Situated roughly midway between Great Dunmow, to the north-east, and Harlow, to the south-west, with Bishop's Stortford (Herts.) a similar distance (about five miles) to the north-west, and Sawbridgeworth (Herts.) even closer on its west side, Hatfield Broad Oak would not want for market competition by the close of the thirteenth century. This competition would eventually take its toll, since Hatfield was not located directly on any important commerce-carrying through-road. But in the early post-Conquest centuries its market seems to have been of some regional consequence. Initial advantage probably stemmed from the fact that its parish, skirted by Roman Stane Street on its north side, was one of the largest in Essex, with, by the time of Domesday, the ninth largest population of any community in Essex and the sixth highest in assessed value a relative position that remained roughly the same according to data from the 1327 lay subsidy; though following the Black Death its population fluctuated and its overall fortunes declined. Hatfield had been the largest of King Harold's manors in the county and consequently came thereafter to King William and his successors; hence it became more commonly known as Hatfield Regis, or Kingeshatfeld. How great a portion of the Domesday population were residents of the village that was centrally placed within the parish we cannot be sure, but the church mentioned in Domesday was likely there, for foundations of a large rectangular structure, discovered in 1897 beneath the present church, are suspected of belonging to an eleventh-century church, which may have had a college of secular canons associated.
The village, which lay close to the confluence of two brooks the Pincey being fairly substantial tributaries of the River Stort, was significant enough to be represented by its own jury at the eyre of 1198; Beresford and Finberg considered this sufficient evidence to classify Hatfield Broad Oak as a borough, although it may simply have reflected the large size of the vill and its royal ownership. But we may also note that, in the hundredal enquiries of 1274/75, Hatfield was dealt with under its own heading, like the other urbanizing communities of Newport and Writtle, though again this may have been because it was a royal manor. The name of one of the common meadows, Tunmanmarsh (recalling Ipswich's Portman Meadow and Maldon's Portman Marsh) may be another indicator of an enhanced status of part of the Hatfield community. Missives from the king in 1235-36 to the residents of Hatfield, concerning manorial administration, were addressed to the 'good men' of Hatfield rather than the burgesses, but this only indicates the diversity of status of the manor's residents and by no means precludes there having been a burgess sector within that population.
A market is frequently mentioned in deeds of the late thirteenth century, and either its antiquity or borough status would help explain why no market licence seems to have existed. The case for antiquity is bolstered by the fact that market-day was a Sunday, which was stated in 1218 when it was altered to Saturdays it was still being held on that day in 1336 but the absence of licence is probably due at least as much to the fact that Hatfield was a royal manor. The settlement was occasionally referred to as Hatfield Chipping, by at least the reign of Edward II, though more commonly as Hatfield Regis, Hatfield atte Brodeok, or some combination of the two. The descriptor Broadoak became attached to the place before 1136, doubtless arising from some large survivor of clearance of that part of the ancient Hatfield Forest. An undated deed of late thirteenth or early fourteenth century [ERO, D/DBa T1/4], by which the manorial lord, Robert VI de Brus, exchanged land with Hatfield Regis Priory, described his contribution the East Field near his mill as lying beside a street connecting the marketplace and the broad oak. 'Hatfield' reflects the fact that royal forest was not all woodland, for it refers to an area of heathland, a type of landscape used for pasturing livestock.
Although the king was the largest Domesday tenant in Hatfield, there were others with landed interests there: Robert Gernon and Eustace de Boulogne (also known as Eustace aux Gernons, though no family relationship with Robert is implied). The absence of market or fair licences makes it trickier to identify specific fostering hands behind the urban development of Hatfield Regis, if such there were; indeed, we cannot even be sure that market and fair had the same owners. That, when the market-day was shifted in 1218, the royal authorization for this specifies no owner supports the argument that the king was the owner; and that the action was taken in the presence of the bishops of Winchester and London (the latter of whom had diocesan jurisdiction in Essex) and perhaps at their urging, suggests the underage king was setting a good example in support of the Church's opposition to Sunday markets. The order to the county sheriff to see that the day was changed was not a licence, though it included the proviso that the change be contingent on it not harming neighbouring markets. In fact, just a few years later, in 1223, the sheriff was ordered to see that a Saturday market at Sawbridgeworth, for which Geoffrey de Say had obtained a licence the previous year, be closed down, on the grounds of it being injurious to Hatfield's market; here too the impression is given of the king as market owner. A compromise was soon reached whereby the regency government agreed to Sawbridgeworth's market taking place on Fridays, conditional upon Henry III agreeing to this once he came of age; there is no record that Henry's endorsement was sought at that time, but in 1306, a later member of the Say family acquired a new licence for Sawbridgeworth's Friday market, without any known objection being subsequently raised.
