Manningtree whose main claim to fame today is that it is England's smallest town (although Fordwich claims the same) is situated on the south bank of the River Stour, at the point where, joined by the Brett, the Stour widens significantly to form an estuary that stretches eastwards some ten miles before merging with the Orwell and heading south to enter the North Sea at Harwich Harbour. On the north bank of the Stour is Suffolk, while south of it lay Tendring Hundred in Essex. Tidal waters reached about as far as Manningtree and the river there was being described as 'salt water' from at least the late thirteenth century.
Manningtree's relationship with the river naturally played a prominent role in its commercial development; without that geographical advantage Manningtree would have found it difficult to develop a viable market of other than purely local utility, given that Colchester was only eight miles to the south-west, Ipswich not much more to the north-west, Sudbury (at the limit of Stour navigation) within a day's return journey to the west, and Harwich was developing at the eastern end of the estuary. Within that ring of more important towns, there were few other markets. Dedham, further inland on the Stour, would develop as a possible rival, but only slowly and its market was never licensed. Just south of what would become Manningtree was the manor of Mistley, which took its name from the same parish within which Manningtree lay, and further south still the manor of Ditchley, also within Mistley parish; all were manors mentioned in Domesday, though Manningtree was therein called Sciddinchou. Mistley was perhaps the older (and certainly the less populous) settlement in fact, a Roman road connected it to Colchester, suggesting the possibility of a port in the vicinity at that time but did not develop urban characteristics during the Middle Ages. Yet the parish church was there, so that Manningtree, on the edge of the parish, could only be served by what was at first a chapel; for Manningtree began essentially as a hamlet within Mistley.
The story of Manningtree's development as a market town begins with the Domesday manor of Sheningho. The precise location of this is no longer known, though it incorporated what would become Manningtree, and may have been in the eastern part of Mistley, extending into Bradfield. A royal charter of ca.1176, confirming donations of land to St. Bartholomew's Priory, London, included the gift of William de Ramis descendant of the Domesday lord of Mistley and Bradfield and possibly connected by marriage to Earl Aubrey de Vere of the church of Bradfield, while Richard I's recapitulation (1190) added the chapel at Manningtree (rendered 'Mannester') in association with Bradfield's church [E. A. Webb, ed. The Records of St. Bartholomew's Priory and St. Bartholomew the Great, West Smithfield, Oxford, 1921, vol. 1, pp. 101, 482]. In 1262, Hubert de Ruilly quitclaimed any right he had to the advowson of the church and to property in Bradfield to that priory, which granted him and his heirs spiritual benefits in return; this suggests Hubert might have been lord of Bradfield at that time. In 1086 Sheningho manor had belonged to Adelaide, half-sister of William the Conqueror and Countess of Aumale. It was not an especially valuable estate, with only modest numbers of residents and livestock, though it had a mill and a fishery. An extent taken in 1278/79 [translation in J. Y. Watson, Tendring Hundred in the olden time, Colchester, 1877, p.73] identifies about 237 acres of fields, meadows, pasture, and one-time woods (by then felled), with only a few acres consumed by marsh; a watermill is mentioned, as is a revenue of 40s. in tolls, for by this date a market had been formalized.
In 1238 Hubert de Ruilly had been granted a licence for a Monday market and fairs at Sheningho, held of the Earls of Aumale. Samantha Letters, in compiling her Gazetteer of Markets and Fairs, felt that the evidence for the Sheningho licence was problematic, because a Pipe Roll entry (1241) recording the fine of a goshawk due from Hubert for market and fair at 'Techningo' referred to him as Earl of Oxford, while the Close Roll instruction to the sheriff to permit the market does not refer to a fair. However, these discrepancies need not perturb us, for there are two explanations available. One would have the clerk compiling the Pipe Roll of 1241 inattentive, or having an off-day. In referencing a source document for his information, not only did he incorrectly transcribe the place-name, but mixed up adjacent entries in his source. The Close Roll instruction to the sheriff regarding Hubert's licence is followed immediately by a similar entry concerning grant of a Monday market at Prittlewell, at the other end of Essex, to the Earl of Oxford; the corresponding Charter Roll entries were too damaged to enable complete transcription in the calendar, but the Prittlewell licence immediately precedes another licence, which was probably that for Sheningho. The Charter Roll entry supports the Pipe Roll in showing that both market and fair were licensed.
The second explanation comes from the Fine Rolls for Henry III's reign, which at the time Letters was working had not yet been made available in calendared form. An undated entry on the roll for 1237/38 [m.1] records that Hubert de Ruylly, steward of the Earl of Oxford, was to give a hawk for the right to hold markets and fairs at Sheddon. Though simpler, this explanation is not without its difficulty. The earl of that time, Hugh de Vere was very active in market-founding but is not known to have had an intermediate lordship over Sheningho though he had a manor at Ramsey, further east along the estuary, and the small manor of Ditchley, in Mistley, was held of later earls so there is no reason to think Hubert might have been acting on the earl's behalf. The licence was clearly issued to Hubert in his own right and with implicit transferability to his heirs; why then bother to qualify Hubert by stating his post? It was not customary to specify the 'claim to fame' of licence recipients of lesser standing. Such a detail might be less enigmatic, however, if the earl had sponsored Hubert's application and as the subsidiary records indicate, the impression is that both were together at court (then at Windsor) on the same day. A confused or distracted Pipe Roll clerk may be the reason for 'steward of' being dropped. It is plausible then that Hubert was steward of the earl's Essex holdings.
Neither Hubert de Ruilly (or Royly, or other variants) nor any other member of his family is evidenced much in England until after Henry III had reached the age of majority. He is possibly the Hubert Fitz-Richard seen acquiring property rights in Sheningho in 1222 or, more likely, the Hubert Fitz-Simon granted Sheningho and Godlesford by William de Forz, titular Earl of Aumale, prior to 1250. In 1255 Sir Hubert de Ruly and Sir Richard de Ruly (probably father and son) were witnesses together to a marriage contract between the Essex families of Basset and Tany. We may reasonably speculate that the family originated from Reuilly in Poitou and perhaps had some association with the Poitevin step-father of Henry III, Hugh X de Lusignan; Wright [The History and Topography of the County of Essex, vol.2, London, 1835, p.782] identified a Roger of Poitou, also holder of one of the Colchester burgages, as a Domesday tenant in Bradfield, but I find no grounds for this. Hubert entered King Henry's service and in 1236 was appointed keeper of Colchester castle, a post with which the bailiwick of Tendring Hundred had become closely associated. The grant of market licence at Sheningho, if not a favour to the Earl of Oxford, might be interpreted as a royal favour to assure loyalty or intent to assist Hubert establishing himself in East Anglia; the manor of Kersey (Suff.), situated on the River Brett and close to the Ipswich-Sudbury road, may have been another royal reward to Hubert.
When, in 1242, Hugh X led a Poitevin rebellion against his Capetian overlord, Henry took a force to support him and Hubert was in the king's retinue. The ensuing battle at Taillebourg ended in an English flight and it may have been in this context that Hubert committed some offence to the king, though he regained royal goodwill by surrendering the manor of Kersey, which Henry in 1243 granted to his loyal servant (sheriff of Essex and other counties and briefly justiciar) Philip Basset, who had provided more satisfactory service in Poitou; he, a decade later, endowed Kersey with a market licence and his daughter married into the family of Bigod, which developed Harwich as a market and port. Earlier generations of the Basset family had engaged in town-founding and market licensing. Hubert's prospects may have further diminished when Hugh de Vere became aligned somewhat with the baronial opposition to Henry III mid-century and, after Hugh's death (1263), his son Robert continued in that affiliation, to his temporary discomfiture; where the Ruilly family stood in the conflict is not known, but Hubert had the sense to pay his debts to the king before de Vere's political position was conspicuous. In 1270 Hubert, or possibly his son, was to have accompanied Prince Edward on a crusade that was aborted upon the death of Henry III.
Another of Hubert's landed possessions was the manor of Cattawade, just north-west of Manningtree, across the county border in Suffolk, and connected to Manningtree by causeway and bridge over the Stour. He was canny enough to take out a market licence for Cattawade too the king advising the Exchequer in 1247 that the fee of a goshawk had been paid; Hubert was in Ireland on the king's business during part of 1247, which is perhaps why he was tardy in paying the Cattawade licence fee. By this means he tapped directly into commercial travel on the Ipswich-Colchester road, and possibly ships unloading on the northern side of the estuary terminus, while Manningtree's market as the east-west orientation of its market street (see below) indicates was tied more to estuary traffic and perhaps the coastal road into the Tendring peninsula, to Dovercourt and Harwich. A reflection of the value of the commercial traffic on the road between Ipswich and Colchester, passing slightly east of Manningtree, is seen in the effort, underway 1359, by Cattawade's hermit and a man of Brantham (just north of Cattawade, which was within Brantham parish) to erect a chapel by the bridge, where donations towards maintenance of bridge and causeway could be solicited, in the form of alms, and divine services celebrated for benefactors of such works.
Among other of Hubert's estates was the manor of Bradfield, three miles east of Manningtree on the road to Harwich an inquisition post mortem of 1342 declaring John de Brokesburn to be holding Bradfield of Hubert's heirs; John seems to have acquired it in 1313 from William Fraunk senior of Harwich, perhaps as a marriage settlement. Brokesburn, also lord of the manor of Mistley (between Bradfield and Manningtree), or possibly a like-named son, acquired a market licence for Bradfield in 1320, which could indicate that an unlicensed market existed during Hubert's lordship and perhaps reflects another component of a plan to control commerce from ships using the Stour estuary, something on which Harwich would later build its fortunes. A final concord of 1313 described the manor as in Bradfield by Manningtree, indicating which was the more prominent community; it showed the appurtenances to include rents in Mistley. In the late fourteenth century Bradfield came, by marriage, to the Bourchier family. The Fine Roll for 1249/50 shows Hubert purchasing (for 100 herons and 100 cormorants) the right of free warren in his manor of Sheddon Bradfield, which may point to him having consolidated, administratively, his two holdings along the south bank of the Stour. Furthermore, Hubert had some holdings in Suffolk, including the manor of Godlesford (Domesday Guthulvesford, location now uncertain, but probably Gusford in Belstead parish on the outskirts of Ipswich), also held of the Earls of Aumale.
In 1274/75 an ageing Hubert de Ruilly, having a few years earlier purchased an exemption from jury service and from appointment to shrieval or other royal posts, handed over Sheningho the name still rendered as Schydyngho and corruptible to Sheddon to his son, Master Hubert de Ruilly (presumably a cleric), along with his other lands and tenants in Essex and Suffolk, in return for an annual pension of 24 marks. But Matilda de Clare, Countess of Gloucester and Hertford, had her eyes on Sheningho and, over the course of the next decade, acquired ownership. Her interest is first documented in 1279, when Master Hubert firstly leased to her a messuage and carucate of land for life, at an annual rent of £20, with reversion to him and his heirs Thomas son of Sir Richard de Ruilly registering his claim, for he had been provided by his uncle Hubert with income in the form of rents, including one from Sheningho and 4d. from John the sailor in Manningtree. Soon afterwards this Thomas quitclaimed his rights to all properties formerly of his grandfather, Sir Hubert, in Suffolk and Essex Mistley, Sheningho, and Manningtree all being explicitly included among the locations, and his market rights in Manningtree also being mentioned; among the witnesses to this deed was William Fraunk, tenant of the manor of Bradfield. Within the next few years Master Hubert had granted the countess the entire manor of Sheningho outright. The countess further acquired from Geoffrey de Ruilly his estate at Godlesford, and from a local widow not known to be affiliated with the Ruilly family a windmill in Sheningho and the hill on which it stood. In 1284 and 1286 she acquired pieces of land that Sir Hubert had alienated before granting her the manor.
