C.J. (Charles James) Billson.

Mediaeval Leicester online

. (page 11 of 21)
Online LibraryC.J. (Charles James) BillsonMediaeval Leicester → online text (page 11 of 21)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

at more distant intervals than the ordinary daily or weekly
mart, and particularly when it is frequented to some extent by
persons coming from outside the place of meeting, it is generally
called a " fair." Moreover, fairs, as the name denotes (Latin,
feriae), are, or were, usually holidays, and the ordinary market
is not.

A Fair of unknown origin used to be held at Leicester in
June, for fifteen days, " on the eve, day, and morrow of St.
Peter, &c. " ; but by a grant of Henry HI, made in the year
1228-9, the date was altered to the second day of February, or
the day of the Purification of Our Lady, and fourteen days after.
It looks as if this were a popular institution, founded on ancient
custom, for the King's Grant is addressed not to the Earl, but
to the community at large, to the " good men of Leicester,"
"probis hominibus."

The Earl of Leicester had a fair of his own, granted in 1307,
.which was held on the morrow of the Feast of the Holy Trinity,
and fourteen days following. The Charter is printed by Nichols.
It was not granted in 1305 by Edward I, as Thompson states in
his History, but by Edward the Second, in the first year of
his reign. The writer of the article on " Leicester " in the eleventh
edition of the Encyclopcedia Britannica goes still further astray
in ascribing it to Edward III, and giving its duration as 17 days.

The two fairs afterwards granted by Henry the Eighth to
the Town of Leicester may have been given in substitution for
this fair of the Earl and the old people's fair. At any rate, the
new sixteenth century fairs superseded them.


GoUtma of

The Earls of Leicester had also another fair, held on the
Feast of the Invention of the Holy Cross, May the third (not
on the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, Sep. 14th, as Miss
Bateson inadvertently stated), and the fifteen days following.
The toil of this fair was valued in the year 1327, after the death
of Thomas, Earl of Lancaster^ at £1 a year. This was no large
sum ; nevertheless, William of Dunstable, who was Mayor of
Leicester from 1357 to 1360, did his best to relieve the town from
it, as well as from other vexatious imposts. In the year 1357 he
went up to London, with some leading citizens of Leicester,
and, after lengthy negotiations, succeeded in gaining his end as
regards this fair. Their expenses came to ^6 7s. gf d., a consider-
able sum in those days, and evidence of protracted business.
The result of his efforts was a Royal Charter, bearing date the
2nd day of July, 1360, whereby the date of the fair was altered
by King Edward III, from May to the three days before Michael
mas Day, Michaelmas Day, and three days after, " in such a
way that every native or stranger coming to the town and suburb
of Leicester by reason of the aforesaid fair staying there and
going away from thence shall be quit both at the said fair and
also before and also for ever of toll, stallage, pickage, and other
customs and tributes whatsoever." Furthermore, by a supple-
mentary charter of August 15th, 1360, the Duke himself granted
to the Mayor and burgesses of Leicester the entire ordering of
the fair, and assignment of the stalls and plots, the management
being placed in the hands of the Mayor and two or three burgesses
chosen by the community to act as Stewards. He reserved, how-
ever, the " amercements and all other profits accruing to us in
the said new fair, to be levied by the bailiffs of us and our heirs
of the said town of Leicester, that is, the fines imposed at the
Courts of the Fair." Subsequently John of Gaunt, by the Charter
which he signed in 1375, expressly included in his grant to the
Mayor, burgesses and commonalty of the town of Leicester, " all
manner of profits of portmoots, courts of the fair, and of the
market of the said town and suburbs," so that, from this time
forward, all the rights and profits of this fair, as well as its manage-
ment, were vested absolutely in the community of the town.

11^ w

These Fair Courts, it may be remarked, were a rough and
ready means of administering justice of peculiar interest. " From
the end of the eleventh century onwards, the royal grant of
license to hold a fair seems to have implied license also to hold
a court of summary jurisdiction for offences committed at the
fair itself. These obtained the name of Piepowder Courts {pie-
poudreux, dusty feet — the suitors appearing informally in their
travel-stained condition). In them a jury of merchants found the
judgment and declared the law ; thus suitors and doomsmen
were all of the same class. England is the only country which
possesses records of the proceedings at these Courts." Some
pleas of the Leicester Piepowder Courts (placita nundinarum
villas Leycestriae), of the time of Edward the Third, will be
found in the second volume of the Borough Records.

