Tudor women at market. Courtesy of Northwest Picture Archives.
Let’s head into town! Master Dauntesey has left Agecroft recently to take his wool fleece into London for sale. Perhaps he will return with some silk or spices or other luxuries for Mistress Dauntesey and his daughters. He will be away for three weeks, and Mistress Dauntesey will probably go into market three times in his absence for provisions and maybe some little treats for herself and the household. Her closest female servant will accompany her for safety and to help carry their purchases. They will travel by horse and cart and will be away all day.
The women leave Agecroft before dawn. As soon as they arrive in town, the market bell rings. It is 7am and businesses are opening. They have arrived just in time! Entering town, they find an inn where they can leave their horses and cart for the day. The horses will be fed and watered.
As they travel further into town toward the market cross, they notice the permanent shops located along the perimeters of the town. These long and narrow plots (burbage plots, or tenements, for which holders, or burgesses, paid an annual rent to the lord), each have a building of three or four stories built upon it, most made of half-timbering filled in with plaster, and thatched roofs. A few more prosperous owners have homes of stone or brick and with slate roofs.
Burgage plots. Photo courtesy of firstname.lastname@example.org
The buildings contain shops and workshops on the ground floor and living quarters above. The top floors have rooms for servants, apprentices, renters and borders. Mistress Dauntesey and her servant can watch the craftsmen working in their rear workshops while their wives and apprentices sell their wares over the front counters.
Getting their bearings, they make note of the names of the streets leading from the market square: Pudding Lane, Fish Street, and Shoemaker Row. Mistress Dauntesey does not need any of the items that the shops on these streets are selling.
The town is very crowded. The market cross is located in the center of town where two major thoroughfares meet. There is a low platform here upon which is erected a wooden cross. The Lord is watching the market proceedings and, hopefully, keeping at bay any deceit or fraud!
There are so many shops and stalls, as well as peddlers hawking their wares. The market is both noisy and exciting! Food and ale are available in abundance, and the inns promise a place to sit and to relax, although the ale house in no place for a lady and her servant who are unaccompanied by a husband or son. The women must be careful today, especially when passing the groups of vagrants hanging about the alehouses. Hopefully they will be able to gossip with some friends and purchase what they need while, avoiding any pickpockets.
The ladies pause at the market cross to check their shopping list and plan their way through the market. They decide to look for the vegetables they need from the bulk sellers in the open-air market, have a bite to eat and a bit of ale, and then visit several specialty workshops, merchant shops and stalls for dry goods. Lastly, they will visit the butcher in Hog’s lane and the market hall, where they will purchase perishable goods that need to be protected from the heat, like butter and eggs. They may have to return to their cart and leave some of their items so they are not overburdened with packages.
As they pass the sheep and cattle milling about in the street, they step carefully through the mud and several piles of dung. This town unfortunately does not have cobbled streets. A woman passes by with a basket full of marjoram, and Mistresses Dauntesey is in need of some for creating a headache remedy created by mixing the marjoram with sage and lavender. The marjoram in her own herb garden is not growing well this year. She settles on a price with the seller and places the stems into her own basket.
Most women in a Tudor town do not own business on their own but help their husbands at their stalls and shops. Perhaps a local widow would carry on her husband’s trade business, but these women aren’t a common fixture at market. Women worked at home while their husbands worked their trades or crafts in their home workshops.
They pass the town church and a grammar school on the way to purchase their fresh produce. As they do, they dodge a peasant leading a mule through the streets. They pass the second-hand furniture and clothing dealers, but need nothing from them. The Daunteseys can provide their household with new and imported goods, thank you very much!
Mistress Dauntesey and her servant hear a market seller crying his wares. They have found the fruits and vegetables they are looking for. They approach the stall and see that cherries, plums, oranges, strings of onions, lettuce and radishes are available. Mistress Dauntesy chooses a goodly amount of cherries, oranges and radishes. She does not need lettuce but does find the cabbage she needs to add to her pottage, or cabbage soup. The servants each eat so much of it that her crop of cabbage at home is quickly dwindling. Mistress Dauntesey haggles for a good price on her purchases, which is customary and expected at market. Only the price of bread and ale is tightly regulated with fixed prices.
The town crier is crying the news of the day from both London and locally. None of today’s news directly affects the manor, so the women go in search of some Tudor “fast food” - cooked meat pasties, or hand pies, and ale. They find what they are looking for and sit on a bench to rest and eat.