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 ca. 920 Colchester

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The ridgetop site of Colchester and its proximity to the River Colne made its value for settlement and defence evident well before the arrival of the Romans, so that it has a long history. The Romans adopted the Celtic name for it, Camulodunum, which characterized it as a fortress dedicated to a Celtic god of war; its importance to the Celtic tribes of the region is shown by their development of an extensive system of ditch/bank earthworks, combined with natural defences, such as the rivers to north and south, to protect it. Already by that period the place was a commercial centre, with agricultural produce and other goods being shipped along the Colne to surrounding regions, so that we must posit the existence of markets in those regions; this trade was based partly on the use of coinage, Celtic Camulodunum being a minting centre. Just north-west of the fortress was an industrial centre, whose products served local needs and were exported, while to the south-west was an area of farming which stretched along the fertile valley surrounding the southern river; at the latter we seem to see an early association of marketplace and place of worship that would characterize early medieval towns.

Thus, when the Romans took possession, they inherited both a military and an economic infrastructure and they sought to preserve it. Their own fortress was put up within a part of the expansive Celtic settlement that was not already densely inhabited, but which offered a view across the surrounding region, where natives continued to live, work, and trade; it also offered good access to the river, which furnished water and a transportation route, along with control of its crossing points. These are the kinds of concerns that governed the placement of many medieval towns. Most of the principal medieval roads connecting to Colchester are suspected of being Roman; they led to London, St. Albans, and into Suffolk and Cambridgeshire, but a continuation to Harwich and the road to Maldon probably emerged at later date. These roads, especially that to London, would carry a growing volume of commercial traffic – sufficient to support the emergence of a string of other market settlements – over the course of the thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries.

The square Roman fortress was established atop the east-west ridge between the slopes down to the rivers – that to the Colne, nearest, being fairly steep. Once southern Britain was considered pacified, the fortress was converted into a town, via some modifications to the roads and buildings and expansion of the colony eastwards; it is not certain what name was given to this civil colony mainly of veterans, their families, and the traders, artisans, and service-providers to whom a new colony offered economic opportunity. The town served as the regional centre for marketing agricultural produce, and there was a port on the Colne. The destruction caused by the Boudiccan revolt prompted the erection of walls around the rectangular colony; these walls and the gateways through them, together with (though to a lesser degree) the Roman street pattern, provided the framework for medieval Colchester. Saxon raids of the third century prompted suburban residents to withdraw into the intra-mural area.

After Britain's imperial association ended, the fate of Colchester is uncertain, but some violence, depopulation, and decay of the fabric is indicated. Although Colchester can claim to be the oldest town in Essex, we cannot say that its urban role was uninterrupted; yet its ancient roots were not entirely forgotten and allowed the formulation of an urban foundation legend aggrandizing the city by linking it, in an eventual form that garbled a number of earlier elements of folklore, with Celts, Romans, early Christians, and Normans. The reality is that, while Colchester saw some Anglo-Saxon occupation scattered across parts of the site, Ipswich and London look like more important trading centres, and Colchester only really re-emerges into the historical mainstream as a site taken back – by force, and with some slaughter – from Danish occupiers in 917, though the absence of moneyers there until the end of the century suggests it was not yet of any great economic importance. Following the recapture, Colchester's Roman fortifications were repaired by Edward the Elder so that it could serve as a burh and a base for administration of at least part of Essex. As was not uncommon with burhs, there seems in that context (though precisely when cannot be said with certainty) to have been, across the site, some layout and allocation of measured residential plots [using a four-perch standard, conjectures Philip Crummy, Aspects of Anglo-Saxon and Norman Colchester, Council for British Archaeology Research Report no.39 (1981), pp.50, 71], though still-standing Roman ruins would have inhibited any large-scale reorganization of the town. Since they connected to gateways in the wall, the main streets continued, during the Middle Ages, to follow the line of their Roman predecessors, more-or-less.

The re-establishment of Colchester as a fortified burh could be expected to draw immigrants from the countryside, seeking more security in a contested region, and this re-population of the town was doubtless one of the goals of the tenth century planning effort; before the close of the that century there are signs of marked population growth within Colchester. There was presumably a market there, as was common enough with burhs, but the old Roman harbour was no longer in use and a landing-place used by the Saxons, later known as Old Hythe, was inconveniently a couple of miles away from the burh. It does not appear that Colchester had, at that period, acquired the economic significance it would later have; though coins found there suggest trade was still going on in the eighth century, it is not known to have had a mint pursuant to the coinage reform of Athelstan, but only from about the end of the tenth century. A further episode of planned development, entailing clearing of any Roman structures still standing and layout of plots resembling the burgage type (long but with narrow street frontages), may have been restricted to the High Street – for which the route of the present Culver Street has the look of a service lane and indeed once had the name Back Lane – and possibly the east side of North Street/Head Street, another of the principal routes through the colonia; this episode, perhaps in the late tenth or early eleventh century, may represent the emergence of part of the High Street as a widened marketplace serving a growing community whose leading members were burgesses concentrated around that street.

By 1086 Colchester was clearly the most important place in Essex, one of only two certainly accorded borough status, a hundred in its own right – this being the walled town and several hamlets surrounding it, an area referred to in Richard I's borough charter as a banlieu. It could even be referred to as a 'city', though perhaps we should not read overmuch into that, for it is difficult to define the concept in technical terms valid for all English applications, and it may only have meant that the Roman heritage of the place was still evident to the Normans; yet J.H. Round ["The Domesday of Colchester," The Antiquary, vol.5 (1882), pp.245-49] made the interesting argument that the term was intended to denote a district comprising borough plus banlieu – a concept akin, in some respects, to the city-states of European countries lacking a centralized government, though he saw Colchester as an "imperfectly evolved" version of the continental model. Domesday Colchester had a sizable population for the time, despite which large areas of undeveloped land would continue to be a feature of the town throughout the Middle Ages; unusually, the Domesday entry listed all the burgesses and their holdings, their names [analyzed in more detail in Crummy, op. cit., pp.25-26, app.1] showing a solid Saxon community with only a few members of Norse descent, and a similarly small handful of Norman tenants (and most of those non-resident). As a market centre, Colchester sufficiently dominated its region of Essex that no other markets were able to establish themselves within a ten-mile radius, with the exception of one at Elmstead, a relatively late institution (licensed 1253) which does not appear to have thrived.

At a time when there was concern about the risk of renewed Danish raids on sites along or near the east coast, and of collaboration between the Danes and disaffected Anglo-Saxon inhabitants, the Conqueror assigned one of his trusted officials, Eudo Dapifer – perhaps after earlier administrators (such as the rapacious Waleran) had proven unsatisfactory – to turn the borough into a secure base of Norman dominion in eastern England, and to develop its value to the Crown. Eudo already held property at Colchester before 1086 and had probably been given his Colchester assignment within the first decade of William taking the throne. His father Hubert de Rie, lord of the small Norman town of Ryes, had already proved a loyal supporter of Duke William, and Hubert's several sons continued that tradition. Following the Conquest it is possible one son was appointed castellan at Nottingham, another given a similar role at Norwich, probably following the failed rebellion of Ralph Guader, while a third was one of the commissioners tasked with compiling Domesday Book, and a fourth was a bishop in Normandy. Eudo received estates in several English counties and by 1072 had been given a post as one of the king's stewards; he continued in his loyalty by supporting first William Rufus and then, after some hesitation, Henry I in their quests to succeed to the throne, remaining under both as steward, a role that, besides a supposed majordomo function when at the royal court, was principally one of administering areas of royal estates, entailing both judicial and financial management responsibilities.

