A Description of Elizabethan England. The Harvard Classics. 190914.
Of Fairs and Markets
[1577, Book II., Chapter 2; 1587, Book II., Chapter 18.]
THERE are (as I take it) few great towns in England that have not their weekly markets, one or more granted from the prince, in which all manner of provision for household is to be bought and sold, for ease and benefit of the country round about. Whereby, as it cometh to pass that no buyer shall make any great journey in the purveyance of his necessities, so no occupier shall have occasion to travel far off with his commodities, except it be to seek for the highest prices, which commonly are near unto great cities, where round1 and speediest utterrance2 is always to be had. And, as these have been in times past erected for the benefit of the realm, so are they in many places too, too much abused: for the relief and ease of the buyer is not so much intended in them as the benefit of the seller. Neither are the magistrates for the most part (as men loath to displease their neighbours for their one years dignity) so careful in their offices as of right and duty they should be. For, in most of these markets, neither assizes of bread nor orders for goodness and sweetness of grain and other commodities that are brought thither to be sold are any whit looked unto, but each one suffered to sell or set up what and how himself listeth: and this is one evident cause of dearth and scarcity in time of great abundance.
I could (if I would) exemplify in many, but I will touch no one particularly, sith it is rare to see in any country town (as I said) the assize of bread well kept according to the statute; and yet, if any country baker happen to come in among them on the market day with bread of better quantity, they find fault by-and-by with one thing or other in his stuff, whereby the honest poor man (whom the law of nations do commend, for that he endeavoureth to live by any lawful means) is driven away, and no more to come there, upon some round penalty, by virtue of their privileges. Howbeit, though they are so nice in the proportion of their bread, yet, in lieu of the same, there is such heady ale and beer in most of them as for the mightiness thereof among such as seek it out is commonly called huffcap, the mad dog, Father Whoreson, angels food, dragons milk, go-by-the-wall, stride wide, and lift leg, etc. And this is more to be noted, that when one of late fell by Gods providence into a troubled conscience, after he had considered well of his reachless life and dangerous estate, another, thinking belike to change his colour and not his mind, carried him straight away to the strongest ale, as to the next physician. It is incredible to say how our maltbugs lug at this liquor, even as pigs should lie in a row lugging at their dames teats, till they lie still again and be not able to wag. Neither did Romulus and Remus suck their she-wolf or shepherds wife Lupa with such eager and sharp devotion as these men hale at huffcap, till they be red as cocks and little wiser than their combs. But how am I fallen from the market into the ale-house? In returning therefore unto my purpose, I find that in corn great abuse is daily suffered, to the great prejudice of the town and country, especially the poor artificer and householder, which tilleth no land, but, labouring all the week to buy a bushel or two of grain on the market day, can there have none for his money: because bodgers, loaders, and common carriers of corn do not only buy up all, but give above the price, to be served of great quantities. Shall I go any further? Well, I will say yet a little more, and somewhat by mine own experience.
At Michaelmas time poor men must make money of their grain, that they may pay their rents. So long then as the poor man hath to sell, rich men bring out none, but rather buy up that which the poor bring, under pretence of seed corn or alteration of grain, although they bring none of their own, because one wheat often sown without change of seed will soon decay and be converted into darnel. For this cause therefore they must needs buy in the markets, though they be twenty miles off, and where they be not known, promising there, if they happen to be espied, (which, God wot, is very seldom), to send so much to their next market, to be performed I wot not when.