In 1141 King Stephen granted Hatfield to the earl of Essex, Geoffrey II de Mandeville, but his revolt just a few years later ended his tenancy, and thereafter the manor was farmed out to a series of tenants, up to 1306, when Robert VII de Brus forfeited it after taking the Scottish throne; since their possession was determinate, none of these tenants needed to be concerned with any licence for market or fair. Two-thirds of the manor was thereafter farmed to the priory at Hatfield, the other third being allowed as dower to Robert's step-mother. But in 1307 the manor was granted jointly to Humphrey de Bohun Earl of Essex and Hereford, and beneficiary of many of the estates forfeited by de Brus and to his wife, Edward II's sister; the grant included timber rights, although the king reserved his hunting rights in the forest. Humphrey licensed markets and fairs at Enfield (Middx.), Fobbing (Essex), and Pinchbeck (Lincs.), but did not see any need to obtain one for Hatfield. Hatfield was forfeited by him in turn, after he died in rebellion (1322), but restored to his son John following the fall of Edward II, which occasioned an extent [ERO, D/DBa M10, 11] being taken of the two-thirds share of the manor not tied up by dower rights. The manor remained with the Bohun male line until it failed in the final years of Edward III's reign.
The Benedictine priory at Hatfield and its original and later landed endowments came to form an independent manor. It was founded (or perhaps converted from the posited secular college) by Aubrey II de Vere ca. 1135, as a cell of an abbey in Brittany; the origins and scope of the de Veres' landed interests in Hatfield are not clear, but it must have been ancient since it included the parish church, whose assets were part of Aubrey's endowment of the priory. The church itself was largely demolished, replaced by the priory church which did, however, incorporate the eastern wall of the parish church; in consequence, the new church did double-duty to both monastic and lay communities, until violent disputes between the two resulted in alterations in 1378 to divide the church into separate facilities for each. The de Veres always claimed the patronage of the priory, although this was disputed by the Breton abbot, and Robert de Vere, 3rd earl of Oxford, may have been buried there in 1221 certainly a monument with his effigy was installed later in that century. Whether the de Veres had any role in the development of a town at Hatfield Broad Oak or in the initiation of an apparently unlicensed fair there cannot be said with any confidence. We may note that the fair, first documented in the extent taken of the manor in 1328, was held around the Nativity of the Virgin Mary, to which saint the parish church and priory were dedicated, though this September festival was a moderately common choice for holding fairs. It would certainly be credible for the de Veres to have fostered a fair associated with, and perhaps benefitting, the priory, but it could also been an initiative of the priory itself. By 1460 the fair had been shifted into July, around the festival of St. James; the author of the Victoria County History section on Hatfield Broad Oak speculated that this may have been associated with a venue shift northwards a couple of miles to the green at Thremhall, adjacent to Stane Street (which ran from Colchester towards Bishop's Stortford and beyond), and near a priory there dedicated to St. James; the fair is documented as being held there in the sixteenth century.
Hatfield's marketplace lay at the junction of two local roads: Cage End, approaching from the south (at which end was later located the parish cage, or lock-up), ascending from the Mus brook and known as Mosebrook Street by the fifteenth century; and the High Street, approaching from the east. Both of these connected to a southern through-road between Chelmsford and Bishop's Stortford; the High Street terminated at a fork, one branch of which headed northwards to Dunmow, while the southwards branch was known as the Broad Street (first mentioned ca.1260). Tenements along both sides of Cage End and the High Street probably represent the focus of both the Domesday village and medieval town; an estate map of 1624 shows blocks of terraced houses along the High Street and Cage End the product of densification stimulated by a once-important market but on Langbridge Street and Broad Street mostly detached buildings: cottages and farmhouses. The junction of Cage End and High Street today forms a triangular space, but property boundaries suggest that this shape resulted from gradual infilling some of the encroaching buildings still incorporate fourteenth-century fabric and that the original marketplace was a much larger square. Cage End entered the square at the south-western corner, the High Street at the south-eastern corner, while a third street ascended to the north-western corner after bridging the Pincey brook; this last is now Feathers Hill, though in the thirteenth century was referred to as Langbridge Street, implying the bridge, for whose maintenance the priory was responsible, was then in existence. Flanking either side of the north-eastern corner was the churchyard, with the priory site immediately north of that. The line of Cage End continued north of the marketplace, skirting the churchyard, but in the form of a minor lane, perhaps used only to access church and priory; on the rare occasions when mentioned it was called Churchgate or Churchweye. The fair was held in a field behind the residential tenements on the west side of Cage End and south side of Feathers Hill; this was known as Chipping Field and it was connected to Langbridge Street by Chipping Street (first mentioned ca.1280). A little further south, near where Cage End crossed the Mus, was a manor-house, though of a subsidiary manor in Hatfield, known as Hatfield Bury (the Gernon holding in Domesday), the site of Hatfield Regis manor-house being lost to us.
