice which still prevailed in the 19th century. (fn. 22) In spite of the loss of the Bristol trade, however, the market still flourished, and was noted by Celia Fiennes in the late 17th century, (fn. 23) and by Richard Pococke in 1754. (fn. 24) About 60 maltsters attended to buy barley in 1757, (fn. 25) and in 1798 the corn market was said to be the largest at an inland town in England. (fn. 26) In 1805 the toll amounted to 478 bushels, mainly wheat and barley; if, as seems likely, the rate was the same as in Daniell's day, 2 quarts out of each sack pitched, over 7,500 sacks were pitched in a year, which gives an average of over 150 loads brought to market each week throughout the year. (fn. 27) Warminster was the only market in the county from which weekly returns of sales of corn had to be made under the Importation of Corn Act of 1828. (fn. 28) Between that year and 1835 the quantities sold varied between 58,000 and 76,500 quarters a year; the largest turnover in money was £184,000 in 1831. (fn. 29) In the 1830's Warminster was second only to Bristol among corn markets in the west of England, and was particularly notable for the quantities of barley sold. (fn. 30) From 1829 to 1841 between 25,000 and 30,000 quarters of wheat were generally sold yearly, and the figures for barley would certainly be rather higher. (fn. 31) Even in 1831, however, trade was beginning to decline because of the lack of a canal to the town, and it was thought that Devizes market promised to rival Warminster within a few years. (fn. 32) Sales of corn at the two towns bear out the accuracy of this forecast, (fn. 33) but in the next decade Warminster market increased again and 'far exceeded' other markets in the county; this was said to be due to the coming of the railway. (fn. 34)

In spite of this the inhabitants of the town and those frequenting the market complained in 1854 to the Marquess of Bath that railways made or projected would put Warminster into competition with Devizes, Melksham, Chippenham, and Salisbury, and that they all had excellent market houses. (fn. 35) The building of the Market House in 1855 (fn. 36) helped the market in its recovery, and in the early 1860's the quantities sold at Warminster were no smaller than they had been 30 years before, (fn. 37) and the average turnover was still £10,000 a week. (fn. 38) About this time Scott and Smith, the largest cornfactors in the town, built new corn stores near the station. (fn. 39) In 1871, however, the railway was blamed for diverting traffic from the market, and many sack carriers and others had left the town. (fn. 40) Weekly sales often fell to only a few quarters, (fn. 41) and in 1894 the corn market was almost dead. (fn. 42) It finally ceased to be held after the council had taken over the tolls. (fn. 43)

Besides corn, the market was used for the supply of the town with butcher's meat and vegetables. In Cobbett's time the town was well-known for fine meat. (fn. 44) Pigs were sold in the early 19th century (fn. 45) but in the 1850's, although cattle were sold occasionally, attempts to hold regular cheese, wool, cattle, and poultry markets failed. (fn. 46) By 1887 regular livestock markets were held on Saturdays. (fn. 47) By the turn of the century they were replaced or supplemented by monthly sales of cattle held on Mondays, and Monday has been Warminster's regular market day, either weekly or fortnightly, since the Saturday corn market ended. After a busy period between the World Wars the sales of cattle declined again, and in 1962 the frequency of the market had again to be reduced to once a fortnight. (fn. 48)

Until the 19th century Warminster market was held in the open Market Place; the arcades which several of the inns had for the protection of dealers have been mentioned above. (fn. 49) The only other facilities were the stalls which since the late Middle Ages had clustered around and under the Town Hall. (fn. 50) There, too, were butchers' shambles, (fn. 51) while pigs were sold in front of the site later occupied by the London Inn, now the way into Common Close. (fn. 52) When the Town Hall was demolished in 1832, new shambles and a pig market were provided behind it; the shambles still stood, derelict, in 1962. The provision of a building for the corn market was undertaken by Lord Bath in 1855. It was designed by T. H. Wyatt (fn. 53) in the form of a four-sided piazza supported by cast-iron arcades and opening upon a central court-yard. After it ceased to be used it was roofed over and was in 1962 used as a garage and two lock-up shops.

