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St Ives Fair

(623 words)

Author(s): Richard Britnell
The success of the fair outgrew its chartered liberty; by the 1240s merchants traded for three or four weeks after the fair was supposed to have ended. Between 1249 and 1258 Henry III took this illegal extension of the fair into the royal administration before eventually leasing it to the abbot for £50 a year (as well as an initial down payment of £333 6s. 8d.). The abbots continued to pay this annual sum until at least 1332, but their income from the fair had probably peaked some time in the third quarter of the 13th century, and fell from at least the 1280s as the number of visitors fro…

Blackwell Hall, London

(553 words)

Author(s): Richard Britnell
The object of Blackwell Hall was to bring together in a covered market all sales of broad and narrow woollen cloth by merchants other than London's own citizens. They acquired the hall in 1396 for this purpose and opened it for trade in 1397-8. To accommodate the different types of trader expected to use the hall, it was organized with spaces of various sizes — ranging from individual rooms to mere 'hutches'— that could be leased by cloth-sellers, whose rents were initially paid directly into ci…

Markets and Fairs

(1,124 words)

Author(s): Richard Britnell
Markets were held at short intervals, weekly in smaller communities, more frequently in larger ones. Fairs were held annually, usually over two or three days, though some lasted a week or more, and some towns had more than one fair in the course of a year. For example, in addition to the great Stourbridge Fair held in late August and September, Cambridge had an earlier two-day fair in August (extended to three days in 1438) around the feast of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, and a four-day fair in June around the feast of St Etheldreda. In the 13th century the principal English fairs atten…

Stamford Fair

(188 words)

Author(s): Richard Britnell
In the later 13th century it was held from mid-Lent to Easter, and was attended by many foreign as well as English merchants. Except temporarily in the late 1240s and early 1250s, when commandeered by Henry III, the revenues went to the earls of Warenne; they amounted to £93 6s 8d in 1247. The fair owed its success to the growth of the English wool trade and the large numbers of sheep pasturing in Lincolnshire, Rutland and Leicestershire. In addition, Stamford was a major English clothmaking town by the mid-13th century, famous for its high-quality scarlets, rays and haberget . Besides servin…

St Giles Fair, Winchester

(574 words)

Author(s): Richard Britnell
At this time Winchester was the administrative capital of England, and a centre of royal and court consumption. The duration of the fair was extended to eight days in 1110, to sixteen days in 1136, and to twenty-four days in 1212, though this latter grant was ephemeral in its effect. The fair was again extended to 24 days in 1317, by which time its fortunes had been sharply declining for several decades. It was at its peak of prosperity between the late 12th century and the mid-13th. The loss of Winchester's favoured status as a centre of government, a decline in royal provisioni…

St Botolph's Fair, Boston

(696 words)

Author(s): Richard Britnell
The town of Boston (meaning 'Botolph's stone') was a post-Conquest foundation by one of the earls of Richmond, and is first recorded in about 1114. The Foss Dyke, opened up in 1121, gave Boston access by water to the Trent, the Humber and the Ouse, and encouraged its growth as a port town. The fair dates from about this time, making it roughly contemporary with that at St Ives . It existed by 1125, and was seemingly well established by the time of Duke Conan IV (1156-71), who granted the empty wine casks from the fair to Richard Pinchard. By a charter of 1218 the…

Northampton Fair

(188 words)

Author(s): Richard Britnell
The fair was originally held in the church and churchyard of All Saints on the feast of All Saints, but by the persuasion of Robert Grosseteste, and licence of King Henry III, it was moved out of the churchyard in 1237. The early history of the fair is so obscure as to present nothing remarkable, but by the mid-13th century it had become one of international note. The role of the fair was no doubt supported by Northampton's own manufacture of fine woollens, but business there acquired more than local significance. It was one of the fairs at which merch…

Stourbridge Fair

(392 words)

Author(s): Richard Britnell
The fair became of sufficient importance for the burgesses of Cambridge to maintain it after the dissolution of the hospital in the mid-13th century. Like earlier successful fairs, its duration was extended as its business grew; by 1516 it extended from 24 August to 29 September. It was described by 1589 as 'by far the largest and most famous fair in all England'. Like earlier fairs, Stourbridge fair was broad in its scope, supplying households in Cambridge and many miles around with a variety of manufactures, groceries and other goods. Thetford Priory, twe…