Henry I's rewards to Eudo included the post of Constable of the Tower of London and, in 1101, effective lordship over Colchester, both city and castle. The terminology of this latter grant – which was addressed to the Bishop of London (in whose diocese Colchester lay), the sheriff of Essex, and the major land-owners of the county – is important in several regards. Its reference to turrim et castellum indicates that the castle comprised both a keep and a bailey by this time. The addition of omnes ejusdem civitatis firmitates to this list, though it might refer to other fortifications (i.e. the walls with their towers and gates), could also be translated as 'farms', or rents; in other words, Eudo's role was to combine that of castellan and farmer. The final element of the grant cum omnibus que ad illam pertinent sicut pater meus et frater et ego eam melius habuimus unquam, referring to the extent of royal jurisdiction over the city, implies a vice-regal role of warden. Taken together, these roles gave Eudo a broad authority over the borough, yet did not amount to a hereditary position – though it might have become so, had Eudo produced a male heir – nor did the castle belong to Eudo, even though he most probably oversaw its construction. After Eudo's death in 1120 his lordship of Colchester reverted to the Crown, apparently with his estates, although some of the latter subsequently passed, possibly through a daughter's marriage into the Mandeville family, to Geoffrey de Mandeville the first earl of Essex, while others to brothers William and Hamo de St. Clare, who may have been lieutenants or even kinsmen of Eudo, Hamo subsequently being a sheriff of Essex and a farmer/castellan of Colchester.

According to a chronicle in the borough's Red Parchment Book, or Oath Book, William II had granted this broad authority to Eudo in 1089, so that Henry's grant may have been only a confirmation (though not phrased as such), or perhaps we should say reinstatement upon Eudo being reconciled to the king after having at first given his support to Henry's elder brother. The same chronicle stated that William I had placed Eudo in charge of Colchester in 1072 and explicitly credits him with building the castle in 1076, but it was not written, or compiled, until the fourteenth century and we do not know whether it called on local tradition or just other written sources. In the absence of information to the contrary, we may guardedly accept its dates.

A narrative account [within British Library, Cotton MS Nero D viii], of the foundation and founder of the Abbey of St. John, with brief digressions into other matters relating to Colchester, survives, but only in a single copy that is part of a seventeenth century compilation; the copyist identified his source as a chronicle of Marianus, but the text is found neither in the work of Marianus Scotus nor John of Worcester's adaptation of the same. The original [whose text is transcribed and translated by H. Dukinfield Astley, "Medieval Colchester – town, castle, and abbey – from MSS. in the British Museum Transactions of the Essex Archaeological Society, n.s. vol. 8, (1903), 122-35, and receives some critical examination from Antonina Harbus, Helena of Britain in Medieval Legend, D.S. Brewer: Cambridge, 2002, pp.67-72] may have been produced at the abbey itself, perhaps within a customized version of Marianus, or perhaps at some other monastery by someone with a knowledge of and interest in Colchester. Although the credibility of this narrative became the subject of acrimonious argument between J.H. Round (characteristically skeptical) and Walter Rye, once we allow that the narrative is more encomium than chronicle, and set aside its more fanciful elements and the exaggerations intended to aggrandize the abbey, its location, and its founder, much of what remains seems plausible enough, though not error-free (the castellanry appointments of Eudo's brothers have, for example, been challenged) and often vague on chronology of events – this being a reflection not of the text's unreliability so much as its encomium character. It is consonant in some regards with the evidence of other sources, and archaeology has corroborated other of its details (just as it has some of the information in the Red Parchment Book chronicle). Date of authorship is uncertain, but its references to the legend associating Colchester and St. Helena, together with its description of Richard Fitz-Gilbert as earl (a title not accorded his descendants before 1141), suggest it written in the latter half of the twelfth century.

The foundation narrative begins with a statement that William II entrusted Colchester to Eudo (no specific date given) at the request, backed up by a gift of money and goods, of the burgesses (perhaps tired of oppressive predecessors), and that he had received the same appointment from William I. It later praises Eudo as not simply a fair and just administrator but one who actively worked to benefit the citizenry; although we can hardly expect such an account to portray the abbey's founder otherwise, there is no evidence to the contrary about Eudo. Certainly he worked, as a steward ought, to improve the value of Colchester, but his aim was also to Normanize it, both in terms of control and acculturation.

Eudo approached the challenge at Colchester in typical Norman fashion, as at Norwich and probably Ipswich, by first giving attention to a castle – though it is uncertain whether he initiated its erection or just saw the project through to completion. If the Red Parchment Book chronicle's date of 1076 is accepted, the castle might be seen as a response to the rebellion of the earls of East Anglia and Hereford, but we do not know whether the chronicler meant the beginning or completion of construction; the absence of reference in Domesday to a castle does not counter that date, for there would be no need to make reference to a castle that belonged to the king. This project was accomplished without the displacement or impoverishment of large numbers of residents, such as Domesday evidences at Norwich, Ipswich, and Hereford, and archaeology suggests at Winchester, Oxford and Northampton, probably because the site chosen for Colchester's castle had previously been an estate allocated to the king and so was only lightly occupied; only the diversion of the eastern stretch of the High Street southwards was required to make room for the bailey wall. Rather than strengthen the Norman presence in the same way done at Norwich, by planting a colony – explicitly characterized by Domesday as a 'new town' – of Normans within the Saxon community, and establishing a monastic community in a location that disrupted the earlier town centre, Eudo – constrained by the limited open space within the defensive walls – chose to do something along similar lines by building up an existing but modest suburb outside the town's south-east gate (the probable Roman south gate, but known as St. Botolph's Gate in the medieval period). Site constraints similarly dictated the establishment of a planned Norman colony at Shrewsbury as a suburb. Colchester's suburb had probably developed pre-Conquest in association with the church of St. Botolph there; settlement was contained, to east and west, by fields that belonged to the burgesses in common.

It was in this suburb that Eudo focused his developmental efforts. At its southern end, on a roughly rectangular site free of the Roman ruins that hindered development within the town walls, Eudo in 1095 founded a Benedictine abbey; that some suburban settlement stretched close to that far south has been suggested by discovery of the foundations of an older church, pulled down to make way for the abbey. Over the years that followed, as construction progressed, Eudo gradually provided for the abbey's maintenance with endowments – which included the castle chapel and his share in the profits from the castle's mill (Middle Mill, at the north end of the castle site, by the riverside) – as well as compensating the burgesses, who complained that the site had spread into lands that belonged to them. Endowments by others (including William and Hamo de St. Clare and the latter's son Hubert, who succeeded his father as castellan at Colchester) followed, particularly at the time of the abbey church consecration. The church, dedicated to St. John the Baptist, was completed by about 1115, in time for Eudo to receive burial there in 1120 – his body being brought back from Normandy so that it could lie in his preferred resting-place.

Eudo seems also to have established in the southern suburb a liberty over which the abbey had jurisdiction, his endowments including areas, such as Greenstead (probably held as lord of Colchester), that the burgesses considered part of the liberty of Colchester. Thus Eudo created a future bone of contention between the abbot and the burgesses, until an agreement of 1338 effected a compromise by which the abbey acknowledged that it was part of Colchester's banlieu and, as such, had limited obligations in regard to the borough farm and suit of court at the lawhundred sessions, but that it retained a certain independence, in terms of the abbey and its tenants not otherwise being answerable to the borough court, and being exempted from any local taxation or from tolls. The grant of toll exemption was originally made in 1254/55, in the context of an earlier agreement between the abbot and the borough's bailiffs, and applied to goods bought or sold for the use of the abbey or its tenants, excluding any goods bought for the purpose of resale. Evidently the liberty of the abbey incorporated a community some of whose members were engaging in trade.