Countess Matilda's acquisition of Sheningho was not followed by her renewing its market licence, as ought to have been done by a new lord. The terms of the licence issued to Hubert de Ruilly are illegible on the Charter Roll, but the Close Roll describes it as a perpetual grant, which likely means it was to Hubert and his heirs, into which category there is no reason to think the countess fell. Yet the manorial extent of 1278/79 evidently taken as part of a post mortem on Hubert, his widow Isabel holding a third part in dower suggests that the market was doing a decent business. It may be that the wealthy countess not only the wife of a leading earl but daughter of the Earl of Lincoln whose competitive nature made her one of the more litigious individuals of her time, felt no need for the legal protection a licence provided against rivals: the fate of Hubert's market in neighbouring Cattawade is unknown, but nothing further is heard of it. There was no potential challenge from Bradfield's market, which was decades away from being licensed. while the markets at Ipswich, Colchester, and Harwich were distant enough that she might reasonably expect to fend off any attempt at suppression from those quarters. More probable, however, is that the ageing countess did not acquire Sheningho for her own financial benefit, but as part of a project to obtain spiritual benefits. Around 1284 she re-founded a Devon priory of Augustinian canons, subsequently known as Canonsleigh, as an abbey for canonesses of the same order. Leigh Priory had been founded ca.1160, but the community had dwindled to only a handful of canons; they, for reasons unclear, were forcefully evicted, making way for the nuns, the first of whom were imported from Lacock Abbey (founded by the mother of the wife of the aforementioned Philip Basset).
The compiler of the abbey's cartulary held that Countess Matilda's purchase of Sheningho was from the outset done with the intent of re-founding and endowing the religious house; in return for her generosity, the nuns were to say prayers for the soul of her late husband, for whom she had already built an impressive tomb in Tewkesbury Abbey, and she doubtless anticipated something similar for her own soul. Matilda planned to endow the nunnery not just with Manningtree, but with five manors. Yet by her death only two had actually been transferred, one of those being Sheningho, along with Godlesford; Robert de Vere, Earl of Oxford, was the leading witness to the former transaction. This lack of progress was partly due to legal proceedings as the old canons tried, unsuccessfully, to regain possession of the priory and its existing endowment, the canonesses' cause being championed by Archbishop Peckham of Canterbury.
The same difficulty may help explain why the abbess of Canonsleigh did not pursue, as she ought have, a licence renewal for the market at Sheningho/Manningtree. This failure does not seem due to any lack of interest in that kind of asset, for in 1286 Edward I made separate grants to the abbey of a Wednesday market and five-day fair at Leigh; this may have been at the instance of Matilda's son, the influential Earl Gilbert de Clare, who witnessed both charters; Edward also renewed the priory's existing fair at Thorne St. Margaret (Somerset) given it by the lord of Thorne in the early thirteenth century and extended it from one to three days duration. It is therefore that much more surprising that no renewal of the licence for the Manningtree commercial institutions likely more profitable is known; despite its distance from the abbey, Sheningho was the most valuable of the abbey's outlying properties [Des Atkinson. "Canonsleigh Abbey: a Thriving Devon Nunnery?" Ex Historia, vol.7 (2015), pp.13-14]. The problem may have been that the abbey, lacking all the endowments it needed, had to focus its revenues mainly on supporting the growing community of nuns and had little to spare for capital expenditures. Furthermore, its patrons and supporters disappeared from the scene: the countess dying ca. 1288, her son Earl Gilbert in 1295 (leaving only an infant as head of the family), Archbishop Peckham in 1292, and Robert de Vere in 1296. The last two decades of Edward I's reign saw the abbey engaging in only a few property transactions: acquiring some minor lands adjacent to their own at Sheningho, such as a dyke adjacent to the River Meadow, and letting plots of land, as well as receiving some donations of rents.
