Bread and produce sellers at an open-air market. Photo courtesy of The Tudodr Monastery Farm.
Outdoor, open-air markets have been popular in Britain since Roman times. By the 16th and 17th centuries, the marketplace had evolved to include both small, local market stands, and the larger market villages that hosted yearly fairs, with the pinnacle being the market at the city of London.
The most basic function of a town was the hosting of a market. Small regional markets created the base of the market economy with 100 county centers and 12 provincial market towns, with larger offerings, in England. By 1588, there were 500-600 markets in England and 54 in Wales. During times of plague, as populations shrunk, the economy of the country was affected. But the market was tenacious and grew up again after bouts of the disease were over.
The marketplace was the center for trade, social interaction, news and, of course, gossip. Sellers showcased their wares at temporary market stalls, carried them in baskets throughout the market, sold goods from permanent storefronts, and carried on business under cover of an arched market hall. We’ll take a closer look at market towns in a later post and see how the marketplace and seller’s stalls were arranged and organized.