A yearly fair on the vigil, day, and morrow of the feast of St. Laurence (9-11 August) was granted to William Mauduit, lord of Warminster, in 1253, (fn. 54) and a second fair, lasting from 22 to 29 October to Henry Greene in 1447. (fn. 55) Thomas Thynne obtained a grant of a third fair, from 10 to 12 April, in 1679. (fn. 56) All three fairs were still held in 1770, when the dates were given as 11 April, 10 August, and 28 October. (fn. 57) By the end of the 18th century the date of the first fair was 22 April. (fn. 58) All three fairs survived into the 20th century, (fn. 59) and the April and October fairs were still held in 1961. (fn. 60) The August fair was called Hang Fair in the 19th century because of some executions which took place on Sutton Common on that day in 1783. (fn. 61)

The tolls of the fairs belonged to the lords of the capital manor. In the 14th and 15th centuries they generally yielded between 30s. and 50s. a year. (fn. 62) They were subsequently let with the bailiwick in the same way as the market. When the office was in hand in the early 19th century only the October fair was of much value, yielding as much as £22 in 1805. (fn. 63)

In 1770 the fairs were for cattle, sheep, pigs, and cheese. (fn. 64) Of these, sheep were apparantly sold only at the October fair, (fn. 65) which from at least the early 19th century was the principal one of the three. (fn. 66) In the 1820's as many as 20,000 sheep had changed hands at it, (fn. 67) and large quantities of cattle were sold. (fn. 68) This fair continued to be important throughout the century, between 10,000 and 20,000 sheep being regularly sold. (fn. 69) The April fair also remained a business fair, but by c. 1880 the August one was given over entirely to amusements. (fn. 70) It fell out of use soon after that time, but in 1963 the April and October fairs were still held in the Market Place, mainly for pleasure. (fn. 71)

The April and August fairs were regularly held in the street, but in the 18th century the sheep fair in October had long been held in a paddock called Carrion Close, lying immediately north of Portway House. (fn. 72) After the inclosure of the parish in the 1780's a more convenient place was found in a field belonging to Warminster Farm just north of Chain Street (now George Street), and Carrion Close and the old hurdle house in the Common Close were let. (fn. 73) By 1839 this field had been abandoned in favour of one in Beastleaze opposite the end of North Row. (fn. 74) Finally in 1856 a field near the station was chosen; (fn. 75) after the Urban District Council had acquired the tolls of the market it was asphalted and made into the present market yard. (fn. 76)