Among the rights granted the abbey were, according to a document copied into the abbey's cartulary, a fair, in place by 1104 [for this date see J.H. Round. "The Early Charters of St John's Abbey, Colchester," English Historical Review, vol. 16 (1901), p.723 ], when Henry I confirmed what were purportedly grants by Eudo; the cartulary itself states that no original foundation charter could be found by the second abbot, Gilbert, so he had one drafted embodying all the grants made by Eudo, and in 1119 sent it to the declining Eudo to approve and to forward to the king with a request for endorsement. The king's reiteration of the grants, also recorded in the chartulary, added a grant to the abbey of the same liberties as Westminster. The Charter Rolls record a confirmation by Henry III (1253) of Richard I's charter (1198), itself a confirmation of earlier grants as far back as the abbey's foundation, including the four-day fair around the festival of St. John Baptist. In the context of a legal contest between abbey and borough in 1289, the abbot unsurprisingly described the fair as a grant of Henry I; one of the accusations against the abbots, upheld by an inquisition jury, was failure, over the previous twenty-five years, to make a customary payment of 3s. to the borough bailiffs each time he held a fair – this being to compensate the borough for deprivation of tolls on market days occurring during fair-time, a revenue which went towards paying the king his fee-farm. Later references to the fair indicate it continued throughout, and beyond, the Late Middle Ages.

It may just possibly have been on the basis of the grant of Westminster liberties that the abbey assumed the right to hold a market, for Westminster seems then to have been operating a market, albeit on the basis of spurious charters attributed to William I. More probably, however, Eudo gave to the abbey the land on which market activities were already occurring in the suburb; such a market may have been in existence since Colchester was a burh, for burh markets were often held just outside one of the entrances through the defensive enclosure. A market, or marketplace, is mentioned among grants to the Abbey of St. John in its foundation charter; though it is unclear if this lay in Colchester or London, Samantha Letters accepted it as evidence for a suburban market within the liberty of the abbey. The presence of a market is hinted at obliquely in the foundation narrative, which states that the first housing built for the monks had to be moved from the north side of the site – facing into the suburb, close to the posited market site (see below) – due to the noise and bustle there, to the quieter south side. This was a not uncommon problem experienced by monasteries situated immediately adjacent to market settlements. A separate account of the abbey foundation [Bodleian MS. Gough Essex 1 – Crummy, op.cit. pp.27-30 attempts to establish the relationship between the several accounts] attributes the move to a fire. While the two explanations are not incompatible, they seem to refer to separate events, for the Nero manuscript indicates that the north side of the abbey precinct contained the residential buildings and workshops, but that it was the former moved because of the noise (which would not have been a problem for the workshops); whereas Gough places the city fire in 1133 - outside the chronological scope of Nero's narrative – and indicates that it was only workshops, closest to the town itself, that remained to be relocated.

Further possible evidence of a market in the southern suburb is found in Colchester's oldest surviving borough court roll (1310), which records a complaint by a tanner that he had set up his stall to sell leather beside the precinct wall of St. Botolph's priory, on Saturday after the feast of St. Denis, but that another tanner subsequently substituted his own stall, though the accused defended that the spot was unoccupied when he placed his own stall there. The parties settled out-of-court and it is not stated whether the context was market or fair; the authors of the Colchester volume of the Victoria County History suspected a fair, but a market is suggested by two points: first that the event occurred on a Saturday, which was the borough's principal market-day; second that the implication behind the complaint is that one stall-holder's regular spot was taken by another, which points to a weekly rather than annual event. By the fourteenth century (and conceivably for some time prior) a stream emanating from a spring (Stanwell) and running eastwards across St. John's Green and through the priory precinct is seen as an area where dyers and other cloth-workers were living, so it may well have been a suitable neighbourhood for tanners as well.

A second fair, of two days at the festival of the Invention of Holy Cross in May, was granted the abbey by Henry II in 1157, on the occasion of a royal visit to Colchester, in association with royal confirmation of the abbey's possession of the chapel of St. Helen (the legendary finder of the Cross); the fair was to be held in an undeveloped space near the castle between the chapel and the High Street, which the king granted to the chapel, and we should understand the fair as essentially an endowment of the chapel. Again we rely on the cartulary for this evidence, which is unsupported from any other source, but Eudo's abbey endowments included tithes belonging to the chapel, land around it, and, according to the Red Parchment Book chronicle, the chapel itself, restored by Eudo from a state of disrepair. Such work on the chapel, as well as that on the castle and other building projects under Eudo's watch, indirectly contributed to rehabilitating the town: cannibalizing Roman ruins opened up space for the layout of new streets and residential plots, a process that must have been going on since Saxon times, if only to build local churches, and continued beyond Eudo's time [Philip Crummy, Colchester: Recent Excavations and Research, Colchester Excavation Committee, 1974, pp.27-31]. The May fair is not otherwise documented and may not have lasted long; being so close to the central marketplace it would likely have been a source of friction with the burgesses, who may have been able to impede fair activities. Difficulty in realizing income from the fair and the distance of the chapel from the abbey site could explain the abbey's loss of interest in maintaining and staffing the chapel, to the annoyance of the borough authorities.

The establishment of the abbey was not the only initiative tentatively attributable to Eudo in this neighbourhood of the extramural area of Colchester. The conversion of St. Botolph's church, already collegiate, into a priory of Augustinian canons, took place during his lordship, in the later 1090s, though it retained a parochial function. To its Saxon dedication, which was to a Benedictine pioneer, was added the name of St. Julian, possibly the French saint associated with Le Mans, whose festival was introduced into southern England by the Benedictines. It has been suggested [W. and K. Rodwell, Historic churches: a wasting asset, Council for British Archaeology Research Report, no.19 (1977), p.34, probably drawn from Dugdale's Monasticon] that St. Denis (a saint associated with Paris) was also added to the dedication, but if so, it was probably a late addition around the time of the grant (1421) of a papal indulgence to any who at that festival visited and gave alms to the priory; the monks presumably wishing to capitalize on those frequenting the town fair held at that date. The priory is generally considered the first Augustinian foundation in England, another import from France. A papal bull dated 1116 made it the mother-house of all others of Augustinian canons in England, and granted it exemption from episcopal oversight; but the bull is considered a forgery, though possibly embodying elements of a genuine grant [J.H Denton, "The forged bull of St Botolph’s, Colchester," Bulletin of the John Rylands Library. v.55 (1973), 324-45]. William Rufus in 1095 granted its community of priests permission to hold all lands with which they had been endowed; the source of their initial endowments is nowhere specified, though some may have been held prior to the conversion, while others could have been made by Eudo. It was the only extra-mural church to be endowed with land inside the walls of Colchester, carved out of two parishes (St. Nicholas and All Saints) just inside the city gateway – this being suggestive of an act of which only Eudo, as lord of the city, was capable. Henry I granted the priory his one-third share of Middle Mill.

