ORIGINS AND EARLY GROWTH |
Development of local government
Buildings and fortifications | Economy | Summary/Recap | Information sources
Map of Maldon at the close of the Middle Ages
Maldon bailiffs and chamberlains
Appendix: borough custumal
|Origins and early growth|
Maldon is not one of England's better-known medieval towns. It was not a major player during the period when medieval urbanization is best documented, its prime importance lying in a mistier period of the Middle Ages, and consequently little attention has been paid it by historians. Yet, as a town relatively late in maturing, it provides an interesting comparison to larger towns.
Maldon's name is principally known for its association with the Danish victory at the Battle of Maldon (991), whose fame rests principally on the fact of it being immortalized in a fine Anglo-Saxon poem. The battle took place to the southeast of the town. There are no references in the poem to the site or its proximity to Maldon, nor any hints that refuge for the defeated Anglo-Saxons might have been nearby, but nor should we expect to find any, for the poem is an ode to heroism not a chronicle of events. However, the Danish raid that led to the battle may have been targeting Maldon, as one of Essex's only two towns (and easily accessible from the water).
Maldon's name points to Saxon origins, dun being the word for hill; part of Maldon was associated with the hundred of Dengie, which suggests settlement by a group known as the Daeningas. Archaeology has revealed a late Roman port on low ground (later Heybridge), and this area was thereafter settled by Saxons from the time of their arrival in the region, although it became marshy and forced settlers to move to higher ground, some to what would become Maldon. Maldon's centre stands atop a ridge rising from the south bank of the River Blackwater which, immediately east of Maldon, becomes a wide estuary for several miles before entering the North Sea. In 916 Edward the Elder, constructed a burh at Maldon, in the vicinity of the existing settlement, as part of his programme to reconquer (from the Danes) and fortify eastern England. In 912 his forces had camped there during a campaign, while he had augmented ancient fortifications at Witham, establishing a burh there. The choice of encampment at Maldon may have been because the site was defensible, and has led to speculation that some kind of earthworks already existed there too. Whether new or rebuilt, Maldon's defences helped it resist a Danish siege in 917 until relief arrived.
A rectangular earthern rampart is known to have existed to the west of the medieval settlement, on high ground. Whether this was the burh defences, or evidence of a Roman fort guarding the road leading inland near its crossing of the river, is uncertain; perhaps both. That Maldon was among the minority of Edward's burhs to have developed into a medieval borough is doubtless due to the fact that it also served as a regional market centre. Its value as a protected magnet for trade was subsequently recognized through the establishment of a mint at Maldon, Athelstan's law of ca. 928 decreeing that every town and burh should have one, with the number of moneyers varying (from one to eight) depending on the settlement's importance Maldon and Colchester together seem to have been served by four. Maldon's mint is known to have been active from at least the time of Athelstan's law to the late eleventh century. The trading community already in existence prior to the burh spread eastwards towards the edge of the fort in the decades of relative peace following the Battle of Maldon. It was in proximity to a gateway into this refuge that the marketplace developed.
Maldon was fragmented into several manorial estates after, if not before, the Norman Conquest. Great Maldon (as opposed to adjacent Little Maldon) was a manor in the king's hand. At the time of Domesday there were 180 houses held by the king's burgesses, while 18 others were described as derelict, possibly a direct or indirect consequence of the Conquest. The town had the status of a half-hundred, and as such had its own court. The half-hundred had been carved out of the hundred of Dengie, whose lands surrounded it. This is perhaps why Domesday reports only 81 acres of land as being associated with the borough, and these were in the hands of a small minority of the householders. In the twelfth century, the lordship of Great Maldon was divided.
The town comprised three parishes (two of which were united in the thirteenth century), with settlement dispersed among a number of foci: