The term “Market Town” might give you the idea that these were small cities that focused on limited trade. But many of England’s largest cities developed as market towns. Let’s take a look at how London grew over the years based on its importance as a center of markets.
We can use archaeological finds to help establish where London’s earliest Markets may have been. London was built as a Roman city, and long after the Roman Empire fell, the inhabitants of the city used the Roman roads and the outline of the fort to shape the development of the city. For example, after the Vikings were ousted from the city, King Alfred restored the fortified walls of the city and improved the roads to allow for easier transportation in the city. By the early Middle Ages, the marketplaces were settled in a certain area, and we have discovered the revenants of the stone house that merchants probably lived in so they could be near the markets. The density of the markets in turn forced the city to develop strategies to protect public health. The discarded waste from butchers and tanners, as well as the habit of letting pigs roam the streets, led to laws that imposed fines for creating excessive waste in the city. This in turn led to the creation of a class of civic officials to deal with regulations, which we will talk about more in a later post.
By the early Tudor period, London was becoming more involved in international trade. The main landing place for goods were Queenhithe, which handled down river traffic, and Billingsgate, which dealt more with international trade. Both landing places were connected to inland markets: Old Fish Street and Cheapside for Queenhithe, and Eastcheap for Billisgsgate. The items that could be sold at each markets were regulated, again showing the ongoing concern in preventing price gouging or flooding a market. The markets were in established buildings. In fact, some market buildings came from property confiscated during the Dissolution of the Monasteries. For example, the Hermitage was granted by the Crown to William Lambe, a wealthy cloth worker.
Image Courtesy of The History of London website
Many of these market buildings were damaged during the Great Fire of London in 1666. But by this point, the markets of London were so well established, the buildings were reestablished in the same places, which means that the marketplaces affected the landscape of London for years to come.
Source: John Schofield, The Building of London from the Conquest to the Great Fire.