The conversion of the church, if not influenced by Eudo directly – for the only record of its origins attributes the initiative to priests (one a 'Norman' who imported knowledge of the Augustinian rule) already at St. Botolph's – may have been prompted by Eudo's general efforts to develop the Colchester suburb. Eudo also founded, on behalf of the king, a small leper hospital dedicated to St. Mary Magdalene, built on the street leading eastwards from the suburb to a new harbour on the Colne. Since this street was subsequently known as Magdalen Street, it may have found its main use after the creation of the hospital and, conceivably, it was part of Eudo's development plans to establish a new port at the end of that street. Not only was that port, known as New Hythe, in existence by the early twelfth century (implicit from a reference to 'Old Hythe'), but it was by the middle of that century attracting enough settlement – around the river end of Magdalen Street, which became known as Heth Street – to warrant having its own parish church; this was dedicated to St. Leonard, whose cult was spread (probably by pilgrims and merchants) from France across Europe during that century. By the close of the Middle Ages this small suburban parish had become one of Colchester's wealthiest. The placement of the hospital, while avoiding the main residential part of the suburb, and similarly distanced from any emerging settlement of fishermen and mariners around New Hythe, would have enabled the inmates to solicit donations from traffic using the road from the harbour to the borough. At the same time, the site chosen for the hospital – institutions often somewhat isolated – suggests that no settlement had yet taken place along Magdalen Street, other than possibly at either extreme; although by the late twelfth century some secular buildings are evidenced in the vicinity of the hospital, which by 1237 had acquired a parochial role, leading to the rebuilding of the church mid-century. After Eudo's death, Henry I placed the hospital in the charge of the abbey and provided it with an annual income from a manor he had granted to the abbey, though this would later lead to conflict between the two institutions. Richard I in 1189 granted a two-day fair to the hospital, to be held at the festival of its patron saint; held on a green near the hospital, this fair too remained in evidence throughout the medieval period, but cannot have generated much income for the hospital, which was not well endowed.

Although it is possible Eudo's main interest in the southern neighbourhood was in establishing there an abbey and meeting the needs of its monastic community and its lay servants (as for example at Battle), the overall impression given by Eudo's initiatives in the area south and south-east of the walled town is that they went beyond just the abbey, towards the establishment of a new urban component combining religious institutions and market settlement. There is no evidence that he actively sought out new settlers or lay out new burgage plots for them – the junction end of Magdalen Street being the likeliest candidate for such a unit – but it may have been his hope to enlarge the Norman segment of the local population, and an Augustinian priory and Benedictine abbey would have made the suburb more attractive to Normans, even at a time when there was still ample space within the walls for new settlers – although admittedly some of that space was occupied by ruinous Roman buildings, gradually cleared as scavenged for building materials. There was at least one Norman Eudo actively recruited for, having become dissatisfied with the first abbot, supplied along with other monks from from York, Eudo had Gilbert de Lungvill (the surname indicative of Longueville-sur-Scie) come from the abbey at Bec – a Benedictine foundation that, as a centre of learning and the source of successive archbishops of Canterbury under the Conqueror, was very influential in Norman England – to take up the abbacy in 1104.

The Colchester suburb focused around the convergence of two streets – one a Roman approach road from the south, the second the road south-east from the old harbour; into the latter; just east of the convergence, Magdalen Street merged. This junction, just beyond the north end of the abbey site and immediately south-west of St. Botolph's, would have been a likely site for the suburban market, although the fair was held on St. John's Green (or Field, as then known), on the north-west corner of the abbey site. That the presence of the abbey and the priory stimulated growth of the suburb's population is indicated by the construction, probably in the twelfth century, of the church of St. Giles in the north-east corner of the abbey site, by the junction posited as the suburban marketplace; it is supposed the church was needed to service a growing population, particularly of the abbey servants and tenants. Furthermore, the legal battle of 1289, already mentioned, included the complaint that the abbey was preventing those of its tenants who engaged in commerce or crafts from contributing to borough revenues – whether in terms of market tolls or royal taxes assessed on the borough is not specified – and implies these tenants had been settled around the green used as fair site and elsewhere in the southern suburb [J. L. Fisher, "The Leger Book of St. John's Abbey, Colchester", Transactions of the Essex Archaeological Society, vol.24 (1944), p.86]. The abbot defended that from the time of its consecration the abbey had a grant of exemption from tolls, though did not have on hand the pertinent documents to support this claim; Eudo's foundation charter would have to be very broadly interpreted to back up such a claim, but the1254 settlement between the abbot and borough (if we may trust a copy entered in the abbey cartulary) had conceded toll exemption for the abbey's tenants, except those who regularly bought and sold in the market (i.e. made their living from commerce) [Stuart Moore, ed., Cartularium Monasterii Sancti Johannis Baptiste de Colecestria , Roxburghe Club Publications, no. 131 (1897), vol.2, p.505].

The access to landing facilities on the river is likely to have been a factor in Eudo's decision to develop the suburb, as this would give its market an advantage; we may note that the endowments of the abbey included a wharf on the Thames just east of London, in which city the abbey also had some property. It may well be that Eudo himself was instrumental in developing, or fostering, a port at the end of Magdalen Street; moving the older-established port north to be closer to the town would likely have required improving navigability by deepening the river there and perhaps adjusting part of the river's meandering course. At Shrewsbury too the suburban Norman colony soon had harbour facilities established. While Colchester's Old Hythe continued in some use, the New Hythe is heard of by mid-twelfth century and thereafter gradually became built up, as wharves, quays (public and private), warehouses, and cranes were added by merchants. Though separated from the walled town by fields, it was considered a suburb within the jurisdiction of the borough. The civic authorities, in the 1340s, negotiated with Sir John de Sutton for use of a beaching area beside his land at New Hythe, for the landing and repair of ships, and issued leases of several plots there for the construction of quays and warehouses; these were part of a broader effort to further develop the port potential of Colchester. The opposite bank of the river was not owned by the borough and was not similarly developed, nor was there even a bridge connecting New Hythe to the other side of the river until the fifteenth century.

This port could not be reached by sea-going ships, but was viable for barges trans-shipping goods to Brightlingsea, in the Colne estuary, which could be reached by mercantile vessels and was probably where larger vessels owned by the burgesses, as well as the abbot, were moored. Yet New Hythe was significant enough to give Colchester official standing as a port and incorporate it into the Ipswich district of customs collection. It provided trading links to other east coast ports, London, and the Low Countries – a few Flemings are seen as having settled in Colchester as early as the late twelfth century, but they are not noticeable again before the latter half of the fourteenth, when over a hundred settled in Colchester, about a quarter of them cloth-makers [Bart Lambert and Milan Pajic, "Drapery in exile: Edward III, Colchester and the Flemings, 1351-1367", History, vol.99 (2014). pp. 733-753]. By the late thirteenth century obstructions – weirs, piles, fish-kiddles and the like – in the stretch of the Colne linking Colchester to the estuary were becoming increasingly problematic.

