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 ca 1000 Newport

Keywords: Newport place-names central places burh borough earl manors churches lepers hospitals marketplace economy occupations market competition Saffron Walden market licences fairs Berkhamsted Launceston Lostwithiel Oakham Rockingham Holme Ilchester urban decline

Newport lies in the north-western sector of Essex, on the River Cam (or, more strictly, the Granta, a tributary of the Cam) , not far from the borders with Hertfordshire and Cambridgeshire. It seems to have been a market site and, less certainly, proto-urban from its foundation, judging from the 'port' element in its name and the suspected presence, if short-lived, of a mint – several coins from the reign of Edward the Confessor are stamped with the name 'Newport', although this might have been the Buckinghamshire Newport, a Domesday borough. Initially it had no other known market rivals in the immediate vicinity: the Essex markets at Clavering, Thaxted, Saffron Walden, and Wendens Ambo all within a five-mile radius, Great Bardfield slightly further off, and the Hertfordshire market at Bishop's Stortford all being later developments. The only evident competitive threat – also a late-comer – was a market established shortly before 1254 at Great Chesterford, at the very north-western corner of Essex, by Roger Bigod, Earl of Norfolk, who was engaged at the same period in trying to lure away commerce from Ipswich by developing Harwich as a market.

There is no evidence for significant prehistoric or Roman settlement at the site of Newport. A Middle Saxon settlement of about two dozen buildings (one incorporating a long hall) and cemetery has been found a mile west at Wicken Bonhunt, on a stream which joins the Cam at Newport; this must have been a high-status, perhaps royal, manor, judging from finds of objects incorporating gold and large amounts of imported pottery, as well as burials of men who had died of battle wounds. Whether this was associated with the genesis of Newport is unclear, but Newport could well have been developed as a market extension to Wicken Bonhunt; or, after the latter was depopulated in the ninth century, in the wake of Viking raids, some refugees might have relocated to the better-situated Newport. In the eleventh century Wicken Bonhunt re-emerged, and in Domesday was two separate manors, Wica and Banhunta, not in royal hands. Bonhunt, closer to Newport, had been the location of the Middle Saxon settlement and had a chapel of flint-and-rubble built perhaps as early as the tenth century – itself perhaps the successor to a minster church associated with the Middle Saxon cemetery.

Newport itself is portrayed in 1086 as a growing settlement though, if urban, still only of moderate size (39 households), with two mills, and a church (postulated from the presence of a priest). Any church is likely to have been a predecessor to the present church of St. Mary, of early thirteenth century construction. A church at Newport is explicitly mentioned early in Henry I's reign, and again in Stephen's when he reiterated Henry's grant that St. Mary's, its grain tithes, and its chapels belonged to the canons of St. Martin-le-Grand, London (though the advowson remained with the king); but none of its fabric has survived. This church, together with the site of the market, would likely have been the focus of Anglo-Saxon settlement. The Bonhunt chapel, although older, became at some point subordinate to Newport's parish church.

The early rise of Newport may have been partly because of its location on a north-south land route, perhaps Roman in origin, following the Lea, Stort and Cam valleys between London and Cambridge, and (at Great Chesterford) crossing the Icknield Way, which ran east-west across East Anglia; this route did not subsequently serve as the main medieval road between the two towns. But also partly because it was a Saxon royal manor, Domesday Book recording it as in Harold's hands before the Conquest and William's afterwards. Possibly Newport was a remnant of a larger royal estate centered around Bonhunt, parts of which were alienated before the Conquest; 'Newport' is a generic kind of name suggesting an area carved out of something older with a more individualistic name, such as 'Wigmore' – a name associated with a farm and ponds within the neighbouring landscape. Jeremy Haslam has argued that the burh known as Wigingamere was constructed near Newport by Edward the Elder in 917, during his campaign to oust the Vikings from eastern England, which included erecting fortified bases along the bounds of English-held territory ["The Anglo-Saxon Burh at Wigingamere," Landscape History vol.10 (1988), pp. 25-31]. He imagined Newport as a tenth-century foundation embodying the typical features of defences, local population gathered into a settlement within the fortifications, and extra-mural market. Among his supporting arguments was the name 'Bury Field' – a name traceable back to at least the fourteenth century – attached to land immediately west of Newport, and conceivably representing agricultural land given to the burgesses or portmen, although the name could as easily refer to the urban status of Newport as a burh, per se. Later, however, on etymological grounds, Haslam backtracked on his identification of Wigingamere with Newport, in favour of a Buckinghamshire location, though maintaining his belief that Newport originated as a planted settlement associated with burh foundation ["The location of the burh of Wigingamere: a reappraisal," in Names, Places and People, ed. A.R. Rumble and A.D. Mills, Stamford: Paul Watkins, 1997, pp.111-13].

In support of the interpretation of Newport as the proto-urban by-product of an Anglo-Saxon royal estate, the examples of Maldon and Horndon-on-the Hill are often adduced, as places where royal landed interests, market, and mint, seem to have coincided. Its name alone is sufficient to suggest that Newport was a planted market town before the Conquest, even though the Domesday entry gives no indication of any urban characteristics. That Newport was the first settlement dealt with in the Domesday section for Uttlesford Hundred might point to it having been the administrative centre of that hundred, a possibility made more likely if Newport had originated as a burh. The case made by Haslam for it having done so, though circumstantial, is worth noting, but concrete evidence for it remains elusive; to date there have been only minor archaeological excavations within Newport and little survives from the Middle Ages by way of locally-produced documentation, so that much of what we suppose about its early development (pre-Domesday) is speculative. Even the place-name itself would not preclude a post-Conquest origin, as the case of Norwich's Newport indicates. Yet in official documents the name is almost always rendered in its Saxon form as Neuport, rather than Latinized (and then as Novus Portus), in contrast to the Hampshire, Shropshire and Monmouthshire Newports, usually rendered as Novus Burgus – a term whose only application to Newport appears scribal error). Domesday Book provides fairly certain evidence that Newport was a royal manor prior to the reign of Harold, who had the right of noctes de firma from Newport, which makes it probable he acquired the estate upon becoming king; later it was often described as belonging to the monarchy's ancient demesne, such as in 1401 when this was used to justify residents' exemption from tolls.