If this shift serve not (neither doth the fox use always one track for fear of a snare), they will compound with some one of the town where the market is holden, who for a pot of huffcap or merry-go-down, will not let to buy it for them, and that in his own name. Or else they wage one poor man or other to become a bodger, and thereto get him a license upon some forged surmise, which being done, they will feed him with money to buy for them till he hath filled their lofts, and then, if he can do any good for himself, so it is; if not, they will give him somewhat for his pains at this time, and reserve him for another year. How many of the like providers stumble upon blind creeks at the sea coast, I wot not well; but that some have so done and yet do under other mens wings, the case is too, too plain. But who dare find fault with them, when they have once a license? yes, though it be but to serve a mean gentlemans house with corn, who hath cast up all his tillage, because he boasteth how he can buy his grain in the market better cheap than he can sow his land, as the rich grazier often doth also upon the like device, because grazing requireth a smaller household and less attendance and charge. If any man come to buy a bushel or two for his expenses unto the market cross, answer is made: Forsooth, here was one even now that bade me money for it, and I hope he will have it. And to say the truth, these bodgers are fair chapmen; for there are no more words with them, but Let me see it! What shall I give you? Knit it up! I will have itgo carry it to such a chamber, and if you bring in twenty seme3more in the week-day to such an inn or sollar4where I lay my corn, I will have it, and give you ( ) pence or more in every bushel for six weeks day of payment than another will. Thus the bodgers bear away all, so that the poor artificer and labourer cannot make his provision in the markets, sith they will hardly nowadays sell by the bushel, nor break their measure; and so much the rather for that the buyer will look (as they say) for so much over measure in the bushel as the bodger will do in a quarter. Nay, the poor man cannot oft get any of the farmer at home, because he provideth altogether to serve the bodger, or hath an hope, grounded upon a greedy and insatiable desire of gain, that the sale will be better in the market, so that he must give twopence or a groat more in the bushel at his house than the last market craved, or else go without it, and sleep with a hungry belly. Of the common carriage of corn over unto the parts beyond the seas I speak not; or at the leastwise, if I should, I could not touch it alone, but needs must join other provision withal, whereby not only our friends abroad, but also many of our adversaries and countrymen, the papists, are abundantly relieved (as the report goeth); but sith I see it not, I will not so trust mine ears as to write it for a truth. But to return to our markets again.
By this time the poor occupier hath sold all his crop for need of money, being ready peradventure to buy again ere long. And now is the whole sale of corn in the great occupiers hands, who hitherto have threshed little or none of their own, but bought up of other men as much as they could come by. Henceforth also they begin to sell, not by the quarter or load at the first (for marring the market), but by the bushel or two, or a horseload at the most, thereby to be seen to keep the cross, either for a show, or to make men eager to buy, and so, as they may have it for money, not to regard what they pay. And thus corn waxeth dear; but it will be dearer the next market day. It is possible also that they mislike the price in the beginning for the whole year ensuing, as men supposing that corn will be little worth for this, and of better price the next year. For they have certain superstitious observations whereby they will give a guess at the sale of corn for the year following. And our countrymen do use commonly for barley, where I dwell, to judge after the price at Baldock upon St. Matthews day; and for wheat, as it is sold in seed time. They take in like sort experiment by sight of the first flocks of cranes that flee southward in winter, the age of the moon in the beginning of January, and such other apish toys as by laying twelve corns upon the hot hearth for the twelve months, etc., whereby they shew themselves to be scant good Christians; but what care they, so that they come by money? Hereupon also will they thresh out three parts of the old corn, towards the latter end of the summer, when new cometh apace to hand, and cast the same in the fourth unthreshed, where it shall lie until the next spring, or peradventure till it must and putrify. Certes it is not dainty to see musty corn in many of our great markets of England which these great occupiers bring forth when they can keep it no longer. But as they are enforced oftentnmes upon this one occasion somewhat to abate the price, so a plague is not seldom engendered thereby among the poorer sort that of necessity must buy the same, whereby many thousands of all degrees are consumed, of whose death (in mine opinion) these farmers are not unguilty. But to proceed. If they lay not up their grain or wheat in this manner, they have yet another policy, whereby they will seem to have but small store left in their barns: for else they will gird their sheaves by the band, and stack it up anew in less room, to the end it may not only seem less in quantity, but also give place to the corn that is yet to come into the barn or growing in the field. If there happen to be such plenty in the market on any market day that they cannot sell at their own price, then will they set it up in some friends house, against another on the third day, and not bring it forth till they like of the sale. If they sell any at home, beside harder measure, it shall be dearer to the poor man that buyeth it by twopence or a groat in a bushel than they may sell it in the market. But, as these things are worthy redress, so I wish that God would once open their eyes that deal thus to see their own errors: for ts yet some of them little care how many poor men suffer extremity, so that they fill their purses and carry away the gain.