Eudo's wife and/or her family could have influenced Eudo's plans for Colchester's suburb. He was married to Rohais the daughter of Richard Fitz-Gilbert, descended from a branch of the ducal family of Normandy, who was also known as Richard de Clare, after one of the estates he received during the reign of William I; there Richard put up a castle, making use of older earthwork fortifications, and made it the caput of his honour. Situated on the border between Angle and Saxon kingdoms of East Anglia, Clare's fairly large population included 43 burgesses by 1086; Domesday indicates that a market had existed before the Conquest, but the borough looks like a compact single-street neighbourhood planted immediately north-west of the castle by Richard Fitz-Gilbert, with the church (of typical Norman dedication to SS. Peter and Paul) situated at the opposite end of the marketplace/High Street to the castle. Within the castle site was a small Saxon priory dedicated to St. John the Baptist; in 1090 Gilbert Fitz-Richard, having just succeeded his father in the lordship, gave this to the Benedictine abbey of Bec and imported a number of its monks to to staff the priory. A later de Clare lord ca. 1249 invited Augustinian friars, whom he encountered in France, to establish a house at Clare, which was done immediately south-west of the castle; it became the mother-house of subsequent Augustinian friaries in England. In certain ways Clare is quite reminiscent of the southern suburb of Colchester, if we substitute the walled town for Clare Castle. When Eudo Dapifer initiated the project to build St. John's Abbey, a ceremony was held in which foundation stones were laid, the first by Eudo, Rohais, and her brother Gilbert.

Insufficient evidence exists to prove that Eudo's plans for the suburb amounted to a new town foundation. But developments there during Eudo's time are reminiscent of the Norman establishment – just beyond Norwich's fortified area (burh augmented with castle) – of Mancroft, combining market settlement and a new church, whose dedication to St. Peter was a popular one for Normans. At Wallingford too Domesday shows us the Normans putting their stamp on an important and prosperous former Saxon royal borough, stronghold, and commercial centre by interposing a castle – here with relatively little displacement of Saxon dwellings – founding a collegiate chapel dedicated to St. Nicholas and a Benedictine priory, and apparently introducing a small French colony, perhaps of traders and craftsmen who could further develop the existing Saturday market in the secure environment assured by the castle. Eudo has been attributed with founding St. Peter's church in Colchester, and certainly he held a minority share in the advowson and may well have been a benefactor; but its location on high ground near the intersection of the two main intramural streets and its mention by name in Domesday point to Saxon origins, so that it is more likely to represent the original focus of the burh after the initial re-planning phase of the tenth century, and before the more easterly stretch of the High Street was redeveloped.

Both the Colchester and Norwich projects are in turn reminiscent of the continental castrum-borgo model of urban development. Regardless of what Eudo's conscious plans for Colchester may have been, the initiatives we may more confidently attribute to him – the sizable castle and the abbey – together with Colchester's trading links via road and river, its access to the large consumer and producer population of East Anglia, and the development of a cloth industry there, assured Colchester's emergence as the economic powerhouse in Essex. Its economic importance is also reflected in the presence, by ca.1180, of a modest Jewish community, mostly resident in the vicinity of the High Street, Stockwell Streets, and Culver Street, some of whose 'tools of the trade' have been unearthed by archaeologists. If however Eudo was minded in that direction, the St. Botolph's suburb was not to become the 'tail that wagged the dog', as happened at Norwich, as well as at Hereford, where too the French colony's marketplace became predominant.

Eudo's death without male heir left Colchester without a further benefactor interested in fostering the suburban neighbourhood, except for the abbey, which wished to preserve independence of the area from the borough proper, while the intramural area attracted rapid population growth and cultural fusion so that it could develop its own institutions and intent to be the dominant element in Colchester's development. Whereas at the time of Domesday Colchester, unsurprisingly, seems to have had a predominantly (about 74‰) Anglo-Saxon population, the few known names of twelfth-century bailiffs of the borough – not just Christian names, but also surnames – show little if any sign of Anglo-Saxon traditions and suggest either that immigrants following the Conquest had become the dominant element in the community or, perhaps more likely, that Anglo-Saxon and foreign elements had intermarried and fused culturally. Colchester's first royal charter (1189, though possibly an enhanced re-issue of an earlier grant), in its affirmation of the right of the burgesses to a fishery in the Colne, extending from the northern side of the borough into the Colne estuary, and to tolls levied on merchandize landed from boats within the banlieu (which revenue was to go towards the borough farm), as it had in the time of Henry I, suggests some ability on the part of the community to act corporately from that period, including in holding the borough at fee farm. By the time of Stephen we see in the borough some rudimentary form of self-government, headed by bailiffs, which would have been able to assert the primacy of borough institutions; the original moothall seems to date from around the time of Henry II and stylistic features again suggest a primacy attained by Norman cultural elements within the borough. By the close of the century the town's street system had taken the shape it would retain throughout the remainder of the medieval period. The burgesses – or at least those who were leaders within that community – wanted a marketplace more centrally located and close to where they lived, and the High Street was widened to serve that purpose, if indeed it had not already been so used for some time.

The High Street was clearly the spine of medieval Colchester; onto it faced several churches to serve the growing population in the town centre, while off it gradually developed a series of streets running downslope, northwards and southwards. The greater part of the High Street served as the marketplace, from its western end where it met North Street/Head Street, to the church of St. Nicholas (patron saint of merchants) in the east. It was widened in its central portion, where could be found St. Runwald's church perhaps originally serving as a market chapel, and the moothall – centrally located for administration of, among other things, market matters, and even direct integration into market activities in the 1370s. However, reference in the 1260s to the 'Tholuhus' as a ground-floor component of a building in the market suggests that might have been where market tolls were payable. The marketplace saw some later medieval division, probably in the fourteenth century, as stalls became permanent and before the close of the Middle Ages this process had created Middle Row (the shops east of St. Runwald's), the butchery (perhaps part of Middle Row, or slightly more in the middle of the marketplace, near St. Runwald's), Cook Row (also near the moothall), Cordwainer's Row, and Red Row (at the west end of the marketplace, where the cornmarket was located, in front of St. Peter's church) a number of 'new rents' erected by William Reyne in the 1370s. There may not have been a rigorous division of market space according to type of merchandize, but a 1341 deed indicates a grouping of tanners' stalls and there are indications the borough authorities sought to focus certain trades – presumably those needing closer supervision, such as the butchers – at particular points. However, since burgesses were exempt from market tolls, most local traders seem to have had some freedom to choose where they set up temporary stalls (or later to operate from their own shops or houses), it was primarily outsiders who were expected to sell their goods in the designated marketplace; the country producers of butter, for example, were assigned a spot outside the moothall.

By 1285 formal markets were being held in town each Wednesday and Saturday, though these days may have fluctuated; since Colchester's market existed prior to licensing, there was nothing limiting it to a particular day. Yet local traders engaged in commerce on a daily basis and by the mid-fifteenth century it could be argued that markets took place every day, even if not all types of goods were available each day. Saturday seems to have been the day for the full market, and the only day on which butchers from outside the town would bring in meat to sell.

The first known royal charter of privileges granted to Colchester was that of 1189; it authorized the burgesses to elect their own executive officials, who would preside in an independent court, limited the financial penalty imposable by that court, exempted the burgesses from various royal exactions or demands, as well as from tolls throughout England, provided recourse (through retaliation) if any toll was unjustly taken from a burgess or any debtor to a burgess refused to repay or address the matter through the court, and it protected certain burgess rights within Colchester's banlieu, in terms of hunting and harvesting timber, as well as assuring them control over the fishery in the stretch of the Colne curving round the banlieu and the right to tolls on goods landed on the riverbank. This charter was modelled mainly on London's charter of ca.1131, whereas other boroughs favoured London's 1155 charter as their model. Since Richard and John both were inclined to disguise confirmations as original grants (in order to charge a higher fee), it is conceivable that the Colchester burgesses might have had some of these privileges in a now-lost charter of Stephen – at least, so thought the Victoria County History authors – perhaps associated with an attempt to take over the borough fee farm and/or with the erection of the moothall; but this must remain a question-mark.

