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English Chartered Markets: The North

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The North | The North Midlands | The South Midlands, East Anglia and Wales
The Ribblehead Viaduct in North Yorkshire.

This Entry looks at some of the markets of the northern counties of England; the markets that are listed are the first established by charter in each county. The charter was usually granted by the monarch to a local noble, granting the right to hold a market in a specified place and upon a particular day or days. Many grants were given to formalise an existing (older) right to trade that may have pre-existed as far back as Roman times.

The key date in this entry is 1200 AD, as this was the year that a charter was granted to Market Overton, making the county of Rutland the last to have a chartered market established within its boundaries. At the time, the country was in growth; as an indication of this, a knight was paid eight pence a day by the time of King Henry II and 24 pence (two shillings) during the reign of King John. This shows the growing prosperity in England at this time, 134 years after the conquest, when the kingdom was in a position to exploit the coming growth in domestic and world trade.

The Market Charter

What was the purpose of a market charter? First, it formalised the market and made it hard for a rival market setting up close by. The charter did this by granting privileges to the town and the traders such as exemptions from tolls and taxes (on particular days) which its rival markets did not enjoy. Secondly, those attending the market to buy goods gained benefit from lower costs and no tolls. This meant that traders using an uncharted market faced costs for taking goods to and from the market, and paying extra trading taxes to the town.

A chartered town also benefited by attracting people to the town. The area over which the town's powers extended was clearly defined, and this area was known as the borough. By becoming a free borough, this gave the town powers to hold a court, levy fines and create local laws.

Although not relevant to a town in the north, this passage from the Portsmouth charter is a fine example of the type of charter that would have been granted to the northern towns.

Inspeximus and confirmation by Edward IV of Richard II's confirmation of charters of Richard I, John, and Henry III, and their confirmations by Edward II and Edward III, granting to the burgesses of Portsmouth an annual fair for 15 days at the feast of St Peter ad Vincula (ie 1 August), a weekly market on Thursdays, and quittance from toll, pontage, passage, pedage, payage, stallage and tallage (as well as other liberties).
- From The Portsmouth Charters

The Charter Taxes

  • Pontage - A local tax for bridge maintenance.

  • Passage - The right to pass through the town and borough freely and without charge.

  • Pedage - A safe passage toll granting the entitlement to safe protected travel through the town.

  • Payage - A payment allowed by charter where a peasant could make a payment (equal to a day's pay) to his lord, instead of a day's work on the lords land.

  • Stallage - The cost or rent for stall space at a market, and the right to put up a stall at the market.

  • Talage - A tax imposed by the king or lords, on towns or dwellings on their lands or private estates.

The Chartered Markets Of The North

It is interesting to note that the cities of Durham and York, towns to the north of Durham and towns south of York have market charters that predate the Norman Conquest.

All the rest were granted charters some time after the conquest. One possible reason for this is that the areas between York and Durham fell victim to the events in 1069 known as the 'Harrying Of The North'. This was the personal revenge of William I for the slaughter of an army of 700 men in Durham. This army, led by Robert Comine, was slaughtered both by the inhabitants of the city and by a Northumbrian army to whom they opened the gates. In a fury of revenge William ordered the destruction of the lands between the cities of York and Durham. The destruction lasted for almost a year, and it is estimated that 150,000 inhabitants were put to the sword. The land was laid waste and the survivors of the depopulation were reduced to virtual slavery.

The cultural and economic structure was also destroyed; this is attested to by the lack of chartered markets in the area1. The area did not have a market established until 1086 when the first charter was granted to Penwortham, and this could have been to establish a market to serve an area around a local seaport.


The origin of the county name is simple; it means the land north of the Humber river. Named by the people known as the Angles in 500 AD who invaded the area, it was formed from merging the kingdoms of Deria 2 with its capital York and Bernicia 3 with its capital Bamburgh. Northumberland became a Christian kingdom in 636 AD, when King Oswald converted in thanks for his victory against the Welsh at Havenfield. To mark this event, he also established Lindisfarne Abbey. Under King Oswald, Northumberland was the premier county of England and the leader of the Anglo-Saxon Heptarchy4. Under King Alfred the Great of Wessex, sometimes called the first King of England (871-899), these kingdoms started to merge to form the basis of the kingdom of England.

The Market Town Berwick-upon-Tweed, 1124

England's most northerly town, Berwick-upon-Tweed, is a major east coast trading port and the gateway to Scotland5. The area's major north-south roads run through the town; this gives Berwick domination of the trade in this area. It is conceivable that trade in the area did exist before the arrival of the Normans, as there was a Roman market in the area, so it looks likely that trade in there suffered in the destruction ordered by William. The charter of 1124 AD was therefore a formalisation of existing trade in the town.


The Domesday Book in 1086 states that the majority of the county was in Scotland but also included parts of Yorkshire. The 12th Century eastern boundaries of the county lay in Durham and Northumberland; the southern and south-western boundaries were Westmoreland6 and Lancashire; Scotland was to the north.

The Market Town Carlisle, 1130

Carlise is situated on the east coast, eight miles inland from the Solway Firth. The positioning of the town on the Eden river 7 indicate Carlisle's importance as a river crossing point. The town is overlooked by Carlisle Castle which was built in 1192 by William II8. Again it appears the 1130 AD charter acknowledged the trading situation, but the grants of charter came late to the northern towns.


