Market towns grew in importance during the Tudor and Stuart period. To ensure that everything in the markets ran smoothly, market officials were needed. These jobs could be both paid positions (especially in larger cities) as well as civic duties that were assigned to property owning men.
Although there is some variation from town to town, we’ll talk about the general officials that would help to run the market. The mayor of the town would have a critical role. He would serve as the “Clerk of the Market” who represented the Crown and set the prices for controlled goods. This price was referred to as an ”Assize”. The mayor was also responsible for ensuring the quality of the goods sold at his towns markets. And he was to keep the marketplaces themselves clean and safe. In larger towns, the mayor would appoint officials to act on his behalf and check to make sure all regulations were being followed. Finally, market officials often took on the burden of ensuring that the town had enough of a supply of important goods. This would help to prevent scarcities.
Records indicate that most Clerks of the Market were well regarded. But there were a few instances where competing interests collided. For example, the mayor of Nottingham was taken to the Leet Court because he was selling herring at the Market, because his position prevented him from doing this. Not only that, but the mayor also kept other merchants from selling herring “as good stuff to the town, much cheaper”. This case shows how people with overlapping jobs in town could run into trouble. In Oxford and Cambridge, university authorities were also Clerks of the Market, which angered the town’s civic authorities, who felt that this gave the universities too much power.
The market officials found themselves increasingly at odds with the tradesmen and merchants, as they tried to regulate the markets. This led to confrontations both in the markets and the courts, and we will take a look at those in another post.
Source: J. H Thomas, Town Government in the Sixteenth Century.