  • 1. Longleat MS. 8966.
  • 2. B.M. Add. Ch. 26695.
  • 3. Longleat MSS. 8976, 9101.
  • 4. Wilts. Inq. p.m. 1242-1326 (Index Libr.), 252.
  • 5. Halstead, Succint Genealogies, 141.
  • 6. S.C. 6/1145/12 m. 3.
  • 7. Longleat MSS. 9455-6 and Acct. Rolls in Parcel XXVII.
  • 8. Ibid. Parcel XXVIII, Lease Brown to Stote, 1573, and later leases of the bailiwick passim; see below, p. 129.
  • 9. Longleat Estate Office, Survey 1743, pp. 123-4.
  • 10. Longleat MSS. Manor Bk. 1801-8.
  • 11. Longleat Estate Office, Rack Rental 1853-60.
  • 12. Royal Com. on Market Rights, vol. xiii, pt. 2 [C. 6268-vi A], pp. 544-51, H.C. (1890-1), xl.
  • 13. Wilts. Cuttings, xvi. 141.
  • 14. W.R.O. 144, Morgan to Bath, 1801.
  • 15. B.M. Add. Ch. 26695.
  • 16. Daniell, Warminster, 128.
  • 17. Kelly's Dir. Wilts. (1903 and later edns.); Royal Com. on Market Rights, vol. xiii, pt. 2, pp. 544-51; Manley, Regional Survey, iv. 230, 562.
  • 18. Leland, Itin. ed. Toulmin Smith, v. 83.
  • 19. See above, and compare Trowbridge market: V.C.H. Wilts. vii. 143.
  • 20. Camden, Britannia (1695), 90.
  • 21. Daniell, Warminster, 128-9.
  • 22. App. Rep. Sel. Cttee. on Sale of Corn, H.C. 517, p. 23 (1834), vii; Warminster Miscellany, Oct. 1856.
  • 23. Journeys of Celia Fiennes, ed. Morris, 8.
  • 24. Travels of Richard Pococke vol. ii (Camden Soc. 2nd ser. xliii), 38.
  • 25. W.N. & Q. ii. 20.
  • 26. Univ. Brit. Dir. (1798), iv. 679.
  • 27. Longleat MSS. Manor Bk. 1801-8.
  • 28. 9 Geo. IV, c. 60, s. 8, which listed 150 principal markets in England and Wales.
  • 29. Halliday, Information, f. 11.
  • 30. Lond. Gaz. passim.
  • 31. Rep. Sel. Cttee. on Agric. H.C. 79, p. 216 (1836), viii, pt. i; Weekly Ave. Price of Wheat, H.C. 78, p. 10f. (1842), xl.
  • 32. Lewis, Topog. Dict. Eng. (1831), iv. 391; Halliday, Information, f. 10.
  • 33. Lond. Gaz. passim.
  • 34. Warminster Miscellany, Feb. 1854, Nov. 1856.
  • 35. Ibid. June 1854.
  • 36. Ibid. Dec. 1855.
  • 37. Lond. Gaz. passim.
  • 38. Wilts. Cuttings xvi. 137.
  • 39. Longleat Estate Office, Survey 1837, p. 150.
  • 40. V.C.H. Wilts. iv. 325.
  • 41. Warminster Herald, passim.
  • 42. J.J. Hissey, Through Ten English Counties (1894), 132.
  • 43. Manley, Regional Survey, iv. 230.
  • 44. Rural Rides, ed. Cole, 399.
  • 45. Longleat MSS. Manor Bk. 1801-8.
  • 46. Warminster Miscellany, Sept. 1854, Aug., Nov. 1855, Dec. 1859, Oct. 1860.
  • 47. Royal Com. on Market Rights, vol. xiii, p. 544.
  • 48. Kelly's Dir. Wilts. (1903 and later edns.); Wilts. Times, 8 July 1960, 23 Febr., 9 March 1962.
  • 49. See p. 93.
  • 50. e.g. Longleat MSS. 9455 (1454-5), 10238 (1737), and see p. 129.
  • 51. Longleat Estate Office, Survey 1743, pp. 4, 54.
  • 52. Halliday, Information, f. 107.
  • 53. Warminster Miscellany, Sept. 1854, Dec. 1855.
  • 54. Cal. Pat. 1247-58, 252.
  • 55. Cal. Chart. R. 1427-1516, 85.
  • 56. Cal. S. P. Dom. 1678, 116; C 66/3205 no. 15.
  • 57. Ogilby and Morgan's Book of the Roads (1770), 294.
  • 58. Univ. Brit. Dir. (1798), iv. 679.
  • 59. Kelly's Dir. Wilts. (1939).
  • 60. Wilts. Times, 10 Jan. 1961.
  • 61. Halliday, Information, f. 9.
  • 62. Longleat MSS. 9455-7 and Parcel XXVII, Acct. Rolls.
  • 63. Ibid. Manor Bk. 1801-8.
  • 64. Ogilby and Morgan's Book of the Roads, 294.
  • 65. Longleat MSS. Manor Bk. 1801-8.
  • 66. Pigot, New Com. Dir. (1822-3); Halliday, Information, f. 9;
  • 67. Hoare, Mod. Wilts. Warminster, 13.
  • 68. Halliday, Information, f. 9
  • 69. Warminster Miscellany and Warminster Herald, passim.
  • 70. Ibid.
  • 71. Wilts. Times, 3 Aug. 1962.
  • 72. Longleat MS. 10238; Longleat Estate Office, Survey 1743, p. 103; W.R.O. Inclosure Award. Woodmead Home for old people was built on the Close, 1961-2.
  • 73. Longleat Estate Office, Survey 1743, p. 103.
  • 74. Ibid. Survey 1837, pp. 67, 129; ibid. Rack Rental 1838-44.
  • 75. Ibid. Rack Rental 1853-60.
  • 76. Manley, Regional Survey, iv. 562.