The inquisition post mortem (1304) on Robert VI de Brus indicates that he had farmed out Hatfield's market for 13s.4d annually, an amount that does not suggest heavy business. Yet the 1328 extent taken of the manor, embodying a rental, shows the market as containing over three dozen stalls and 14 shops, and flanked by 14 houses (probably mainly along the High Street), while other shops and artisan workshops were along the streets running off the marketplace; some shops were owned by the priory. The market tenants were listed separately from those who held agricultural properties [Royal Commission on Historical Manuscripts, Seventh Report, London, 1879, Pt.1, p.587], a further indication of the special status of that neighbourhood within the manor. Although there are no landless messuages among the few final concords pertaining to Hatfield Broad Oak, several deeds deal with the conveyance of shops or stall-sites there. The stall-sites seem unusually large: one measured 11 ft. by 6.5 ft., another 27 ft. by 8 ft., while a deed of 1452 mentions three pieces of land (27x28 ft., 15x12 ft., and 27x16 ft.) not explicitly identified as stall-sites, but generating only a few pence in rent and associated with, or adjacent to properties of, men with artisanal surnames; it cannot be said whether non-standard sizes were typical or the result of holders accumulating multiple adjacent sites.
By 1624 the west side of the marketplace featured a row of shops which extended out into Cage End, leaving a passage no wider than an alleyway, known as Butchers Lane (mentioned as early as 1361); this might point to a shambles, unless named after a resident. Apart from the shops, one of the earliest encroachments must have been by a well-built fourteenth-century structure still incorporated within a larger building at the north-west corner of the marketplace, opposite the entrance to Feathers Hill; with its upper storey originally open, and still called the Old Court House, it is believed to have served that purpose when built, though which manor it served is uncertain. The church is known to have been used for court sessions of the Priory manor in the late twelfth century, presumably including the view of frankpledge and assizes of bread and ale which it was, during the hundredal investigations of Edward I's early years, accused of holding by unknown warrant. Another possible early encroachment on the marketplace was a hall used by the socio-religious gild of St. Mary, founded 1362/63 partly to maintain a light at the altar of that saint in the parish church, though subsequently involving itself in charitable works.
Domesday portrays Hatfield as increasing, between 1066 and 1086, about double in value and less dramatically in population; the large number of plough-teams recorded points to considerable areas of arable, but there were also high numbers of pigs and sheep and ample woodland and pasture in which to keep them. Sheep are still documented as having a strong presence on the manorial demesne in 1377/78, though not pigs. It is not surprising, then, to find that in the fourteenth century there was a tannery on Langbridge Street and in 1338 we encounter the son of a tanner disposing of a shop in the marketplace; nor that, in the next century, the manorial officials included inspectors of leather goods manufactured in the town, along with the more usual officials keeping an eye on the quality of ale and fish sold. Although the wool trade is not much evidenced at Hatfield, the 1377/78 manorial accounts show wool sales as a component of revenue. The 1328 rental also shows tailors, a hatter, a draper, and a vintner a degree of specialization not typical of a village.
Further reflections of occupational range within Hatfield's community come from the large number of local deeds that have survived, held in the Essex Record Office [the main series being D/DBa T1] and other archives; most are from the thirteenth century, especially its second half, and first half of the fourteenth, with a much smaller number from the fifteenth. One of the oldest (ca.1240) evidences the presence in Hatfield of several individuals, at least some related, with the surname Mercator, still seen in the early fourteenth, as does an undated deed among the Lowndes Manuscripts [Royal Commission on Historical Manuscripts, op.cit., p.580]; we may reasonably suspect, though cannot be certain, that the surname reflects the occupational activity of at least some of these persons. However, no residents whose occupation is clearly stated as mercantile are seen from that period. One of the seals appended to a deed of 1447 bears a merchant's mark, and a mercer witnessed a deed of 1489, but this is meagre evidence for large-scale commercial activity based in Hatfield Broad Oak.