The name Durham originates from the Old English Dun Holm which means 'hill island'. Durham was originally a part of the Earldom of Northumbria until it was purchased by the church in 1075 AD; these church lands together with other gifts of land formed over time what is now the county of Durham.

The Market Town Durham, 1040

Durham is situated to the north of York, and was built on the Roman road known as Dere Street on the major east coast north-south route. The crossing point of the river Weir in Durham marks the northerly limit (York being the southern limit) of the Harrying of the North in 1069. This is a mild name for the almost total destruction of the economy between the two cities. It showed the Normans were here to stay as they forced the people of northern England into submission. As trade continued after the harrying, it appears that the pre-conquest grants of charter were kept.


The name Westmoreland originates from the Old English Westmoringland, 'land of the people west of the moors'. The county (originally named 'Westmaringaland' and later 'Westmarieland') was granted the Honour or Barony of Appleby in 1174 by Henry II. Hugh de Morvill held the Barony as a fief of the English Crown until Easter 1190. It then returned to the possession of the crown, namely King Richard I.

The Market Town Appleby9, 1179

Appleby is located to the north east of York on the major west coast east route (York to Penrith) through a natural gap in the Pennines. This route goes over the Coupland Beck (river) via the Brough through to Appleby. The route is marked by a bridge which was first listed as a turnpike (toll) in a building order dating from 1679. This bridge crossed the river Weir. As all the traffic passing through the town had to travel over the bridge, it could get very choked.

From Roman times, Appleby's location has made the town a natural focus for trade. A horse market has been held there every June for the last 300 years. The grant of the market charter in 1179 AD to Appleby, made Westmorland the last county in the area to gain a chartered market town.


Yorkshire was originally the home of the tribe known as the Brigantes. The county was occupied in turn first by the Romans, then the Angles and finally the Vikings. The first reference to Yorkshire as a county was in 1065 AD in the Anglo Saxon Chronicle. Due to its size, Yorkshire was divided by into thirds, or thrydings, by the Vikings10. York remained the principal city of North Britain, as it had been since Roman times.

The Market Town York, 70011

York is located inland on the river Ouse. The city was founded by the Romans in the 71 AD, and was situated on the Roman road to the Humber river crossing. As a Saxon town it was granted its charter in 700 AD. The market flourished until the Vikings drove out the Saxons in 837 AD. The Viking settlers were the leading traders of the time and the market went from strength to strength. After the Conquest, the Normans became the next masters of York. They allowed the market to flourish, and the market charter was not cancelled.

The city of York marks the southerly limit (Durham the northern limit) of the Harrying of the North in 1069.


In the Iron Age, the county of Lancashire was the home of the Setantii and their neighbours the Carvetii. The tribes were peacefully incorporated into Roman Britain by treaty during the rule of queen Cartimandua. After the departure of Rome 420 AD, King Rheged took control of the area. Christianity arrived in 680 AD with St Cuthbert who established his church at Cartmel. There were then successive waves of settlers including Scandinavians, Danes and Viking peoples who all helped establish a prosperous trading area. After the Conquest, the areas of Amounderness, Blackburn, Layland, Salford, Newton, West Derby and Warrington formed the grant of land originally given to Roger de Poitou12. These lands were to form the County of Lancashire which was recognised in 1270 AD, and achieved the status of a Duchy by 1351 AD.

The Market Town Penwortham, 1086

The old town of Penwortham is now an eastern suburb of Preston, situated to the south of York, 5 miles inland from the sea. It was on the major west coast route north-south, and guarded the first inland crossing of the river Ribble. As Penwortham benefited from major river access, it was very likely served by river traffic from the inland areas to the west.

All the markets in this area are post-conquest apart from two exceptions, York in 700 AD, and Durham in 1040 AD, both church cities with bishops and ministers. One conclusion is that economic recovery in this area was held back by a minimum of 25 years by post-conquest events, and the recovery hindered the dramatic reduction in the population.

A map of each town mentioned in the entry can be found on Google maps. Please use this to get an idea of how the market fitted in the surrounding area. If you zoom out you will see how the markets relate to each other.

1Many townships had markets without the sanction of a charter.2The 6th Century kingdom of Deria extended from the Humber to the Tees and from the sea to the western edge of the Vale of York.3Bernicia was established by the Angles in the 6th Century. It covered an area approximately equivalent to the modern-day counties of Durham and Northumberland.4Heptarchy: meaning the pact of seven partners. The other kingdoms were Mercia, Wessex, Essex, Kent, Sussex and East Anglia.5Over the centuries, Berwick-upon-Tweed has changed hands between England and Scotland no less than 14 times.6In 1974, Westmoreland was merged with Cumberland and parts of Lancashire and Yorkshire to form the county of Cumbria. (from the old Celtic word Cymry meaning 'compatriot.')7The Eden river is one of the few rivers in England which flows northwards.8Known as Rufus due to his red faced complexion.9Not to be confused with Appleby est 1267 in Lincolnshire on Ermine Street.10Thrydings is an ancient Norse word for thirds. Today, these Thrydings are now referred to as Ridings eg, West Riding.11Roman name Eboracum.12Taken from the Domesday Book: 'Roger de Poitou, Third son of Roger Montgomery. In 1086 already had his holdings confiscated, perhaps for supporting William I's son, Robert of Normandy; later got most of them back. Holdings in Essex, Lincs., Suffolk and Yorks. shown as his; in Norfolk as once his; in Derbys., Lancs. and Notts. as in the king's hands.'

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