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Manchester: A Market Town in Lancashire

Map of Salford Hundred showing "Edgecroft" (Agecroft) in the center.

Agecroft Hall originally sat in Lancashire, in the north-west of England in the area of Salford Hundred (similar to a county in one of the United States). Today this is part of the region known as Greater Manchester. A manor like Agecroft Hall would have benefited from local and international buying, selling and trading. In 1612, rural Lancashire had 15 market towns.

The closest market town to Agecroft Hall was Manchester - about three miles from the manor. Manchester was first given the right to hold markets in 1066 by William the Conqueror. The right to hold a fair came in 1222, and Manchester hosted the first fair to be established in Salford Hundred.

17th c. map of Manchester. Courtesy of John Ryland Library.

Manchester received its charter in 1301 which conferred the right of the merchants to elect an official, or Reeve, to run the town day to day. By the mid-16th century, Manchester was the largest and most prosperous town in Lancashire, with 1,500-2,000 inhabitants.

The larger parish of Manchester was the ecclestical center of Salford Hundred. There were few people in the parish whose sole occupation was farming - many citizens held shops and stalls in town and worked on farms for a short period of the year.

Manchester became a specialized center for cloth in Tudor and Elizabethan times. At market one could find tanners, woolen and linen cloth manufacturers, weavers, spinners, fullers, shearers of cloth, dyers, drapers (merchants dealing in woolen cloth), and dealers in yarn.

The fulling of cloth in Manchester had a direct link with Agecroft Hall. Robert Langley of Agecroft is recorded in 1596 as owning the School Mill in the market town of Manchester. A water mill performed an important part of the fulling process as explained below.

A fulling mill.

Fullers placed their cloth in fulling stocks with urine (for the ammonia) and fuller’s earth (a soapy clay). Hammers, driven by a tappet wheel and turned by a water wheel, then beat the cloth to clean it and strengthen the fibers. After fulling, the cloth was stretched taut on tenter frames hanging on hooks (tenterhooks) and stretched until dry.

Many elements of Elizabethan markets remain today. For instance, the carved arches of the original fish market in the village of Manchester can still be seen from the High Street.





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