We arrive at slightly firmer ground in the twelfth century. A little to the north of Newport, Saffron Walden was one of the estates with which the Conqueror rewarded Geoffrey de Mandeville, whose like-named grandson, as newly-minted Earl of Essex, having accumulated (by selling his support to contestants in the Matilda-Stephen civil war) almost vice-regal authority in Essex, was looking to develop the revenue potential from Walden. In 1141 he agreed to switch his loyalty to Matilda in return for various concessions; these included the royal lands at Bonhunt and Newport, and the right to relocate the market at Newport to his castle-town at Walden and to divert the Cam valley road, at a point just north of Newport, from its customary route, so that it would pass through Walden. A few months later the resurgent Stephen confirmed the broad scope of Matilda's concessions, including the grant of Newport, although its market was not mentioned. These changes were effected before Geoffrey died while resisting arrest on a treason charge laid by Stephen in 1144. They are unlikely to have resulted in cessation of commercial activity at Newport, though the revenues associated with market privileges – notably "tolls, passage and other customary impositions" [Regesta Regum Anglo-Normannorum 1066-1154, ed. H.A. Cronne and R.H.C. Davis, vol.3 (1968), p.99] – were, by explicit permission, transferred for some years. But the market at Saffron Walden appears to have survived Geoffrey's disgrace and the diversion of the road meant that it would gradually become a serious competitor to Newport for trade, both local and that using the north-south route. In Matilda's charter grant to Geoffrey, Newport and Maldon – where royal interests were also turned over to him – seem to have been placed on a par, although only Maldon was explicitly referred to as a borough.

We do not know how quickly Newport's market revived, with administrative revenue potential restored. The presentation of an Uttlesford jury, during the hundredal enquiries of the 1270s, that fines stemming from the assizes of bread and ale had been collected for as long as they could remember at Newport, reflects only the lowest level of commerce and cannot be taken of proof of activity of a formal market. The restoration process might have begun when Newport reverted to the Crown in 1144, though restored to Geoffrey III de Mandeville a year or two later; or, more likely, after Henry II's stipulation, upon confirming Geoffrey III as earl in 1156, that land grants by Matilda during the civil war were no longer valid. Royal accounts for that same year show an investment in rebuilding at Newport, which may point to previous economic decline and abandonment of some houses or decay of the manor-house itself, and a further sum two years later to repair one of the mills; the infrastructure investment could have been aimed at restoring Newport's commercial vitality. Yet that Stephen was staying there when, at some point in his last years as king, he confirmed property in Donyland to St. John's Abbey, Colchester, supports the notion that Newport had already become a royal manor once more. That by 1176/77 a royal gaol had been built, of stone, at Newport is further indication of renewed royal use of the manor for the administration of justice, part of Henry II's larger effort to restore law and order following the Anarchy. An alleged reference in 1207 to a castle there cannot be substantiated; it might refer to some simple structure raised by Geoffrey II de Mandeville, pursuant to royal permission for him to erect castles wherever on his lands he saw fit, or to the gaol built by Henry II, probably in association with manor-house refurbishment. By 1299 there were two watermills and one windmill in Newport – construction of one of these being evidenced in 1238; by that date Newport, having been granted out here and there at various times, mostly to reward loyal supporters, had been back in the king's hand for several years, though at times given to the sheriff of Essex or other individuals at farm – in 1229, for example, the farm was granted for life to Walter de Kirkham – Keeper of the Wardrobe (until 1236) and Dean of St Martin-le-Grand, (from ca.1229) who became Bishop of Durham in 1249.

Newport's revival is further evidenced by our next glimpse of it, though this is not until 1254, when its owner, Richard, Earl of Cornwall, second son of King John, brought into the king's court a complaint that Roger III Bigod had instituted a market at Great Chesterford which was proving harmful to Richard's at Newport; we hear no more of the case, Bigod apparently being disinclined to defend his market rights against so influential an adversary. Great Chesterford, adjacent to the site of a Roman fortified town and later a Saxon royal estate with possible minster church, was in 1086 not much larger than Newport; its market was able to develop, at a junction of streets, partly because of access to the London-Newmarket road, and the development of a minor cloth industry, but there is no evidence its market was ever more than an unlicensed one, and its precise location is no longer known. Newport's prescriptive market, on the other hand, had evidently been bringing in revenues for some years prior to the court case and its owner felt himself in a good position to assert his claim before his brother's justices.

Earl Richard had received Newport in 1242 as part of his marriage portion when he wed Sanchia, the daughter of the Count of Provence and sister to Henry III's own wife. Newport descended to his son Edmund, whose comital accounts for 1297 make reference to the market there; after Edmund's death (1300), childless, Newport once more reverted to the Crown, and was turned over to a series of farmers before following the earldom to Piers de Gaveston (husband to Edward II's niece), who renewed a number of the earldom's market and fair licences. Then, after the death of Gaveston's widow (1342), it came eventually to leading members of the royal family with the duchy of Cornwall – something that took Newport out of the mainstream of royal record-keeping; they occasionally transferred tenancy, as in the late fourteenth century when the Black Prince granted Newport to Aubrey de Vere, 10th Earl of Oxford, for life (an arrangement that consequently concluded in 1400). By the time of Henry VI, however, the reduced importance of Newport is reflected in its farm being granted to minor royal servants and members of the gentry, eventually bringing it into the orbit of Henry Bourchier.