There is a further clause in the charter which is unique to Colchester:

"We forbid that the market of Colchester be hindered by any other adulterine market, but that the markets and customs be in such a state as they were confirmed by the oath of our burgesses of Colchester before the justices in eyre of our lord the king our father."
[Adolphus Ballard, British Borough Charters 1042-1216, Cambridge University Press, 1913, p.201]

In the edition of Colchester charters published by the borough council in 1903, Jeayes translated adultero as "extraneous", which almost gives the clause the look of the anti-competition proviso destined to become a standard feature of market licences; but Jeayes noted that 'unauthorized' would be an alternative rendering, and this seems closer to the mark.

This was the final clause of the charter and was not modelled on any other borough charter, nor was this clause subsequently to find its way into any other borough's charter, even though one might think it advantageous in an increasingly competitive market environment. The London authorities would not have felt any need for such a clause, for the overwhelming strength of the city's own markets meant they had little to fear, even from markets in Southwark, which they strove to take over rather than suppress; indeed, the existence of small markets in the region around London, where rural produce could be gathered together, was useful to city merchants. Similarly, other large towns tended to have long-standing markets not highly vulnerable to competition from others in their vicinity; if any challenger did raise concerns, by Henry III's time the clause built into market licences, making them provisional upon new markets not being damaging to existing ones nearby, provided a means to challenge and sometimes suppress upstarts.

Royal grants of jurisdictional banlieux and of economic monopolies within limited geographical areas were not unknown in medieval England, nor English-held Wales. The territory of Maldon was referred to as a banlieu in its first and only borough charter (1171); though it is not clear whether this implied anything beyond hundredal jurisdiction, the burgesses claimed that no rival markets could be set up with in surrounding areas, perceived as suburbs. Around 1331 the citizens of Rochester were petitioning the king, on grounds of poverty, that any markets held within three or four leagues of the place be transferred to the city. Market monopoly finds examples in the charter grant to London (1327) that no other market be held within seven leagues of the city, in more restrictive grants to Hertford of a monopoly on market activity on its licensed weekday within a seven-mile radius and to Chester of a four league radius (1357), in the claim of Winchester's citizens that no other markets nor certain industrial activities could take place within a radius of seven leagues around the city, in the Bishop of Winchester's authority to suppress commercial competition during the weeks of St. Giles' fair, and a like situation at Hereford, as well as Yarmouth's efforts to dominate the herring trade by excluding competition, but these are documented at much later date than the Colchester charter; closer in time were the commercial monopoly granted to Cambridge in 1120 and a monopoly granted Nottingham in 1157 regarding its market and the dyeing of cloth, but these seem little more germane to the Colchester situation than the cases of Winchester and Yarmouth. Banlieux are exemplified by the abbeys at Bury St. Edmunds and Battle. In the former case the Abbot of St. Edmund's felt empowered to argue that royal grants of toll exemption were invalid in the abbey's banlieu, which was essentially the intramural town and its suburban surrounds; the banlieu was granted the abbey by King Edmund in 945 and was, at the time of Domesday, less than two leagues in length and breadth. The abbots were active in suppressing any competitive markets that arose, as in the case of a manorial market at Lakenheath in 1202. Payments recorded on the Pipe Roll in that year show the Abbot of St. Edmund's had the previous year purchased from the king the grant "that no market or fair be held within the liberties of St. Edmund where there ought not nor was accustomed to be one, to the detriment of those liberties, nor where a market or fair might possibly prove to the detriment of those liberties." [my translation from the Latin given by M. D. Lobel, The Borough of Bury St. Edmunds, Oxford: Clarendon Press,1935, p.172]. The liberties referred to were a jurisdiction, granted by Edward the Confessor in 1044, over territory beyond the banlieu and encompassing a large area of West Suffolk. The grant of 1201, even though it must have required proof that any new market or fair was detrimental to those at Bury, must have helped Bury become the second most important commercial centre in Suffolk, even though it did not entirely stifle market activity elsewhere in that region of the county [Nicholas Amor, "Riding out recession: Ixworth and Woolpit in the late middle ages", Proceedings of the Suffolk Institute of Archaeology and History, vol.40 (2002), p.33]. While its prohibition of harmful markets and fairs is reminiscent of the Colchester charter clause and might conceivably have taken its inspiration from that clause, it enabled the focusing of local commerce on that market and fair under control of the abbey; its wide geographical scope was something Colchester could only envy.

To understand the Colchester clause prohibiting unofficial markets, we cannot point to any broader trend in urban constitutional development, nor see it as a particularized elaboration of the common clause in charters that the privileges they granted should be enjoyed without any disturbance. Rather we have to view it as a response to a specific problem at Colchester, one perhaps complained of to Henry II's justices itinerant when the burgess jury evidently identified the borough's formal markets, as opposed to any they considered unwarranted competition for commerce and tolls. Nor was it a short-lived problem, for in 1256 – following a renewal of their charter (1252) and a settlement of some issues with the abbey (1254) – the bailiffs had public proclamation made, probably at New Hythe, of certain chartered privileges of the borough, including their interpretation of the market clause: "that no foreign fair or market shall be held ... in the neighbourhood of the said Borough, to the hurt of the fairs and markets of the said Borough, without consent of the Burgesses" [W. G. Benham, ed. The Red Paper Book of Colchester, Colchester, 1902, p.70]. The privileges selected for proclamation all pertain to the regulation of commerce (e.g. right to impose tolls, jurisdiction over the river, authority to prosecute forestallers). Essentially the same proclamation was made again in 1382, with the lacuna in the 1254 copy supplied as "either upon land or upon water" [W.G. Benham, ed., The Oath Book or Red Parchment Book of Colchester, Colchester, 1907, p.28]; this additional phrase may be significant, for there were added to the later record of the proclamation several further prohibitions, national and local, most targeted at forestallers, with particular reference to interception or premature unloading of goods being brought by river to New Hythe, which had by now been accepted as a branch of the official borough market.

Although fish were sold in the High Street, by 1443 (and probably well before) New Hythe was recognized as the site of a fishmarket for the sale of those fish, and maybe oysters too, harvested from the Colne; the temptation for fishermen to sell such goods where landed must have existed from the time that New Hythe was established, thereby potentially depriving the borough of tolls and those burgesses frequenting the official market of their equal-opportunity right to share in bargains. The temptation of middlemen to gain an advantage by buying at New Hythe, or from vessels before they reached the harbour, and then selling at a higher price in the High Street, was also great and was considered forestalling; the name of fishmonger John Profete, for example, appears in a royal inquisition of 1308 among those considered habitual forestallers of foodstuffs, and in the borough court roll in 1311 as a forestaller of fish (by which it was meant that he resold the fish to an outsider rather than putting it up for sale in the marketplace), though a jury acquitted him, while in 1312 he was convicted of attempting on multiple occasions to undermine fair market price by encouraging outsiders to sell their fish more dearly. Unofficial market activities at New Hythe extended beyond fish, for in 1380 a butcher residing at New Hythe was fined by the borough court for selling his meat there 'in secret' (i.e. outside of the official public market). As the town's population grew, New Hythe also acquired increased importance as the route for importing grain; though this was, before the late fourteenth century, an item less frequently recorded as subject to forestalling, it was punished with heavy fines.