Another fair was granted on April 2nd, 1473, by Edward
the Fourth to the Mayor and burgesses dwelling in his town of
Leicester. It was to be held there yearly for seven days, viz.,
three days before the feast of St. PhiUp and St. James (May ist),
on that feast, and for three days after. Strangers visiting this
fair were to be quit of toll, stallage, pickage, and other customs
belonging to the King or his heirs. The Mayor and two or
three chosen for the purpose might make all arrangements for
setting of stalls, etc.

The two last-mentioned fairs are the great pleasure-fairs
which were held in Humberstonegate for many centuries, and
which became known as the Leicester May Fair and the Leicester
October Fair. The May Pleasure Fair used to begin, in the
19th century, on May 12th, and lasted eight days, including the
1 2th, and the October Pleasure Fair used to begin on October
loth, and lasted 9 days, including the loth. Cheese Fairs were
held on May 13th and Oct. nth. But after the year 1895, or
1896, the times of the Pleasure fairs were altered, and they
were held in late years on the second Thursday in May and
October, and the three following days, i.e., on Thursday,
Friday, Saturday and the ensuing Monday, the cheese fairs
taking place of late years on the second Thursdays in May and
October. The stalls and shows occupied the strip of waste


ground on the south side of Humberstonegate called " No
man's Land," which was let out to the holders by the
owners of the adjoining houses for the periods of the fairs.
The booths used to overflow, fifty years ago, round East Gates into
the roadway of Cheapside and the Market Place. They con-
tained a miscellaneous assortment of merchandize and " fairings";
and there were always in Humberstonegate a Menagerie and a
Theatre, and various other exhibitions and amusements. The
last Pleasure Fair in Humberstonegate was held in October,
1902. When these fairs were discontinued, a considerable sum
was granted to the owners of property in Humberstonegate as
compensation for their fair-rents. The Cattle Fairs held in
May and October were ordered in 1774 to be in the present High
Cross Street.

Two new Fairs were granted to the town by Henry VHI
in addition to those formerly given by Edward HI and Edward
the Fourth. By Letters Patent, dated the 20th day of March,
1540, the King granted to the Mayor and burgesses of Leicester
in perpetuity a fair at the same town and its suburb every year
to last five days, viz., two days before the Nativity of St. John
the Baptist (June 24th), on the day of the said Feast, and two
days next following the said feast. At the same time he also gave
them another fair at Leicester and its suburb every year to last
five days, two days before the Conception of the Blessed Virgin
Mary (December 8th), on the day of the feast, and two days next
following the said feast. Every native and foreigner coming
to Leicester for the fair was to be quit of toll, stallage, pickage, &c.,
and the government of the fairs was confirmed to the Mayor
and burgesses, and to be arranged by the Mayor and two or
three of the best men of the town (" probioribus et melioribus
hominibus "), elected and sworn.

Edward the Sixth, in the first year of his reign, confirmed
the patents given by his ancestors, Edward HI and Edward IV,
for the Michaelmas Fair and the May Fair ; and Queen Mary
confirmed both the Letters Patent of Henry VHI and the charter
of Edward VI, assuring the two former fairs. Queen Elizabeth,
in the first year of her reign, confirmed all four fairs, Midsummer,
Christmas, May and Michaelmas.

The expense involved in obtaining the two sixteenth century
fairs was defrayed by subscription. " The King havinc; granted
to the town two fairs (Midsummer Fair, and the Conception
of Our Lady before Christmas), over and besides two fairs
anciently granted by the King's progenitors ; Towards the charges
of the charter under the great seal the Masters, Wardens and
Stewards of the Guilds of Corpus Christi and St. Margaret's
in the name of the brotherhood, gave ,^20 ; viz., each of the
Guilds ;(^io. And it was agreed that this should be registered
in the Town Book, to remain for ever. Received of the Master
and Stewards of Corpus Christi Gviild towards the charges of
labouring the King's Charter for two new fairs for the town of
Leicester, £10 ; of the Guild of St. Margaret's, for the same,
£10 ; of the Occupation of Bakers, 6s. 8d. ; of the Butchers, 26s.
8d.; of the Smiths, 13s. ^d.; in all, j(^22 6s. 8d. The Chamber-
lains paid to Mr. Barton, for riding to London and Waldyng,
and for sealing the charter, 3^10 2S. iid.; to Robert Cotton, for
like charges, £g 14s. lod.; to Mr. Gyllot, for the town's business,
6s. 8d.; to Mr. Wood, for the like, 6s. 8d.; to Mr. Bolte, for riding
to London, 40s.; in all ^^22 iis. id. So that the town was at
no more charge than 4s. 5d."