It is a world also to see how most places of the realm are pestered with purveyors, who take up eggs, butter, cheese, pigs, capons, hens, chickens, hogs, bacon, etc., in one market under pretence of their commissions, and suffer their wives to sell the same in another, or to poulterers of London. If these chapmen be absent but two or three market days then we may perfectly see these wares to be more reasonably sold, and thereunto the crosses sufficiently furnished of all things. In like sort, since the number of buttermen have so much increased, and since they travel in such wise that they come to mens houses for their butter faster than they can make it, it is almost incredible to see how the price of butter is augmented: whereas when the owners were enforced to bring it to the market towns, and fewer of these butter buyers were stirring, our butter was scarcely worth eighteen pence the gallon that now is worth three shillings fourpence and perhaps five shillings. Whereby also I gather that the maintenance of a superfluous number of dealers in most trades, tillage always excepted, is one of the greatest causes why the prices of things became excessive: for one of them do commonly use to outbid another. And whilst our country commodities are commonly bought and sold at our private houses, I never look to see this enormity redressed or the markets well furnished.
I could say more, but this is even enough, and more peradventure than I shall be well thanked for: yet true it is, though some think it no trespass. This moreover is to be lamented, that one general measure is not in use throughout all England, but every market town hath in manner a several bushel; and the lesser it be, the more sellers it draweth to resort unto the same. Such also is the covetousness of many clerks of the market, that in taking a view of measures they will always so provide that one and the same bushel shall be either too big or too little at their next coming, and yet not depart without a fee at the first, so that what by their mending at one time, and impairing the same at another, the country is greatly charged, and few just measures to be had in any steed. It is oft found likewise that divers unconscionable dealers have one measure to sell by and another to buy withal; the like is also in weights, and yet all sealed and branded. Wherefore it were very good that these two were reduced unto one standard, that is, one bushel, one pound, one quarter, one hundred, one tale, one number: so should things in time fall into better order and fewer causes of contention be moved in this land. Of the complaint of such poor tenants as pay rent corn unto their landlords, I speak not, who are often dealt withal very hardly. For, beside that in measuring of ten quarters for the most part they lose one through the iniquity of the bushel (such is the greediness of the appointed receivers thereof), fault is found also with the goodness and cleanness of the grain. Whereby some piece of money must needs pass unto their purses to stop their mouths withal, or else My lord will not like of the corn, Thou art worthy to lose thy lease, etc. Or, if it be cheaper in the market than the rate allowed for it is in their rents, then must they pay money and no corn, which is no small extremity. And thereby we may see how each one of us endeavoureth to fleece and eat up another.
Another thing there is in our markets worthy to be looked into, and that is the recarriage of grain from the same into lofts and cellars, of which before I gave some intimation; wherefore if it were ordered that every seller should make his market by an hour, or else the bailey or clerk of the said market to make sale thereof, according to his discretion, without liberty to the farmers to set up their corn in houses and chambers, I am persuaded that the prices of our grain would soon be abated. Again, if it were enacted that each one should keep his next market with his grain (and not to run six, eight, ten, fourteen, or twenty miles from home to sell his corn where he doth find the highest price, and thereby leaveth his neighbours unfurnished), I do not think but that our markets would be far better served than at this present they are. Finally, if mens barns might be indifferently viewed immediately after harvest, and a note gathered by an estimate, and kept by some appointed and trusty person for that purpose, we should have much more plenty of corn in our town crosses than as yet is commonly seen: because each one hideth and hoardeth what he may, upon purpose either that it will be dearer, or that he shall have some privy vein by bodgers, who do accustomably so deal that the sea doth load away no small part thereof into other countries and our enemies, to the great hindrance of our commonwealth at home, and more likely yet to be, except some remedy be found. But what do I talk of these things, or desire the suppression of bodgers, being a minister? Certes I may speak of them right well as feeling the harm in that I am a buyer, nevertheless I speak generally in each of them.
To conclude therefore, in our markets all things are to be sold necessary for mans use; and there is our provision made commonly for all the week ensuing. Therefore, as there are no great towns without one weekly market at least, so there are very few of them that have not one or two fairs or more within the compass of the year, assigned unto them by the prince. And albeit that some of them are not much better than Louse fair,5 or the common kirkemesses,6 beyond the sea, yet there are divers not inferior to the greatest marts in Europe, as Stourbridge fair near to Cambridge, Bristow fair, Bartholomew fair at London, Lynn mart, Cold fair at Newport pond for cattle, and divers other, all which, or at leastwise the greatest part of them (to the end I may with the more ease to the reader and less travel to myself fulfil my task in their recital), I have set down according to the names of the months wherein they are holden at the end of this book, where you shall find them at large as I borrowed the same from J. Stow and the reports of others.