Around 1312 the abbey seems to have become alarmed about its tenure of its endowment, for it obtained quitclaims to the same from the son of Thomas de Ruilly, whose branch of the family had transferred its seat west to Finchingfield, where in 1280 a 19-acre property was allocated by Richard de Ruilly's widow to his daughter, and from the male head of another Ruilly branch, now relocated eastwards to Ramsey-next-Harwich (which Morant believed was held of the Earl of Oxford by the family tempore Henry III). The quitclaims explicitly included the market rights at Manningtree. During the hundredal enquiries at the beginning of Edward I's reign, no challenge had been made to Hubert de Ruilly's market, although his right to hold view of frankpledge and assizes of bread and ale at Sheningho and Manningtree were questioned, though not followed up with quo warranto proceedings; the hundred juries were able to clearly differentiate the two places, an accusation about the exercise of free warren relating solely to manorial Sheningho, while a charge that certain bailiffs of Manningtree one being a Cattawade man had distrained for debts on others than the principal debtors tends to reinforce the character of Manningtree as a commerce-focused community. Perhaps the lack of a market licence was becoming felt by 1312. Five years later, when Colchester complained of four regional markets it considered injurious to its own, the abbess' Monday market at Manningtree then described as a town was among them and the phrasing of the complaint suggests the Colchester authorities knew Manningtree had no licence, for it indicated that the king was also injured because the abbess imposed market tolls. The complaint was toothless and there is no reason to think it affected market activity at Manningtree. But still the abbey made no effort to acquire a licence; by this time patronage had passed from the Clare family to the Despensers, who probably had little interest in an abbey whose financial difficulties would lead, in 1320, to organizational reform, setting it on the path to living within its means [On the abbey's financial administration, see Vera London's introduction to The Cartulary of Canonsleigh Abbey, Devon & Cornwall Record Society, n.s.,vol.8 (1965), and Des Atkinson. op. cit.]. By the late fourteenth century, while renting out more of its property, the abbey retained manorial jurisdiction over almost all with the exception of distant Manningtree, which was leased out.
Several abbey-written documents, undated but pre-1309, in the English edition of the abbey cartulary (compiled as part of the reforms of 1320) refer to Manningtree as a borough. None of the pre-1286 grants, by or to the Ruilly family, do so; apart from Thomas de Ruilly's quitclaim of 1279, they mention only Sheningho and refer to it as a manor or villata. One abbey lease described the property in question as in the hamlet of Manningtree, but excluded from it the public road leading to the borough of Manningtree. In two of the abbey documents the reference has been translated as 'free borough', but in other sources we hear of the 'free burgage', or simply 'burgage', of Manningtree [A Descriptive Catalogue of Ancient Deeds, H.M.S.O. vol.1 (1890), C.883, now National Archives C 146/883, undated but thirteenth century; Calendar of Close Rolls 1374-1377, p.350]. Yet we continue to encounter references to Manningtree as a hamlet [e.g. Cat. of Ancient Deeds, vol.1, C.847, dated 1318; National Archives C 131/34/4, dated 1387].
While conceivable enough that Canonsleigh Abbey could have founded a borough at Manningtree, its limited resources might have made such a project challenging and low-priority. It is perhaps more likely that Hubert de Ruilly, taking his inspiration from his employer the Earl of Oxford, did so in conjunction with acquisition of the market licence. The name 'Manitre' whose meaning has never been convincingly interpreted, although we may note that the suffix 'tre' was an ancient word for settlement is first encountered, applied to a settlement, just a decade after the market licence was issued for Sheningho, and in Edward I's reign the two are often clearly distinguished. Manningtree might have been a new plantation, or since its name embodies no element typical of settlements newly-planted on virgin soil we could see it as an expansion of an existing fishermen's hamlet (whose chapel, as indicated above, is heard of in 1190) within the manor of Sheningho, through new houses, to be held by burgage tenure, built in the vicinity of the licensed market. Beyond those characteristics, and its location at the head of the estuary, there is little evident to distinguish Manningtree as a borough in the sense that historians today use the term. Yet it was perhaps its potential as a port, not b;y that time fully realized, that could have prompted Ruilly to make an investment in developing the coastal area in the north-west of Sheningho manor, and later licensing a second marketplace at Cattawade. There is, however, little surviving evidence of burgage tenements, and even the modest number of landless messuages identified within the Essex Feet of Fines is problematic, as some relate to Mistley rather than Manningtree.