The four fairs used to be formally proclaimed at the High
Cross. The Mayor, Corporation and Town Officials, followed
by the Waits playing music, and by some of the poor men of the
Trinity Hospital, " having rusty helmets on their heads, and
breastplates fastened on their black taberdes," walked in proces-
sion through the main streets, and at the Cross the Town Clerk
read the charter creating the Fair. This armed perambulation
of fairs is a custom of very high antiquity. The Leicester cere-
mony is referred to by Nichols, and continued into the 19th

William Burton, writing in 1622, enumerates five fairs held
at Leicester ; the two great fairs of May and Michaelmas, the
two 1 6th century fairs of Midsummer and Christmas, and one
other fair held upon Palm Sunday even. This Palm-Fair is
also mentioned by Cox and Throsby ; and, according to the
latter writer, there was then a considerable show of cattle. Thros-


by mentions a sixth fair as well, viz., Low Fair, which was also
a market for cattle. In the year 1563 it was ordered that two
Leather Fairs should be held " the morrow after Michaelmas
Day and the morrow after May Day, and that proclamation thereof
be made and the fair to be kept betwixt Saint John's Cross and
the North Gate." St. John's Cross has been indentified with
the Senvey Cross, but Kelly was evidently right in distinguishing
them. It may be supposed that St. John's Cross stood near St.
John's Hospital, the Leather Fair being held in that part of the
High Street which lay between the Hospital and the North Gate.
In the course of the i8th Century, additional fairs for cattle
and sheep Vv^ere established in Leicester, on January 4th, June
ist, August I St, September 13th, and November 2nd. The
cattle Stood in Millstone Lane, and the sheep in the Sheepmarket.


From a very early time the country people who Hved near
Leicester were accustomed to bring their produce for sale in
the High Street of the Borough ; and, as the centre of the ancient
walled town was the junction of its four main streets which led
to the four gates, the sellers naturally gravitated to that spot. A
cross was standing there in the 13th century. It was repaired in
1278, and in 1306. In 1314 it was rebuilt, and the " Keeper of
the High Cross " had stones brought from Waverton, to replace
the old stones, which were taken away. The new cross was oiled
and painted, and was surmounted by a weather cock. FigLires
of knights were brought from the old Mayor's Hall, and placed
on the Cross with the aid of a windlass. At the beginning of
the 14th century a weekly market was in vogue every Wednesday
about this High Cross. In the reign of Henry VIII, bread was
also sold there on Fridays, and the country people would bring
in their eggs and butter on that day as well as on Wednesday.

A new and much more spacious erection was put up in
the time of Queen Elizabeth, to serve both as a Cross and as a
shelter for the market -v/omen. A representation of this i6th
century cross, which cost nearly £100, is given by Throsby. It


did not stand at the junction of the cross roads, but at a Httle
distance to the North, and Throsby says that it extended " from
the opening where the pillar now stands partly over the mid-
way, which just left room for carriages to pass, from which
extended the sign of the Horse and Trumpet, a large Inn." Cox
described it as " an exquisite piece of workmanship." It was
removed in 1773, and sold, in portions, for a few pounds. The
largest part of it in one place supported, in Throsby's time, the
dining-room at the Three Crowns Inn. One of its limbs was
left to serve in the place of the old Market Cross until the year
1836, when it was taken away, and placed in front of the Crescent
in King Street, where it still remains. The Wednesday Market
was removed from its old quarters by the Leicester Corporation
Act of 1884, when a part of the Market Place was set aside for the
holding of a market '* as a market for the sale of fruit, vegetables,
plants, eggs, butter and poultry only between the hours of six
in the morning and four in the afternoon on every Wednesday
throughout the year."