Beresford and Finberg report that in the eyre of 1227 Newport had been represented by its own jury – which implies it either a borough or a vill of some importance – and that a borough at Newport is referred to in the inquisition post mortem on Earl Richard (1272, incomplete); the calendared version of the post mortem does not include that reference, probably because it was an incidental element within the editor's abbreviated description of the manor. But in some records of the fourteenth century Newport is described as 'manor and town', or the town (i.e. vill) is felt worth mentioning alone in its own right, while in 1321, in the context of provisions for keeping of the peace across Essex, Newport was considered significant enough to address separately from the hundreds of east and west Uttlesford; the overall impression given is that the vill was indeed of some importance, perhaps the most valuable component of the manor, and burgage tenure may have been implemented for many residents. That the Fine Roll shows the farm of the manor committed in 1240 to the trustworthy men of Newport, for a five-year term, for £40 a year, adds weight to the impression of Newport as a borough whose residents had ambitions to be self-governing, though any sense of communality seems not to have progressed beyond the establishment of socio-religious gilds, and the only officials we hear of there are the steward, bailiffs and sergeants of the manorial lord. Mention of the borough occurs again the accounts of Earl Edmund in 1297, and his inquisition post mortem equates Newport with a borough without actually calling it so. The inquisition post mortem on Henry de Ferrers, Baron Groby, in 1342, in its extent of the manor of Newport, makes reference to tolls from the market and the town, other town revenues known as 'wardpans' and 'stalpans' [Calendar of Inquisitions Post Mortem, vol.8, p.315] – that is, ward-pennies and stall-pennies (presumably stallage) – and the liberty of the town on Easter Eve, as well as a leet court session in Lent, which probably relates to the view of frankpledge that Earl Edmund was said to have had among his various legal jurisdictions in Newport. Ferrers, who was born at Tilty (see below), received Newport by grant of Edward III, but it is unclear whether he had any ancestral claim on it, although an ancestor had married into the family of the de Bohuns, who had in 1227 had succeeded to some of the de Mandeville estates. Henry's widow's post mortem in 1349 distinguishes between manor and town; by that time the Prince of Wales was asserting his rights in Newport.

It is not all unlikely that an absentee lord, such as were the thirteenth-century earls of Cornwall – wealthy men, whose vast portfolio of seigneurial holdings included numerous boroughs (e.g. Chichester, Wilton, Oakham, Lechlade, Henley, Boroughbridge, and Wallingford, the last being the site of Richard's main residence once he had upgraded the castle) and at least one toll-earning market in about every county in which they had estates – would have acknowledged or conceded burghal status at Newport, and have fostered and protected the revenue-generating elements of the same. For Newport seems to have been their only substantial and coherent holding in Essex; it was administratively subordinate to the comital bailiwick of Berkhamsted (Herts.), although the earl's steward evidently administered legal jurisdiction over Newport residents from a local manorial courthouse.

While we have no evidence to show how pro-active these two earls may have been in developing Newport and its market, other than Richard's defence of it against Great Chesterford, they were quite active in developing other of their estates. One of the earliest actions in this sphere by Earl Richard (1209-72, earl from 1227) was in 1231 – shortly after he had reached the age of majority – when he acquired a licence for a Thursday market and a fair at Isleworth (Middx.), a manor beside the Thames that had escheated to Henry III in 1227; the latter gave it to his brother, who built a new moated manor-house there, but its defences did not prevent its destruction in 1264 by Londoners, who espoused the Montfortian side in the civil war. If Richard acted on his licence and instituted the market and fair, they may have been short-lived, as there is no reference to them in manorial accounts that begin in late thirteenth century nor in any other source, and a friary at neighbouring Hounslow was able to obtain a market/fair licence in 1296 without challenge.

A manor at Burnham (Bucks.) came to Earl Richard in 1236. Several miles to its north lay one of its members, the vill of Beaconsfield, and Richard obtained for its crossroads market – the focal point of what later became known as the Old Town (though perhaps nothing more than handfuls of roadside farmsteads in the earl's day) – a Tuesday licence in 1255. In 1266 he founded an Augustinian nunnery just south of Burnham and endowed it with the manor and its members. Three years later the abbess took out a licence for a fair at Beaconsfield and, two years following that, licence for a fair and a Thursday market at Burnham itself; not long after, she seems to have erected a market hall beside an open space near the church, suspected of having hosted the market. It was the abbey's lordship, rather than that of Earl Richard, to which must be attributed any urbanization of these two places, Burnham undergoing some reorganization of plot layouts in the late thirteenth century. Although at first glance it might seem the abbey held two markets in competition with each other, it may rather have been felt they were complementary, in that Beaconsfield was on the London-Oxford road, while Burnham on the London-Bath route as well as a road to Windsor; the abbey was also covering its bases by placing the two markets at non-competitive points during the week. The urbanization process was, however, countered by the emergence of Berkshire market centres at Maidenhead, to the west, and Colnbrook, to the east and that at High Wycombe in Buckinghamshire itself.

Earl Richard acquired licence in 1245 for a fair at Berkhamsted, a Domesday borough with portmoot. This borough may have been the new castle-town established probably soon after the Conquest, to extend a church-focused Saxon settlement; the town seems subsequently to have undergone some reorganization of its burgage plots in conjunction with the construction of a large new church, dedicated to St. Peter (a dedication often associated with market churches), situated in proximity to the marketplace and the approach to the castle [Isobel Thompson and Stewart Bryant, Berkhamsted Extensive Urban Survey: Revised Assessment, Hertfordshire County Council Historic Environment Unit, 2005, pp.6-8]. This initiative is thought due either to Geoffrey Fitz-Peter – whose good service to the Angevins, combined with marriage into the de Mandeville family, enabled him to succeed the extinct male line as Earl of Essex (1199) – or one of Geoffrey's sons and successors (1213-27), who adopted the de Mandeville surname but left no male heirs. The market, whose day was shifted from Sunday to Monday in 1218, was already thriving before Richard made Berkhamsted the caput of his earldom (or at least of its eastern estates), he having the castle redeveloped as a residence and administrative centre; Berkhamsted had in fact long been a favoured residence of Earls of Cornwall.

In the part of the country for which his earldom was named (he having held Cornwall as sheriff for two years before being made its earl), Richard again took an active interest in market towns. Perhaps his earliest action in this region, datable only approximately to the first decade and a half after he became earl (and known through Edward II's confirmation to Gaveston), was his grant to Odo de Treverbyn that Portbuan, better known as West Looe, have liber burgus status, a Wednesday market and annual fair, toll exemption throughout Cornwall for its burgesses, and the 'free air' privilege; it is unclear whether Odo, presumably the earl's tenant in the manor, himself promoted West Looe to borough status or obtained that from the earl, but it seems likely that the young Odo, or his father, had planted a burghal component within the manor. East Looe, on the opposite bank of the River Looe, was also developed contemporaneously, though independently within a different manor, as a borough (market licence 1237); at that period the two banks are not known to have been connected by a bridge.