Manningtree's topography offers some support for the idea of a planted, or partially planted, settlement. The compact site seems to have been based around a minor east-west through-road, a stretch of which became Manningtree's High Street (perhaps the Broad Street referenced in medieval deeds), and an approach road sloping down from the south (South Street), edging through Sheningho/Mistley. On the east side of the crossroads, where these two streets intersected, the High Street widened into a funnel-shaped stretch and this is assumed to have been the marketplace; a later market cross stood beside the crossroads, and most medieval structural remains are in this vicinity, two of them with features suggestive of public buildings, so that one might have been a tollhouse. To north and south of the High Street run roughly parallel but relatively short streets, those to the north (Quay Street and North Street) close to the riverside perhaps closer in the Middle Ages than today, as there is evidence of post-medieval build-up of the waterfront between the northern-most streets and the river; those streets might themselves represent the medieval quayside. Wharf facilities were probably focused near the northern end of South Street. Whether these several lesser streets represent a grid pattern (similar to the layout at Harwich) or are simply back lanes to the High Street properties is unclear, nor can we be certain whether they are contemporary with the expansion of part of the High Street into a marketplace, or a later phase of development.
This modest set of streets probably represents the extent of medieval Manningtree. The small area, along with an otherwise inexplicable deviation in the route of South Street, has given rise to speculation that a protective enclosure may have existed [Reported in Maria Medlycott, Manningtree - Historic Towns Assessment Report, Essex County Council,1999, p.7]. If so, its west side was probably bounded by a brook (presumably stretching to the river), which would explain the later name of a street along the outer bank of the watercourse, as well as a local surname evidenced in a deed of 1474; Brook Street does not appear to have been part of the burgage district but an area of cottages, often occupied by weavers in the post-medieval period. On the other hand, construction of a stone wall would surely have been an unwarrantedly expensive project for cash-poor Hubert de Ruilly or, even more so, for Canonsleigh Abbey with its limited revenues. The street known today as The Walls is unlikely to have anything to do with a walled enclosure, but probably hearks back to an embankment/causeway to protect from the sea. The precise location of the Sheningho manor-house relative to the burghal component is not known, but was south of the burgage district and connected to the chapel (location also uncertain) by a lane.
If Hubert de Ruilly intended to found a borough, it is not likely to have been the semi-autonomous community that we think of today, but rather a settlement whose market and harbour would attract commerce, building a local prosperity that would fuel manorial revenues via rents and tolls. Nor is it likely the abbey would have encouraged any aspiration by residents to break free of seigneurial control. The gradual success of Manningtree as a port, however, encouraged the growth of local industry and makes Manningtree seem more borough-like, though it never received recognition from the national administration as such; nonetheless, in 1442 a rental was drawn up under the title of 'Sheningho and the borough of Manningtree'.