A need to counter any trend for New Hythe, and/or other sites beside the Colne but closer to the coast, to develop into markets might explain, at least in part, the 1189 clause. The clause may even have been considered an additional weapon in the effort to combat forestalling in general, an offence for which up to a dozen persons – many repeat offenders – were presented at most of the thrice-yearly lawhundred sessions, with fish and oysters being among the most commonly forestalled goods and New Hythe sometimes specified as the location of the offence. Forestalling was, at least at Colchester, interpreted broadly to incorporate a range of actions – such as selling before the market opened, or ploys to avoid toll – considered as "cheating the Commonalty" [ W.G. Benham and I.H. Jeayes, Court Rolls of the Borough of Colchester, vol.1 (1921), p.23] – and underlying it was the premise that market activities should be confined to set times and places. Eventually, rather than to try to police and suppress illicit transactions, it must have been easier just to recognize New Hythe as an authorized market for selling fish; a sign of the change in approach is seen in the context of bailiff William Reyne's administrative and market reforms of the 1370s, which included instituting the office of measurer at New Hythe, to weigh commercial goods and perhaps check the accuracy of private weights, and then farming out the duties to a resident there. The quarter-century that followed saw development of other sources of revenue from increased activity at New Hythe of local and long-distance traders and their vessels. The growing importance of that activity to borough finances is reflected in the proclamation of 1382, mentioned above, which acknowledges the existence of a market at New Hythe, something absent from its 1256 version. Borough ordinances of 1406 had to make it clear that this market was subject to long-established practices: that it should operate only during the day, with no transactions permissible at night, and that all burgesses had the right to purchase a share in any arriving cargo that was imported for general sale (as opposed to by the commission of a specific burgess).

While it is conceivable the 1189 charter clause could have been generally aimed at trading taking place from private houses, in inns, or by street-pedlars, rather than in a public marketplace, this was a problem faced by all towns of any size and yet no other felt the need to go beyond local ordinances to address the matter. It seems more likely the authorities had in mind some particular trading venues that could be characterized as markets – albeit that in a Colchester ordinance of 1455 it was possible to categorize even a street-vendor as a 'market'. The clause seems unlikely to have been a pre-emptive strike against the soke of the Bishop of London, which lay between Head Street and the western town wall; although that soke maintained its own court for its tenants – a sore point with the borough authorities – those tenants were not numerous enough to warrant a separate market. A more realistic threat might have been a market established on the manor of Lexden, which lay at least partly within what Colchester considered its banlieu; though it might have been imprudent for the manorial lord to establish one so close to Colchester's. Lexden had probably been held by Eudo Dapifer and later descended through the St. Clare and other families to the Fitz-Walters, who were said to hold it of the king 'in free burgage' (on the grounds it was within the borough of Colchester), but there is no indication any of those lords sought to found a market, even though we hear of an unlicensed market there in 1615. Yet some Fitz-Walters strove to make Lexden independent of any borough claim to jurisdiction, resisting an obligation to perform suit at the borough lawhundreds, and this was a worry for the Colchester authorities.

Other possible, and perhaps more likely, targets of the clause are any market which may have existed in the southern suburb within the liberty of St. John's, and/or the informal market that was developing at New Hythe. Some of the concerns stemming from the latter are illustrated by court cases in April 1311, one involving an early-hours purchase of fish at New Hythe in order to sell them at higher price in the central market, and three concerning seven men and women who, having acquired fish (presumably at New Hythe) had later taken it into the market to resell, yet in the interim it had deteriorated and become unfit for consumption. Near New Hythe was another soke, under the lordship of, and named after, Hamo Dapifer (another of the king's leading officials), Round argued ["The 'Haymesocne' in Colchester", Transactions of the Essex Archaeological Society, n.s. vol.15 (1918) pp.79-80]. The clause can thus be seen as part of the drawn-out struggle between borough and other landlords – notably the abbey – for jurisdiction in parts of the banlieu; the preceding clause of the 1189 charter, confirming burgess hunting rights in the banlieu and fishery rights on the Colne, addressed the same underlying issue, as indeed did several other previous clauses (such as those concerning tolls) that were, however, more standard in borough charters of the period. If Richard I's charter was in large part a confirmation of an earlier royal charter, lost to us, it is probable the final two clauses, unique to Colchester, were new acquisitions in 1189.

The burgesses resented that the abbots considered not only the abbey precinct as not being part of the borough, but that they similarly viewed lands acquired through donations, particularly in the areas south and south-east of the town walls – notably Greenstead and West Donyland – and had assumed jurisdiction tantamount to a manor, thus challenging what the burgesses claimed as ancient rights in those areas. The abbot's court for West Donyland, held on St. John's Green, sought to claim jurisdiction, including administration of the assize of bread and ale, over the southern suburb and its burgesses, which would have obstructed the borough's ability to control commercial activities there. The unpopularity of the abbey with the burgesses is reflected in the scarcity of bequests to it in their wills. A jurisdictional contest was fought on a number of fronts, but St. John's fair was one of the more prominent; during fair-time, commerce in the borough marketplace would have suffered some adverse effects, not least because the fair officials were – the borough bailiffs claimed and the abbot denied – exacting tolls from traders wanting to pass through the suburb into the town on market day. The fair was being held on land that had at one time been part of the burgesses common fields, hence the the bailiffs' claim in 1289 that the abbey was supposed to compensate it with 3s. a year for the fair. The abbot, although not going so far as to claim the field as an adjunct to the abbey precinct, defended that the said field was outside the town and that the abbey had been accustomed to hold the fair without any financial liability to the borough. The borough would itself purchase in 1319, as part of a charter confirming and expanding its liberties, grant of an eight-day fair, to be held around the festival of St. Denis (October). This was held intramurally in an undeveloped space between the East Hill and St. Botolph's precinct; reference in 1310 to commerce taking place around that time might point to the fair having had an informal existence prior to the charter grant (but see above). This fair is mentioned again in 1381, when 2s.6d from picage was received by the borough's financial officer. and it continued to be held beyond the Middle Ages. However, the borough having its own fair did nothing to stem the quarrels, accusations, and counter-accusations, which continued into the fifteenth century.

A further possibility is that Colchester's fishery rights were being challenged at places further along the Colne. This was certainly the case by the 1420s, when the borough court rolls record repeated complaints that fishermen and oyster-dredgers of Fingringhoe, located a few miles south-east of Colchester on a tributary of the Colne, unwarrantedly held markets at spots including some within territory over which the borough claimed jurisdiction (Lexden) in order to sell their catches; these events were not weekly but at certain times of the year (notably Lent) and some were ad hoc; similar complaint was made of men of St. Osyth regarding a fishmarket they were alleged to hold at Rowhedge, just north of Fingringhoe, while men of Wivenhoe, Brightlingsea, Alresford, and other villages near the Colne were also accused of selling their catches outside a lawful market [G. M. Benton, "Irregular Markets held at Fingringhoe etc. temp. Henry VI" Transactions of the Essex Archaeological and Historical Society, vol. 21 (1932), pp.137-39 ]. Worse, such events attracted pedlars who would forestall the goods (presumably with a view to bringing them to Colchester to sell more dearly). These informal markets were considered to undermine Colchester's market rights at New Hythe, deprive Colchester burgesses of purchasing opportunities, and damage the borough's oyster beds. However, such complaints are not recorded in earlier rolls and cannot be tied directly to the prohibition of adulterine markets.