Henry III's confirmation in 1260 shows that Richard had, at some point within the previous year or two, given Camelford a liber burgus charter that included the right to a Friday market and short fair in July. In 1086 an outlying farming hamlet belonging to the manor of Helston-in-Trigg, Camelford is generally considered to have been developed as a planted town, its topography focused on the marketplace immediately west of the river crossing, from which the main street ascended the valley to reach the probable site of the fairground. Although no burgage series is distinguishable in the plot pattern, by 1300 there were 62 burgesses resident. Town and market, their commerce concentrated around livestock and agricultural produce, did not flourish greatly during the Middle Ages, for close at hand were longer-established markets at Boscastle/Tolcarne (licensed 1204) and Tintagel/Bossiney – to which Earl Richard had granted, around the 1230s, liber burgus status, along with Wednesday market, a fair, and freedom from certain tolls throughout Cornwall – while Launceston was not very far away.

Launceston, situated on the Devon/Cornwall border, and with good communications via road and river – it straddling the River Kensey, a tributary of the Tamar – was a Domesday borough with a mint and had been part of the earldom of Cornwall since that period. It had its origins in an Anglo-Saxon priory dedicated to St. Stephen on one side of the Kensey Valley beside which grew up a settlement with a market already proving profitable by the time of the Conquest. So much so, in fact, that Robert, Count of Mortain – half-brother to the Conqueror, son-in-law of town-founder Roger de Montgomery, and rewarded for his support in the Conquest by so much property in Cornwall that he was effectively its earl – transferred (perhaps illegally) the market across the river to a site below his castle at what was then known as Dunheved, but perhaps also as Launceston – meaning the estate, or perhaps town, associated with St. Stephen's church; we hear of eight burgesses there as early as 1076. This shifted the economic and demographic focus away from the monastery, and the name Launceston also moved to the castle-town; this represents only one example of "Robert's aggressive canalisation of trade onto his own estates" [Brian Golding, "Robert of Mortain," Anglo-Norman Studies, vol.13 (1990) p.134]. Earl Richard invested some of his wealth in Launceston, obtaining for it a fair license in the 1230s; this was probably additional to one or more fairs already operating and was held beside the Kensey, which separated Launceston from its suburb of Newport. Newport developed, as a new settlement back towards St. Stephen's, in the time of Richard or Edmund, though whether they played any part in fostering it is doubtful. In 1284 Earl Edmund conceded to the priory, which had continued to share with the earl some jurisdiction in the borough, an unspecified number of fairs there as well as the right of Newport residents to brew and bake, and to buy and sell victuals without having a formal (i.e. toll-collecting) market. Richard also did much work to improve Launceston's castle, moved bailey residents out into the town, and built a wall around the town, linked to the castle defences. On the other hand, he began the process of transferring the administration of Cornwall from Launceston to Lostwithiel, [Peter Herring and Bridget Gillard, Cornwall & Scilly Urban Survey: Launceston, Cornwall County Council Historic Environment Service Report 2005R051 (2005), pp. 16-18, ], which Edmund furthered, having given the burgesses their borough at fee farm.

The development of a market town at Camelford, so close to competition, has raised eyebrows; but Boscastle and Tintagel were not well-situated in regard to the road system and the earl, perhaps wishing to enhance one of the earldom's oldest and most important manors, may have felt that the site of Camelford – located on a river crossing, beside an important route (London to Falmouth), and better-placed in regard to agricultural hinterland – possessed the necessary advantages to foster market growth [Peter Herring and Kate Newell. Cornwall and Scilly Urban Survey: Camelford., Cornwall County Council Historic Environment Service Report 2005R074 (2005) p.18]. He was influential enough to be able to fight off any challengers, and wealthy enough that he could afford to take financial risks.

A surer bet was followed up in 1268, when Earl Richard initiated a process of amalgamating neighbouring Cornish boroughs Penknight and Lostwithiel – the latter already a town with licensed market (1195) and becoming a significant port for importing wine and exporting tin – and he granted the 300-plus burgesses a merchant gild and toll exemptions throughout Cornwall, confirmed their existing fair, and authorized a Tuesday market (possibly supplementing an older Thursday event, although the status of this is uncertain before Edward II's re-institution of it); while his charter also conceded a measure of judicial independence, its terms were predominantly focused on fostering the commercial viability of the community. Earl Edmund adopted Lostwithiel as the caput of his earldom, constructing appropriate administrative buildings there. Lostwithiel might thus be considered a special case because of the earls' personal interests.

In the later part of his life (post-1257), Richard granted the monastery of Blessed Michael, on the island known as St. Michael's Mount, which had long attracted sea-borne commerce, that it could hold three fairs and, less certainly, three markets; the fairs were in fact existing institutions, but Richard transferred them from the borough of Marazion, which lay on the mainland immediately opposite the island, to adjacent land owned by the monastery. The monastery had been granted a Thursday market (also thought to have been held on the mainland) by Robert, Count of Mortain. The name Marazion was later corrupted to Market Jew, though it more likely derives from Marghasyewe, Cornish for 'Thursday market', Latinized as Forum Jovis thereby giving rise to the misconception of a Jewish connection. A further fair, at neighbouring Goldsithney, had been a long-time possession of the earls of Cornwall and was used for collecting rents from the earl's tenants, but this revenue seems to have been farmed out by the time of Earl Richard, who assigned 10s. of his proceeds to the monastery of St. Michael's Mount.

In 1267 Richard licensed a Wednesday market and a fair for Lydford (Devon), though the market appears to have been simply a renewal of a long-existing institution, or perhaps an adjustment in venue, for, thanks to the tin trade, Lydford had prospered as a tenth century burh with mint and a Domesday borough; Geoffrey Fitz-Peter had purchased from the king the market rights there in 1195, though the market itself was acknowledged as pre-existing. In 1269 the market license was reissued, though why is uncertain, for the only difference between the two licenses was that the earlier situated the market within the manor and the later in the borough – a difference that does not necessarily signify anything – but Lydford gradually lost ground to newer markets at Launceston, Okehampton and Tavistock.

