History of the Market Town in Britain


Ruins of Trajan's Market in Rome, Italy. Photo courtesy of romesightseeing.net.


Markets as we think of them today began in the Roman Empire. However, as far back as the New Stone Age (9000-6000 B.C.) craftsmen (for example, potters and wool spinners) and farmers were becoming interdependent, as the discovery of agriculture opened the way for settlement of communities. Community trading was practiced, and goods were beginning to be moved over greater distances.

During the time of the Roman Empire in Britain (A.D. 43 - A.D. 410), Britain’s first towns were built. These Roman settlements boasted the first true marketing places. The “forum” was a rectangular piece of land in the middle of the town lined with an open-air market, meeting places, shops and offices. Barrel vaulted indoor markets lining the forum were a later iteration in Roman Britain. The most famous Roman marketplace was Trajan’s Market in Rome, which boasted 150 shops and offices.

During the Middle Ages in England (A.D. 1066 - A.D. 1485), the number of towns increased from about 100 in the Early Middle Ages to more than 1500 market centers by the early 14th century. Early “burghs” were fortified towns surrounded by wooden and later stone walls.

As the population grew, people began to move from the countryside to towns. European market towns flourished in the 12th century. The largest Medieval English market town was London. In feudal England, people participated in trading contracts throughout Europe, including importing luxury products, particularly from France. English craftsmen created products to export to other countries in return.

Historically, Medieval towns either developed “organically”, growing from small villages, or were “planted” for specific trading purposes. They initially grew up around fortified castles, monasteries and manor households. These organizations provided protection as well as a close and ready market.

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