A very ancient market was held at Leicester on Saturdays
in the present Market Place, which locality, as early as 1298,
was called " The Saturday Market." In a Conveyance of that
year a house at Leicester is stated to be bounded on one side by
" the lane which leads to the Saturday Market." In the year
1300 a man was charged with an offence committed " in foro
Sabbati." In 13 16 the Place is spoken of as the weekly market,
" forum ebdomadale." The Market Place was more extensive in
former centuries than it is now, and occupied all the South-eastern
corner of the Town. It was bounded on the Northeast and
Southeast by the Town Walls, and on the inside of the North-
east wall ran a wide causeway, known as the Cornwall, where
farmers used to show samples of their grain, and where horse-
dealers displayed the paces of their animals. In the i6th century
some part of the Cornwall was licensed for sheep-pens.

The opening and closing of the market seems to have been
announced in old times by the ringing of a bell.


The old Special Markets mentioned in the Records of the
Borough are the Grain Market, the Bean Market, the Sheep
Market, the Swine Market and the Cattle Market, and, in later
times, a Horse Fair and a Wool Market. The Hay Market was
always held outside the walls, on account of the impossibility of
waggons loaded with hay passing under the Gateways. In the
Saturday Market the Butchers had their Shambles, which stood,
in Elizabethan days, on the North-west side of the Market Place
and North of the Gainsborough. A Fish Market was existing
in the 14th century. There was also a " Housewife's Market,"
sometimes called the " Women's Market," and a Drapers' Market.
In the Saturday Market the goods were generally, and for many
years habitually, exposed to the weather on open stalls, but in
the 15th century, shortly before 1440, a Market House was built,
in which Butchers' Shambles were set up and stalls for clothiers
and other tradesmen. This Market House was generally known
as " Le Draperie," or " The Shambles and Draperie." All
traders using it paid rents to the Duchy of Lancaster. The
butchers, for instance, paid ifd. for each stall.

At the time when Queen Elizabeth executed her first Leices-
ter Charter of 1589, the Draperie was let on a thirty-one years
Lease to Edward Catlyn, and the Queen conveyed the property
to the Corporation of Leicester subject to the remainder of this
Lease. But the drapers did not use the Market House greatly in
those days, preferring to set up stalls in the open market. Conse-
quently in the year 1601, the tenant, the widow of Edward Catlyn,
had some difficulty in paying the rent. At any rate the Earl
of Huntingdon wrote to the Mayor on her behalf, complaining
that drapers were permitted to act in this way, so that " her
Majesty's house," erected for their stalls, being " unfurnished "
would soon be " ruinated." He therefore desired the Mayor
to see to it that " such as offer wrong by absenting themselves
from the draperie may by you be compelled to repair to the place
for that use built."

The Gainsborough, which was erected some time before 1533,
had no accommodation for stalls, except some shops, under a
projecting balcony, which were let off to shoemakers.


There was a common pinfold in the Place, which stood
on the site of the present Fishmarket. All cattle found straying
were driven into it, and kept there until compensation had been
paid for any damage.

The little octagonal " Conduit," which was nearly opposite
to the Victoria Parade, dated from the beginning of the 17th
century, although a scheme for bringing water to the town had
been in existence long before. It was mended in 1689, at which
time " Widow Brooks " was receiving 15s. a year " for opem'ng
and shutting the conduit doors daily."

The Grain Market is mentioned in 13 14, when six posts
were purchased by the Mayor, for the purpose of staking out
its boundaries. It adjoined the Bean Market, for the two sites
were in that year cleaned together, at an expense of gd. The
Sheep Market lay north of the Saturday Market, where Silver
Street now runs, until the year 1506. It was then resolved by the
Corporation that the Sheepmarket should be kept in the Saturday
Market from May to Michaelmas, and that the profits should be
for the use of the town. So successful was this experiment that
two years later, it was enacted that the Sheepmarket should
be " thenceforth holden still in the Market Place, and the profits
be to behoof of the town." In future the profits of the Sheep-
market were let out for terms of years to private persons, the
first rental fixed in 1508 being ,^3. In 1710 the rent had risen to
3^16, " and the parish levies." T'he sheep continued to be sold
in the Market Place until the market for them was moved, some-
time in the 19th century, to the site of the present Town Hall :
thence it migrated to the new Cattle Market outside the town.