The earls' holdings in the East Midlands were less extensive, but included some market interests. In 1235 Earl Richard was given by the king, on a provisional basis, the manor of Kirton (Lincs.); it had previously passed through a series of grantees, including two of Henry III's chief justiciars. One of those, Hubert de Burgh, had been issued a licence for market and fair in 1228 and Earl Edmund's claim to market rights was being tested before quo warranto proceedings in 1281; but Kirton, situated on the steep slope of a ridge, was not well-positioned within the road system – though a route connecting Lincoln and Scunthorpe ran through it – and shows no sign of having prospered. In 1253 Richard acquired a market licence for his manor of Morton upon Trent, though the place never seems to have amounted to more than a village; its market, if ever instituted, may have been eclipsed by that at neighbouring Fiskerton (licensed 1270), situated directly on the Trent (which Morton was not) – though, apart from its fishery, the Trent, connecting to Newark in one direction and Nottingham in the other, did not contribute in a major way to Fiskerton's economy until a later period.

The year before he took out the licence for Morton, Earl Richard received from his brother another gift, the manors of Oakham (Rutland) and Lechlade (Gloucs.), following the death of Isabel, one-time widow of Roger de Mortimer of Wigmore. Both places were associated with Isabel's birth-family, the Ferrers: Oakham Castle had been the seat of her father's barony; Lechlade, a family possession since soon after the Conquest, came to her as a life grant (1207) after her brother forfeited in 1204. Lechlade was situated in the valley of the Upper Thames near its confluence with other rivers and a point at which the Thames was still navigable, as well as at the junction of a saltway from Droitwich and a route between Oxford and Cirencester (and, by extension, Gloucester and London); it thus came to serve as a redistribution point for the region's wool, salt and cheese, transported down the Thames to London. In 1235 Cirencester Abbey's cartulary refers to a new market and burgage-holders there, but it had been in 1210 that John had granted Roger and Isabel a Tuesday market and a fair at the festival of the saint to whom the local church was dedicated. Which of them decided to promote Lechlade from village to market town cannot be said with certainty but, after remarrying, Isabel and her second husband founded in the town a hospital-priory that in 1234 would obtain its own grant for a fair to be held beside the bridge near which the hospital stood and which it held as an endowment (suggesting the fair was intended to support bridge maintenance). At some point the main road was diverted so that it would run through the marketplace west of the church. The Earls of Cornwall thus acquired, in Lechlade, a prospering town with adequate commercial infrastructure and no major investment required; Edmund, in fact, soon leased it out to Hailes Abbey for 100 marks a year.

Oakham had, by the time of Domesday, probably become the administrative centre of its tiny county [Charles Phythian-Adams, "The Emergence of Rutland and the Making of the Realm," Rutland Record, no.1 (1980), p.8]. Walchelin de Ferrers had built a fortified manor-house there in the late twelfth century and it is likely a market grew up as settlement clustered around this castle, which was strengthened by Earl Richard. Isabel de Mortimer is explicitly mentioned as having a market there three years prior to the grant (1252) to Earl Richard of Monday and Saturday markets and two fairs; this grant was made just a few days after the gift of the manor to Richard and may have been little more than a confirmation, or enhancement, of an existing situation – one of the fairs was owned by Walchelin in mid-twelfth century. When Oakham attained borough status is unknown, but we hear of burgage tenements in the earldom's account rolls ca.1285; Earl Edmund's inquisition post mortem mentions 28 burgesses, alongside the market and fair tolls, and in 1307 his widow received royal authorization to tallage her tenants of the borough of Oakham. Though resistance to taxation at the urban rate led the residents to deny in 1344 that it was a borough, it is conceivable that either Isabel or Richard had introduced a burghal component into Oakham.

Soon after coming into the earldom, in 1272, and not long before the death of his uncle, Henry III, Edmund obtained a licence for a Friday market at the manor of Rockingham (Northants.), situated on the south side of the River Welland. A fair had been held there since at least the beginning of the century; though not one of much consequence except to the immediate region, it continued to generate a modest profit into the post-medieval period. The Conqueror had had a castle erected there – one of his few not associated with a town – and future growth of the very small Saxon settlement refocused on the castle and a church that probably originated as the castle chapel; the king accumulated woodlands around Rockingham and made the small castle-settlement his hunting-lodge and administrative centre for this forest. The settlement benefited from its location on a major route from London to Oakham, from where travel could continue to Nottingham and the north, and from the presence of a bridge over the Welland, this road forming the primary axis of the vill, overlooked by the castle; Rockingham was notable enough to be shown on the Gough Map. Though Rockingham remained relatively small, even for a village, it was agriculturally highly productive and in 1307 we find it taxed as a borough, though we must treat this indicator with caution (for in 1306 it had been taxed as a vill). Richard and/or Edmund invested in improvements to the castle, and Edmund's market licence, prompted by, and building on, economic growth, may have been accompanied by an expansion of the settlement along the future Main Street, and laying out of a rectangular marketplace between the castle gate and through-road, but we cannot be certain of this, and there is no evidence of burgage-type plots.[Glenn Foard, Northamptonshire Extensive Urban Survey: Rockingham, Northampton County Council, 2000, passim.] This postulated seigneurial interest came rather too late to enable Rockingham to carve out a permanent niche within the category of boroughs, though it seems to have remained a moderately prosperous village, albeit not occupationally diverse, for most of the remaining medieval period.

Elsewhere in England, Earl Richard is seen in 1232 as owner of a market at Petersfield (Hants.) jointly with, and in fact by (dower) right of, his first wife, Isabel, daughter of William Marshal (Earl of Pembroke) and Isabel de Clare, and widow of Gilbert III de Clare, Earl of Hertford and Gloucester; Richard had married her in 1231. The market and fairs, along with Petersfield's borough status, were the work of previous lords. All that was left for Richard to do was, in that year, try to defend Petersfield's market against one recently licensed at Chalton, which had since come into the hands of Richard's enemy, Simon de Montfort. Richard likewise acquired through his first marriage a temporary interest in Thornbury (Gloucs.), whose market had existed since at least the time of Domesday; in 1239 he obtained for it a fair licence – or, more probably, took out a new licence for a pre-existing institution. Isabel, however, died the following year and Thornbury reverted to the de Clare heirs, to whom it was left to extend and refocus the settlement with a burghal component in 1252.