Commerce is also tangentially indicated in surnames meaning porter, carter and sumpter (the last the driver of a pack-horse train). Other surnames or explicit occupational designations suggest only a slightly wider range of artisanal activities than those typical of larger vills of the thirteenth century. It is no surprise to find numbers of bakers and several cooks (though only one brewer), along with smiths, carpenters (one of whom is seen conveying a shop in the market to a baker's son), a turner, and a couple of cobblers; the miller and the laundress are likewise to be expected in such a community. Less commonly found are a marler, a cooper, at least one hooper, and even a goldsmith. Leather-working industries are little evidenced through deeds not until the fourteenth century do their witnesses include tanners and a skinner but the cloth industry rather better. Draper was the surname of only one Hatfield man, but several bore the surnames Taillour or Le Folur (fuller), although only one weaver and no dyers are evidenced. The existence of stocks of cloth in Hatfield is implied in two records: the complaint of a Hatfield jury, in the hundredal investigations of 1274, that William Bollington, when bailiff of the manor, had abused his power through extortions, including keeping Peter Strongbowe in prison until he handed over an ox and a pack of linen cloth worth 20s.; and in 1316 when the pardon of a burglar for breaking into the house of Adam de Branketre one of the more prominent Hatfield residents of that period, whose brother owned one of the houses facing onto the marketplace indicates that the stolen goods comprised only woollen cloths. It is likely that Hatfield Regis was able to take advantage of a general growth in the cloth industry and trade of that region of western Essex, but that its involvement was more in the customizing and sale side rather than manufacture; it shows no sign of having captured, at any period, a sizable share of the cloth trade, however.
Rather than the post-medieval centuries seeing Hatfield expand, it instead underwent some contraction; taxation data indicates a decline in population, and therefore taxable wealth, in both absolute terms and relative to some other regional market settlements. The Dissolution contributed to this process by removing the priory as well as the associated gild of St. Mary, although the former was only a modest community, of no great wealth and comprising a couple of dozen consumers, that had to be subjected to financial reforms in 1338. The previous and subsequent expansion of a modest estate at Hatfield (and elsewhere) originally granted by Henry I to one of his foresters, Eustace de Barenton, would eventually consume farms of a number of smallholders, thus reducing the volume of local business in Hatfield's market. The trans-generational acquisitions of the Barrington family prominent among Essex gentry by the early fifteenth century, and purchasing the priory manor after the Dissolution included the sizable holdings already built up from the late thirteenth century by the locally prominent Robert Taper. Taper's wealth is indicated not only by his real estate much of it acquired after (though not apparently as a direct result of) his marriage to the widow of the well-to-do Adam de Longo Ponte (Langbridge) but by his expenditure on renovations, enlargement, and beautification of the priory church; in 1323 he endowed the priory with over a hundred acres of land in Hatfield and in Cambridgeshire to fund a chantry. Though it is not known whether Taper was personally involved in commerce, this seems the likeliest way his large surplus capital was built; his initial property seems to have been in Chipping Street and Chipping Field, and he granted the priory a shop in 1331. The form of his surname, although never rendered as 'le Taper', suggests an occupation possibly a candle-maker or some role in the cloth industry ( tapener or tapicer) but I have encountered no other individual with this precise surname, so that a nickname looks a possibility, or perhaps a corruption of d'Ypres, since that surname is also found at Hatfield.
Equally fundamental to Hatfield Broad Oak's decline was the growth in fortunes of other market towns in the region, particularly those on, or closer to, Stane Street, such as Great Dunmow and Bishop's Stortford. The latter, purchased from the Conqueror by the Bishop of London, was very well-placed within the communications system, its community focused around church and a crossroads marketplace; although the market is not documented until 1346, by that time it was flourishing we hear that its surrounds included a Spicery Row and Mercery Row, in addition to areas assigned to fishmongers and butchers and Bishop's Stortford had attained borough status (unchartered). The impact of rivals on Hatfield's market was gradual rather than catastrophic; that commercial travellers were still passing through Hatfield in 1348 is indicated by Edward III's confirmation of his queen's grant to a yeoman of the chamber of the income from tolls on carts and packhorses passing through the royal park there. Royal interest in Hatfield Broad Oak seems always to have focused more on the park, which occupied about a hundred acres, and forest there rather than any market community, nor should we expect otherwise. In the second half of the fourteenth century, mentions of Hatfield in the national records never great become less frequent and minor (apart from the parishioners' assault on the priory in 1378). The subsequent transfer of Hatfield's fair away from the town centre to beside Stane Street was likely an effort to recapture some of the trade being lost to more favourably situated towns, while hard times for Hatfield's market are reflected in the post-medieval period by the progressive demolition of some of the buildings and shops that had arisen within the marketplace, as well as some of the residences lining the High Street; some shops seem to have been converted into almshouses. Hatfield Broad Oak slowly reverted to the condition of a village.