In a community with good access to water, it is not surprising to find evidence of trades having need of such a resource. Manningtree acquired no reputation as a medieval centre of the cloth industry, but surnames suggest its presence. In 1294 William le Webbe (weaver) was a householder there. John le Tayllur of Manningtree was recipient of two abbey leases (undated but from around the same period) of riverbank land one straddling the through-road, the other near John's house while a deed of that period mentions Thomas the dyer having land in the borough, near the 'salt water', and was witnessed by William the dyer. The latter may have been the same William le Teynturer who witnessed Sheningho deeds of 1301 and a mortgage agreement of 1295, though it is less certain whether he was the William le Teynturer of Manningtree who in 1313 purchased a quitclaim to property in neighbouring Lawford. Thomas le Taillur of Manningtree and his wife were disposing of property (outside Manningtree) in 1306. Robert Deghere of Manningtree earned a pardon in 1347 by offering to provide military service in an overseas expedition, but by this time surnames are becoming less reliable indicators of occupation; instances of Cordewaner and Barkere as Manningtree surnames, in the second half of the fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries, thus may or may not evidence a leather-processing industry, something we could reasonably expect to find in a riverside settlement. A deed of 1309 indicates that there was a fulling-mill in Sheningho that had belonged to Henry Caperoun, one of the more prominent residents of Manningtree judging from his appearances as witness to other property transactions; Henry also held riverside property, part of which, leased from the abbey, was next to the land of Thomas the dyer.
Manningtree millers referenced were presumably operators of the corn-mill, perhaps successor to that mentioned in Domesday. One, John le Mullere, was a participant in John de Halteby's raid on Rewenhale in 1318. Whether he was the same as the John le Mulnere killed ca.1346 by John Herkested of Manningtree whose house was elsewhere described (1359) as neighbouring the Cornhill, perhaps the mound topped by the windmill (see above) is unknown; the latter miller was evidently fairly well-to-do, for in 1347 his son was disposing of his father's messuage and 76 acres of arable, pasture, and marshland in Mistley and Lawford. The modern junction of Mill Lane and Mill Hill street, on the south side of Manningtree, perhaps originally part of the Sheningho demesne, may point to the former location of the windmill. Fifteenth-century documents give little indication of whether these local industries were prospering or failing, however, for the types of occupations associated with Manningtree sherman, husbandman, yeoman pertain to its rural dimension; and when refugees from the Low Countries many of them cloth-makers migrated to England, only a couple chose to settle in Manningtree.
But it was not industry nor the market alone that fuelled Manningtree's economic and population growth, which seems to have been more rapid, in the first half of the fourteenth century, than that of most other communities of the region [R.H. Britnell, Growth and Decline in Colchester, 1300-1525, Cambridge University Press, 1986, pp. 11-12]. Rather it was the port facilities, increasingly valuable as English merchants vied with foreigners for a share of England's maritime commerce, as national security and foreign policy became increasingly reliant on naval strength, and as a growing number of mouths to feed, particularly in the cities, required larger supplies of fish. Both butchers and fishermen from Manningtree and its region are seen frequenting Colchester's market. In 1395 we encounter the debtor Robert Hardekyn of Manningtree, who is also described as a citizen and fishmonger of London.
Colchester's inland port at the Hythe, though not the port of Ipswich, was gradually overshadowed by new ports more readily accessible from the sea, notably Maldon, Manningtree, and Harwich. This may have been a factor in the selection of Manningtree's as one of the four markets targeted by the Colchester complaint of 1317, mentioned above. In 1326 royal commissioners were appointed to see that Essex ports contributed vessels to the northern fleet; Harwich, Colchester, Manningtree, and Maldon headed the list, although a relatively wide net was thrown. Beginning in Edward II's reign, but more so in Edward III's, Manningtree was integrated into the royal administration for customs collection and suppression of illegal exports. Its importance as a port was eclipsed by that of Harwich by the end of the latter reign Harwich men might be appointed searchers of ships, for example, but no Manningtree men are so found yet Manningtree still proved useful, including for transhipping goods to Harwich and as a fishermen's base. In 1369 Manningtree was among a number of seaports whose bailiffs were instructed by the king to proclaim, at intervals, a prohibition of taking corn, gold, silver, or armaments out of the realm; Colchester and Maldon were the only other Essex ports to which such instructions were sent. The opening of Richard II's reign was marked by a project to expand the navy by having port towns construct, for the king, troop-carrying vessels at their own cost; Colchester, Maldon, Harwich and Manningtree were required to work together to build one such balinger, but the men of Manningtree resisted contributing and, after the sheriff was ordered to go to Manningtree to compel financial support, then complained they had been disproportionately burdened by the sheriff's assessment, obliging the king to give the sheriff more detailed definition of which members of the community were to be taxed. In 1401 Henry IV paired Mnningtree with Orwell in a similar project. Manningtree was also chosen by some merchants for licensed export ventures, such as in 1366 when two men were authorized to export 200 quarters of wheat abroad through Manningtree; there are not, however, a large number of such instances.