At Watlington (Oxon.), on the other hand, Richard appears more directly involved in development of the village, whose existence is implied in a ninth-century charter. We first hear of its manor-house in 1250, when Watlington was held by Earl Richard as part of the Honour of Wallingford; in 1252 he took out a licence for a Wednesday market there. Two years after Edmund's death, the manor was granted – as was Newport and numerous other estates – to Roger IV Bigod, Earl of Norfolk, who acquired licence for a fair and a Saturday market (whether a change of day or an additional event is unknown), before his estates escheated to the king. There is some evidence of a planned street layout in an extension of the older village, shifting its focus away from the church to a (new?) marketplace; for this Richard may also have been responsible, although Watlington is not known to have been accorded borough status. But Watlington's economy seems to have been reliant on local agriculture and most of the trade it attracted eventually transferred to Henley and High Wycombe.

In the north, the earls owned markets and fairs at Knaresborough and Boroughbridge, although had no hand in instituting them, for both places were already boroughs. Knaresborough developed on a natural defensive site on an elevated rock above the River Nidd, mounted by a Norman castle (which John made into a major administrative centre in the north), outside which was the marketplace. The Honour of Knaresborough returned to royal lordship either during the reign of John or early reign of Henry III, the latter granting it (1233/34) to Earl Richard who founded a priory there in 1256. Part of the Honour of Knaresborough, Boroughbridge, situated at the highest navigable point of the River Ure, was beneficiary of the damage done by the Normans to Aldborough (of which manor Boroughbridge was a part), during their 'Harrying of the North'; for subsequently a bridge was constructed across the Ure upstream, and the old Roman road connecting York and Aldborough diverted to the new bridge. Settlement grew up around this bridge and before the mid-twelfth century had acquired an urban character – the 'borough' component of its name referring, however, to its position relative to Aldborough rather than to its own status; its market (mentioned 1209) prospered thanks to the road and river links to York (where the Ure becomes the Ouse).

Earl Edmund (1249-1300, earl from 1272) was less active in market development than his father, though he continued to hold most of the commercial institutions with which his father had been associated. Edmund's inquisition post mortem mentions:

By Edmund's time, market networks were already well fleshed-out and the trend for town-founding was passing its peak; there was less scope for market development – or, at least, not with the same prospect of success. But he continued in that work where he perceived opportunities. It may also be that – having inherited considerable wealth from his father, enabling him to loan large sums to the king and fellow barons – he felt less pressure to seek out such opportunities. In 1285 he furnished Corsham (Wilts.) with a market licence. Situated near the London-Bristol route, it would, like many Cotswolds villages, benefit from the wool trade, but any chance of it urbanizing may have been hindered when, after Edmund's death, Edward I assigned it to his daughter, to support her as a nun.

The earldom's accounts for 1296/97 refer to Edmund's market at Holme (Hunts.), a Fenland village a few miles south of Peterborough and west of Ramsey, both of which had longer-established markets. It was a hamlet within the manor of Glatton, one of the properties (like Newport) the king had settled on Earl Richard in 1243 at his marriage to Sanchia of Provence. It was perhaps because of Richard's death only a few years earlier that the record of the hundredal enquiry in Huntingdonshire, in 1279, recorded an extent of Glatton, including a list of all the residents of Holme. Most of the 55 tenants were cottagers – a category of resident that has been characterized as market gardeners or suppliers of services [John Blair, "Small Towns 600-1260", in The Cambridge Urban History of Britain, vol.1 (2000), p.266] – but they included 8 described as burgesses (one a woman possibly supporting herself as a cook), because they held by burgage tenure for 3s. annual rent; in 1350 we hear of 16 properties held as burgages there. This suggests the possibility that Edmund or Richard had introduced a burghal component at Holme, although the absence of any licence makes it likely the market had long been in existence, so that the burgesses might have been a surviving remnant of a once-larger and older borough community. Fisheries in the vicinity contributed to the local economy, although Richard gave his fishery rights to Ramsey Abbey. Holme would have suffered from not being on any major through-road (although Ermine Street lay a mile distant), and perhaps from the silting-up of the nearest river, the Nene, which had supported water transport to and from Lynn. Edward II's institution of a fair at Holme in 1314, at a time when royal commissioners were investigating blockage of the river, may have been an attempt to compensate for a failing market, recorded as profitless in 1368.

Edmund also held, just during the last few years of his life, a market and fair at Howden (Yorks.), which is referred to as a borough in 1311. But this was through leasing the manor from the Bishop of Durham; it was an earlier bishop who in 1200 had taken out a licence for the fair, along with a fair licence for Northallerton, later revealed as another episcopal borough.

We should not think that as powerful and wealthy a lord as the royal Earl of Cornwall was limited to commercial holdings in small towns. Even at as significant an urban centre as Chichester, Earl Richard showed interest in commercial development – or at least in siphoning into his own treasury revenues additional to those he was entitled as its overlord (from 1227), for the citizens had just begun to hold Chichester at fee farm, though not yet in perpetuity, so that certain impositions on commerce – tolls and stallage from the main market, tolls from the sheep market, licensing fees from brewers and from the tailors' gild – went to the earls. At some point in the opening decades of his earldom Richard obtained a grant from his royal brother of a Michaelmas fair there, later stated as having been held in a suburb. It may have been intended to pre-empt some of the commerce drawn to an early October fair belonging to bishop and chapter.

As overlords too of Ilchester (Somer., from 1246), a Domesday borough and county town in the twelfth century, the Earls of Cornwall took the market profits. They are not known to have expanded the commercial institutions there: a thriving market and a midsummer fair already established. But their bailiffs worked to protect those revenues, in 1260 challenging, as detrimental to Ilchester's market, other Somerset markets at Marston Magna, a few miles to the east, and Shepton Beauchamp, a little further to the south-west – both freshly-licensed by the same manorial lord, John de Bello Campo, and possibly intended to intercept some of the commercial traffic that would pass through Ilchester on a route from London down to Devon and Cornwall. During the hundredal enquiries of 1275/76 similar complaint was made against a market at Yeovil, just to the south-east and straddling the ancient route known as the Fosse Way before it reached Ilchester, as well as that at Martock, which lay between Ilchester and Shepton Beauchamp.