Beyond the earliest Sheep Market lay the Swinesmarket,
which was held at first in what is now called High Street and
the East Gate. But as that thoroughfare grew in importance,
the presence of swine became undesirable, and they were removed,
in 1524, to Parchment Lane, the modern Bond Street. After-
wards the mart migrated to Loseby Lane, which, in Nichols'
time, was named The Pigmarket. In days yet later it was held
in Free School Lane and West Bond Street, until the obnoxious


animals were removed altogether out of the town to the new
Cattle Market.

A Cattle Market is mentioned in the Borough Records as
early as 1341. It was held, apparently, in the Saturday Market ;
until it was resolved, at a Common Hall which met in the year
1597, " that the beast market shall from henceforth be kept
in the lane called Cow Lane, Cank Street, and Loseby Lane,
and not to be any more hereafter kept in the Saturday Market."
No regular beast market, however, seems to have been established
until the year 1763, when the Corporation made an Order " that
a Market shall be opened on every Wednesday hereafter, in
this Borough, for the sale of Fat and Lean Cattle." This was
held, at first, in the Market Place, or near the East Gate, but
in 1774 it was removed to Horsefair Street, " from the wall
adjoining the Three Crowns Inn and to extend straight along
the Millstone Lane." A few years later, the market was further
extended " down the South Gate to the Horse Pool and also
along the Welford Road to St. Mary's Workhouse or across
Hangman Lane if necessary." The nev: Cattle Market in the
Welford Road was opened in 1872.

The " Horse Fair " is mentioned in the Borough Records
for 1508, as the name of the piece of ground, outside the southern
wall of the town, where horses were bought and sold. These
dealings seem to have taken place chiefly at the Midsummer Fair.
Thus the Chamberlains' Accounts for the year 1559-60 acknow-
ledge toll received " of the horse fair at Midsummer, is. 8d."
In the last century a Horse-fair was held four times a year in
Humberstonegate. Two of these fairs lasted a whole day each ;
the others came to an end at mid-day.

A Wool Market was established by the Second Charter of
Queen Elizabeth, granted in 1599, in the following words.

" For the relief of the poor and of sick men and women
dwelling in Leicester We grant that the Mayor bailiffs and bur-
gesses may have a wool market for the purchase and sale of
wool, woollen thread, and yarn, provided such market damage no
neighbouring market, and any subject may buy wool, woollen
thread, and yarn brought into Leicester on the days appointed^


when fairs and markets are held, and may sell the same again
or use it in any way, the statute of Edward VI or any other
statute notwithstanding. Further We will that all tolls, stallages
pickages, fines, amercements, profits, &c., arising out of the said
market shall be used for the profit of the poor and sick men and
women within the borough." The Wool Market was held every
Wednesday and Saturday.

A Wool Hall was made out of the disused Hospital of St.
John, and it was ordered by the Corporation " that every stone
or tod of wool, either fleece wool or pelt wool, which shall be
at any time hereafter brought to the Borough to be sold, shall
be weighed at the Wool Hall in the same Borough upon pain of
3s. 4d. for every stone and of 6s. 8d. for every tod." This order
was made in the October of 1599, but was not universally obeyed
for in the following August it was resolved " that the Act and
Order lately made for the selling and weighing of wool at the
Wool-Hall shall be put in execution, and such townsmen as have
since the making of the said law sold and weighed their wool
at home at their houses, or in any other place within the Borough
of Leicester out of the Wool Hall, shall pay the fines forfeited."
The Wool Hall did not, however, fulfil the hopes of its promoters,
and the grant of the market was afterwards called in question.

On the western side of the Saturday Market used to stand
a large elm-tree, which, in the i6th century, had the ground
beneath its spreading branches paved, and furnished with seats.
A new elm was planted in the year 1689. This was, presumably,
the *' Pigeon Tree," under which, according to Gardiner, " coun-
try women sat to sell pigeons." A pair of stocks stood in the
shade of the marketplace elm, and another pair is said to have
been under the Pillory near to the Cornwall.

A verj' good idea of the general appearance of the Leicester
Saturday Market Place, as it was before the modern industrial
expansion of the town, may be gathered from the three old
views reproduced in the first volume of Messrs. J. and T. Spen-

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 11 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21

Online LibraryC.J. (Charles James) BillsonMediaeval Leicester → online text (page 11 of 21)