Perhaps this was partly because growing awareness of Manningtree's potential as a port was matched by its utility to smugglers, since less closely supervised than the ports at Colchester, Ipswich or Harwich. For example, in 1344 the king's searcher of ships confiscated 38 gold florins that certain merchants of Flanders were planning to take out of England (contrary to royal prohibition) in their ship docked at Manningtree, while five years later another searcher was instructed to sell, in the presence of the constables and good men of Woodbridge (Suff.) and Manningtree two small ships (crayers) arrested in those places after found with cargoes of uncustomed corn, tanning materials, and other wares. In January 1363 the Earl of Oxford was commissioned to head an investigation on complaint by a royal mariner, Thomas Peronel, who had prevented unnamed evildoers from setting sail from Manningtree, in a ship laden with uncustomed wool, to foreign parts, only to be assaulted and threatened by the smugglers, who subsequently (it was alleged) set ambushes with a view to killing Peronel. The following year a ship of Kingston-upon-Hull, having loaded up with brushwood at Manningtree, set off for home, but before reaching Yarmouth was seized by searcher Richard de Haveringlond and found also to be carrying wool and woolfells of some Yorkshire traders; perhaps the wood was just a cover for smuggling uncustomed wool, but the ship's master, Nicholas Balston, successfully petitioned for getting his ship back, on the grounds the illicit elements of the cargo had been inserted without his knowledge.
By July 1363 the Peronel investigation had expanded into something wider-ranging, throwing more light on local commerce, especially that using Manningtree's port. It had produced a number of convictions. One was of Thomas Hardyng of Manningtree, who was found to have committed a list of offences:
- between November 1362 and the following Midsummer he participated with others in forestalling 400 quarters. of wheat, rye, malt, fish and other goods, of estimated value £200, en route to Manningtree's port and market, and then selling them there, in conditions of shortage, at excessive prices;
- during that same period he forestalled all other merchandize coming to the port, to the loss of the king of £40 in tolls or customs, and was known in Manningtree as a common forestaller (i.e. a repeat offender at other times);
- he consented to, supported, and took a cut of the profits from forestalling activities by Robert Balton and William Lucas, involving 200 quarters of wheat and barley, 40 quarters of oats, and 4½ lasts of herrings, and other herring worth £20;
- he colluded in 1363 with a smuggling venture by William Lucas, who loaded 10½sacks of uncustomed wool owned by the cronies into a vessel called The Black Krayer, shipped the cargo up the estuary, and perhaps along the coast, to a prearranged meeting-point at an inlet where the cargo was transferred to a ship of Zeeland;
- he was complicit that same year in acts of smuggling by Baldwin Flemyng, the largest instance involving loading a Zeeland ship with 3 bales of cloth worth £100, 60 weys of cheese worth £30, 20 dozens of woollen thread worth £10, and 4 barrels of butter worth £4, then shipped this cargo overseas uncustomed;
- over the course of 1362 he and others, using threats and extortion, took from members of the Manningtree community 120 quarters of corn, worth 40 marks, and possessions to the value of £40, and, again working with Balton and Lucas, prevented the community from recovering what had been taken;
- and he was among a Manningtree group that, in April 1362, procured John Payn of Dedham to beat up Thomas Peronel, because the latter had been keeping under surveillance a foreign ship, moored off Mistley, in which they intended to smuggle out wool and other goods.