At the same time, allegations were made against Somerton's market (licensed provisionally 1226, and definitively 1255, to the residents of the royal estate, perhaps already burgesses) to the north-west – Somerton being, briefly, a rival for the role of county town – as well as against Bello Campo's foundations, the priory of Montacute (see below), and the licensee (1264) of Queen Camel to the north-east, neighbouring Marston Magna, the men of Somerton echoing this complaint. Most of these must have been long-standing grievances; Martock's market had been licensed in 1247, and Yeovil's instituted by Walerand le Tyeys (or Teutonicus), who had been warden of the Cinque Ports in 1235 and custodian of Berkhamstead in 1241. In 1280, in the quo warranto proceedings that pursued some of the hundredal jury complaints, along with fresher ones, the targets of accusations were rather the market of Montacute, a late eleventh century castle-town planted by Robert de Mortain (but by 1280 in the hands of a Cluniac priory founded by Robert's troublesome son on an adjacent site) a few miles south of Ilchester and not far from the Fosse Way, and a two-week fair at Tintinhull also owned, since at least the late twelfth century, by Montacute Priory and held in the vicinity of the hill on which Montacute was situated. Montacute's market too was no upstart, being certainly in existence by the time of the priory's foundation (pre-1104). Nothing much seems to have come of any of these challenges – in fact in 1285 Edward I renewed Henry II's own confirmation of the fair (though the authenticity of charters Henry II confirmed is uncertain) – but they suggest that market competition in that part of Somerset must have been fierce.

Richard and Edmund, Earls of Cornwall, held numerous markets and fairs, whether directly as manorial lords or indirectly in boroughs over which they had seigneurial rights. Their wide reach has made it worthwhile to examine the extent of their role as market-owners. Yet the actual amount of initiative they took in founding or licensing such institutions does not seem so great, relative to their vast landed holdings and wealth; indeed, from that perspective, they appear not exceptional but, rather, typical of the landed aristocracy, seeking to establish supply and distribution outlets serving their own main bases of operation in different parts of the country, with limited activity that might truly be considered entrepreneurial, in the sense of chasing after a share of commerce plying particular cross-country routes little associated with their own geographical centres of power.

We have strayed far afield from Newport in an effort better to understand how some of the leading nobles of the thirteenth century contributed to developing the market network, and how it would have been consistent with their broad economic policy for them to have pursued the development of Newport as one small element of this sphere of activity. However, its market had long been in existence before their time, and fairs were instituted by others. A three-day fair for June had been granted in 1203 to Gerard de Furnival – there then being both a father and son of that name – who had been granted the manor of Newport – or, at least, a manor in Newport – by John the previous year; the latter charter claims to have been issued at Newport, but this appears to be a scribal error for Bonport in Normandy. A very brief entry in the Fine Roll for 1199 refers to a Geoffrey de Furnival having seisin of Newport, but this is probably an error for Gerard. Gerard's family were recent arrivals from Normandy and obtained favour with Richard I and John for military and administrative services; Gerard junior's marriage to an English heiress brought him lordship of Sheffield and the rest of Hallamshire, but neither of the Gerards nor their wives show any other sign of close connection with Newport, and the grant of the manor appears to have been a reward for good and loyal service. The younger Gerard died on Crusade in 1219 but left male heirs, who also exhibit no further connection with Newport, family interests focusing in the north and the Midlands; it is possible Gerard had surrendered Newport to the king some years earlier [Thomas Wright, The History and Topography of the County of Essex, London, 1835, vol.2, p., p.167] The Furnival manor at Newport may or may not have been the same that came to Richard of Cornwall; in either case, there is no indication the fair outlasted Gerard's death.

However, another fair was licensed for Newport in 1227. The licensee was St. Leonard's hospital – founded, or re-founded at the hamlet of Birchanger immediately north, and a parcel of (though pre-existing), Newport manor – at some point during John's reign by Richard Fitz-Serlo de Neweport; he dedicated it to St. Mary and St. Leonard. The fair was to be held at the hospital site around the festival of the latter saint. That location, on the northern outskirts of Newport (the opposite end to the suspected site of the castle), and the fact that St. Leonard had a reputation for healing, arouses the suspicion it may have been, at least originally, for lepers; though there is no explicit evidence to substantiate the hypothesis, we should bear in mind that leprosy was a broad diagnosis applied to a number of infirmities, and so was considered widespread in the early thirteenth century. Lepers are not mentioned in the foundation charter, but a Thomas le leper was identified as a burgess in an extent of Newport manor in 1299. Furthermore, the king had been giving 2s. as an annual donation to the infirm at Newport from 1156 to 1220, which suggests some charitable institution already existing there, and the seeming disappearance of the donation in 1220, followed a few years later by the licence to hold a fair (reconfirmed 1309, 1386 and 1472), could be interpreted as substituting one form of income with another; the double dedication of the hospital might also be taken, tentatively, as an indicator of an older institution being re-founded. The terse statement of the licence on the Charter Roll gives no hint of anyone sponsoring the application, however, and this was years before Richard of Cornwall would become involved with Newport. As Henry I had done with Newport's church of St. Mary, the hospital – perhaps in its earliest form a charitable arm of the church – was placed under the jurisdiction of St. Martin-le-Grand. It was reasonably well endowed with properties, or income from the same, in the surrounding region though mainly in Newport itself, and even the fair was still yielding £5 in revenue by 1544. It managed to survive to the Dissolution, although the hospital had likely stopped caring for any sick brethren before then. This hospital and its fair were probably not part of the Newport holding of the Earls of Cornwall, but of a separate manor later known as Newport Hospital – associated with the Bridge End neighbourhood, on the opposite side of the Cam to the through-road.– or Newport Pound, likely a corruption of Newport Pond (a name first appearing in the late fifteenth century) – which might refer to the original royal manor, endowed with a large fish-pond, though there were several ponds in Newport and the royal stew was no longer in use by 1450.

