Horse and cart filled with goods for markets. Photo courtesy of kulturdb.de.com
Most people living in Tudor England lived in a village of 200-500 people. The crofts, or fields, were positioned around a central, unpaved street and a village green. Each village boasted a parish church, a nearby manor hall - like Agecroft Hall -, a convenient source of water, fields, pastures, meadows, woods and marshes. The clustered homes of the village were considered a “hamlet”, and were owned or rented by tenant farmers. Most of the land was owned by local gentry like the Dauntesey family.
In a country village one would find blacksmiths, wheelwrights, saddlers, carpenters, thatchers and tanners. The basic necessities for farm living and travel were provided by these craftsmen and utilized materials found in the surrounding area.
The majority of villages in Tudor England were old established centers for exchange, finishing and handicrafts. Residents usually maintained gardens, sheep and a few cows. If the Daunteseys needed produce and products that were not provided by the surrounding farmland and village market, they needed to travel to the nearest market town. Perhaps they would travel to Manchester to market each week. We’ll look at the market town of Manchester, and other markets close to Agecroft Hall, in a later post.
Tudor towns were established during the Middle Ages to encourage commerce. They were independent of the feudal hierarchy and were accorded the privileges of self-government, under the democratic control of citizen burgesses. (Citizens, or male craftsmen and tradesmen not dependent on others for wages, made up ¼ - ½ of the male adult population in England.) These were the unincorporated towns. Corporate towns were more restrictive in their government and were created by royal charter. There was a bewildering variety of town governments in England covering all of the gray areas between the two.
There was one market town for every 20,000-161,000 acres in Tudor England. “Old towns” were of two types: those with open-purpose trading, and also more specialized markets. “New towns”, which arose in the early 17th century, concentrated on one product. For instance, Manchester concentrated its business in cloth.
The Tudor market town had a population between 500 and 5,000. Those with populations between 600 and 1,500 residents provided market opportunities with a handful of shops and craft stalls as well as traditional produce and wares sold from baskets and hand carts.
By about 1600, 8% of England’s people lived in towns with a population around 5,000. (By the death of Queen Elizabeth I, London was the largest city in England, holding 5% of the country’s population and was the 3rd largest city in Europe behind Paris and Naples). Overcrowding in towns often contributed to poor hygiene, fire threat, disease and increased violence.
These were primarily commercial centers on or close to a river and at the intersection of major roads. Some of the larger market towns were walled, and the county centers (with populations of 1,500-7,000) held several markets and fairs. Worchester in central England, for example, held three weekly markets and four annual fairs.
Throughout the Tudor period, “...farming regions and markets were becoming increasingly specialized, producing and dealing in those goods to which they were best suited...buying other products in exchange [with cash or on credit]...” Palliser, p. 5