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Chapter 1
History of Markets and
Fairs in Britain
F
rom 8500 BC, the time hunter-gatherer The word cheap comes from the Saxon céap
Neolithic man started raising crops and meaning a fair trade or a bargain. Hence Cheap-
animals, there must have been a need side, London’s early market; Wincheap, Canterbury’s
to exchange surplus production for other former wine market; and the “Chip” place name
necessities or even luxuries. While some occurring in settlements such as Chipping Sodbury,
of this trading would have taken place informally Chippenham and Chipstead.
within or between communities it is probable that
more formal markets developed where people would From the 7th century, towns started to re-establish
gather to trade. at places where people congregated or where roads
and tracks crossed, converged, or crossed waterways.
Early camps were meeting places where farmers These boroughs, as they were called, became market
and hunters traded for needs they couldn’t provide or trading centres for the town’s own inhabitants
themselves and at the same time may have enjoyed and those of the surrounding countryside. In 1086
festivities to honour their gods; and so evolved the the Domesday Book records about 100 boroughs
fair. spread throughout the 34 English counties covered.
Ireland, Scotland and Wales were independent at
The Romans established towns all over Britan- this time and unfortunately early documents are less
nia, principally for the purpose of commerce, where informative, but you can be sure that whatever was
markets and shops were very much a part of life and happening in England was happening similarly in
regular trading. Before 20 BC the Roman week con- surrounding countries.
sisted of eight-days, based around the nundina (the
fair or market day), which began the week. Dwellers The Norman Conquest (1066) heralded a great
in the nearby countryside would come to the town on construction programme of castle building to defend
the nundinae to hear legal proclamations, to buy and and control the new kingdom, as well as ecclesiasti-
sell, and for entertainment. cal buildings to appease God for the wrongs done in
conquering the English.
Over the years these markets or fairs spread into
the countryside so that most of the population could At this time markets and fairs seem to have
benefit. After the legions left in the early 5th century become clearly defined. Markets were held on a more
the towns became prime targets for raiding Saxons, or less weekly basis and catered for everyday needs
Danes and others, which encouraged many of the of the local population, generating a large number of
inhabitants to return to village life. Markets were still small transactions. The fair, on the other hand, was a
needed as Saxon settlers were basically farmers and religious occasion, with an element of entertainment,
there were still goods to trade. held for no more than a few days annually where
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