If the 1189 clause against unwarranted markets was intended to stifle competition within Colchester's hinterland, it was unnecessary, for the strength of the borough's own market, as well as its cloth industry, became sufficient to discourage other landlords from establishing rival events too close at hand. Although we have no evidence that the clause was ever formally invoked in court, in 1317 a series of accusations was made by a local jury, whose membership included a number of leading citizens, seemingly occasioned by a royal writ initiating quo warranto proceedings. The Abbot of St. John's was challenged for exercising leet jurisdiction within Colchester's banlieu (in Greenstead and West Donyland) and Robert Fitz-Walter for the same at Lexden; the abbot was also blamed for causing a drop in borough market business (by enclosing woodland and blocking its through-road used by country-dwellers frequenting the market), for enclosing burgess pasture by the river at New Hythe, and for installing a weir in the river that obstructed ships bringing goods to the borough.

But the abbey was not the only target for complaints. The owners of Essex markets at Coggeshall, Earls Colne, Manningtree, St. Osyth, and Salcott were accused that their markets were detrimental to Colchester's; this may have been because they all took place either on Monday or Saturday - presumably days when Colchester's markets were held at that period – or that may be a simple coincidence. There is no indication of any follow-up to these charges, and those concerning the market competition could hardly have been upheld in court since all markets challenged were beyond a five-mile radius of Colchester, were properly licensed, and had been operating for over sixty years without complaint; the Colchester authorities might have been testing out their charter clause – and the following year would pay to have their charter renewed by Edward II – though it seems doubtful the clause was really intended to be used against markets so far afield (the 1256 interpretation of the clause suggesting otherwise). The complaints simply reflect frustration with an increasingly competitive economic environment. Their timing may indicate heightened anxiety, in a period of repeated bad harvests, that grain from Colchester's hinterland was being siphoned off by those surrounding market towns [Richard Britnell, "Urban demand in the English economy," in J.A> Galloway, ed., Trade, Urban Hinterlands and Market Integration c.1300-1600, London: Centre for Metropolitan History, 2000, p.7]; the objections were, presumably, not worth pursuing once the crisis had passed. The absence from the list of complaints of any reference to a market associated with the southern suburb suggests that, if such a market did exist, it had either disappeared by now or was no longer considered serious competition to the central market, the borough-abbey settlement of ca.1255 perhaps having reduced the need for such a market. In the fifteenth century, when we have clear evidence of unlicensed markets arising just outside the banlieu, the borough authorities did not feel that their now-ancient protective clause could be used to suppress them; perhaps even they were doubtful of its applicability outside their sphere of jurisdiction.

The afore-mentioned frustration felt by the burgesses is a reflection of the overall unimpressive performance of Colchester's economy, relative to many other towns. Although the largest town in Essex, and with a population that had grown to somewhere over the 3,000 mark, Colchester assessments in national taxations indicate it neither especially prosperous nor populous, compared to other English towns of similar territorial size, and not even compared to some smaller Essex towns. Despite its importance as a provincial market, and the development of New Hythe – in terms of facilities, of a mariner sector within the population, and of interest in boat-owning – Colchester was not a great generator of exports nor a through-point for substantial imports, compared to Ipswich or even Harwich; so it produced few merchants who stood out from the crowd by building great wealth from international trade. The fairs held at Colchester were not among the more important English events; while able to draw traders from across East Anglia and from London, there is no indication they were of more than passing interest to foreign merchants. Despite Colchester's castle, which in the unsettled century following the Conquest offered security to royal administration, the role of county town, as defined by the holding of county judicial sessions, subsequently went to more centrally located Chelmsford. The cloth-making industry, although not evidently a major feature of the economy of either Colchester or its county in the twelfth century, had emerged in the early thirteenth to concentrate around the borough, taking advantage of its strong market, its role in the wool trade, and the presence of merchants; yet cloth-weaving did not stimulate either cloth-finishing or garment-making industries larger than necessary to satisfy local needs, and Colchester's cloth-makers lost ground in the last quarter of the century to newer centres in Essex, such as Coggeshall, to competition from Flemish imports, and to the proliferation of markets and merchants elsewhere in the county. That last may have found expression in the objections of 1317 (see above) against several small-town markets. This stagnation in Colchester's economy – or even decline relative to growth in smaller towns – continued to mid-century.

The borough's cloth-making industry regained strength in the latter half of the fourteenth century. This was partly by giving more emphasis to different types of product – originally known for its burels and russets, it continued with russets but now produced more chalons as well as some linen. But it was also thanks to the mechanization that encouraged proliferation of fulling mills (some converted from grain-mills), while thanks to the prices of its products becoming more competitive with cloth made abroad, Colchester cloth achieved better penetration of continental markets. At the same time leather-working, which had probably always been as important to the borough's economy as cloth-making, although again serving mainly local consumers, underwent an expansion; but this was short-lived, and cloth remained the most important industrial component during the Late Middle Ages. However, much of the trade in cloth was in the hands of Londoners or foreigners, while Colchester's own merchants tended to be unspecialized. Agrarian, pastoral, and dairy produce – both from Colchester's hinterland and from the burgesses' own fields within the banlieu – were perhaps always the mainstay of commerce in Colchester's market, with catches of the Colne fishery of some, though minor, importance, whilst wine, salt, spices, dyestuffs, and building materials featured prominently among known imports.

Notwithstanding the impact of outbreaks of plague – or perhaps even because of it, as lost population was replaced by new blood – Colchester underwent some recovery in the late fourteenth and fifteenth centuries; even before the first outbreak we see several local merchants leasing from the borough land at New Hythe on which to build quays and warehouses, and as the century progressed several local mills on the Colne were adapted for fulling. The continued viability of Colchester's trade in wool and cloth, even if exported mainly in Flemish ships, set the scene for the economic reforms of the 1370s by William Reyne, a dealer in both commodities. He had the moothall undercroft refurbished so that an unauthorized wool market, previously held in the hall and grounds of a house in the same neighbourhood, to the financial benefit of the householder, could be transferred to the undercroft and space therein leased out to wool dealers. Similarly, Reyne reorganized a 'fair' for woollen cloth, which had originated as events held a few days prior to the fairs of St. John's Abbey and the hospital of St. Mary Magdalene, but taking place within the town at inns, private houses, street corners and elsewhere, in an unregulated fashion; henceforth such cloth sales were to occur on the two days immediately preceding the opening of each fair, and were to be held in the moothall's porch and undercroft and in community-owned shops erected around the moothall. Householders were prohibited from allowing outsider merchants to use their premises to sell cloth, although locals were allowed more freedom for their own commerce in cloth. This challenge from an unlicensed town fair to the profitability of the extramural fairs does not seem to have given rise to any complaints from the abbey, though it must have rubbed salt in existing wounds.

These initiatives, along with greater regulation of craft activities in the fifteenth century, are indications of efforts to impose more control and extract more revenue for the borough budget in an environment where competition was up and profitability down. Yet that Colchester was not faring as badly as some towns is suggested by its failure to jump on the bandwagon of petitioning the king for a reduction in the borough farm on grounds of financial hardship. By the close of the fourteenth century Colchester, though no longer the dominant cloth manufacturing centre of Essex, had solidified its role as the principal cloth market. This lead it was able to sustain into the fifteenth, as both the cloth industry and cloth trade strove to adjust to decline in overseas markets as the century progressed, but as other parts of East Anglia similarly struggled with adversity.

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Created: December 31, 2018. Last update: April 5, 2020 © Stephen Alsford, 2018-2020