Newport's economy, focusing on its market and fairs in late June and early November, seems to have relied on commerce in wool, agricultural produce, and livestock. The number of sheep and other livestock at Newport was documented as increasing between 1066 and 1086, the overall value of the manor also increasing. Wicken Bonhunt had about half the population of its neighbour, but the change in numbers of its livestock suggests contraction, and the total value of the manor was static. The value of the manor of Newport (with its outlier, Birchanger) was assessed, for inquisition post mortem purposes, at £48 12d. in 1272 (when Earl Richard's third wife, Beatrice of Falkenburg was seeking dower rights). While Edward II granted it to farmers for £55 annually, it returned in the early years of Edward III's reign to the £40 for which Kirkham had farmed it in the 1230s, though the farm was reduced to just over £30 in 1343. The assessed value was only £20 by 1400, and the manor was being farmed out for about £26 in 1420, and £23 in 1441, though rising a little later. It may be that the seeming downwards slide in value is partly a reflection of the growth of Saffron Walden at Newport's expense – the latter had come to be referred to dismissively, on occasion, as 'Newport by Walden'. Frequent changes in lordship during the fourteenth century cannot have helped matters, in terms of a sustained, or indeed any, effort to remedy failing fortunes.

Not that Newport had much value to siphon away. While its market may have done well enough before the Walden usurpation, and for a while following the restoration of the market, Elizabeth Allan's analysis of taxation data from 1334 and 1524/25 of the comparative wealth of towns in Essex and the neighbouring parts of other counties [Chepyng Walden/Saffron Walden, 1438-90: A Small Town PhD thesis, University of Leicester, 2010, pp.9-13] shows Newport close to the bottom of the list in 1334, although Walden was not much higher, with (unsurprisingly) the list topped by the more prominent towns like Cambridge, Bury St. Edmunds, Ely, Sudbury, St. Albans, and Colchester. By 1524 Newport remained close to bottom whereas Walden had moved well up the list so that it was almost on a par with Sudbury and Ely – though that was as much due to their economic decline as to Walden's growth – and the differential between higher-ranked and lower-ranked towns had increased significantly between 1334 and 1524, as commerce increasingly focused on a more select number of better-situated market centres. In other words, Newport's share of the pie had diminished, even though the growth of the pie itself meant that Newport's wealth had slightly increased. The low ranking of Newport was, however, not new in the Late Middle Ages. Although of much narrower scope, data in the Fine Roll of 1226/27 relating to reductions in royal tallage of five towns show Newport's assessment as the lowest, at £6 7s. 2d, with Colchester assessed at £42 and Hatfield, Hertford and Writtle all between £12 and £17.

Nonetheless, for a period Newport seems to have thrived well enough as a small market town. In 1299 there were – according to a survey drawn up at or shortly before Earl Edmund's death, and copied into a register compiled for Tilty Abbey (founded ca. 1153 in Uttlesford some distance to the south-east of Newport), which had numerous minor possessions in Newport – at least 86 households in the urban centre, to which we have a reference as a borough, and a handful more elsewhere on the manor, these presumably not including some held exclusively of the earldom of Cornwall; we hear at the same time of 19 shops, 13 market stalls, and butchers' shambles, while other artisans resident (insofar as we can trust surname evidence) included "glovers, grocers, furriers, farriers, carpenters, vintners, coopers, dyers, goldsmiths and a moneyer" [William Chapman Waller, "Records of Tiltey Abbey," Transactions of the Essex Archaeological Society, n.s., vol.8 (1903), pp.354-55], a range more suggestive of a small town than a village. Newport butchers are known to have frequented Saffron Walden's market towards the close of the Late Middle Ages, and it is probable that there was a least some leather-working industry present; a 1303 rental of the holdings of St. Bartholomew's Priory, London, in the manor of Shortgrove, in Newport parish, refers to Robert Bochare, Gosselin the tanner, Richard the glover and Ralph Tailour among the tenants [E.A. Webb, ed., The Records of St. Bartholomew's Priory, Oxford University Press, 1921, vol.1, pp.432-33]. A Newport carpenter, Thomas Page, left his mark on the historical record [ERO, D/DBa T1/36] when commissioned in 1317 to construct, within two years, 28 stalls for the choir of the rebuilt conventual church at Hatfield Broad Oak – he to build the frames at his own house, then bring them to the church where he would carve and polish them – for the sum of £30, payable in instalments, plus sustenance while doing the finishing work at the monastery; Roger le Peintour of Newport was one of the witnesses to the contract. We cannot generalize from an isolated example, but it is additional evidence of an artisan component within Newport society.

Yet, although the wool trade is primarily to blame for the relatively large number of market towns that grew up in the region of Essex encompassing Uttlesford Hundred, Newport exhibits no significant engagement in the cloth-producing industry or the cloth trade – nor indeed did any of its closest rivals, with the possible though uncertain exception of Clavering. It is not until 1439 that we glimpse a mercantile element within the community, when a merchant and a fishmonger obtained pardons for failing to produce in court the fishmonger's kinsman, also described as a merchant, to answer a charge of felony. An indebted tailor and mercer are encountered in 1458 and 1487 respectively and another tailor in 1492. This slim evidence may not tell us much about the relative health of Newport's market at the close of the Middle Ages, but it suggests that commerce for other than everyday domestic needs was not in abeyance.

Newport's market is assumed to have been held, from earliest times as it was in the Late Middle Ages, in a large funnel-shaped space between the church and the north-south through-road (High Street), just above the latter's junction with the minor road heading west to Wicken Bonhunt. The later guildhall, originally serving a socio-religious gild, was built at the edge of this once-large triangular space, by then being lost to encroachment. Present plot boundaries give no hint of any planned units. Although a range of those at Bridge End show a certain consistency and might represent an early planned unit of cottages on the periphery of Newport, none of its existing buildings pre-date the sixteenth century, and this is most likely a post-medieval expansion area. However, post-medieval growth of Newport – not great – was largely in either direction along the through-road. By the sixteenth century most of the market had been infilled, and little commerce may have been going on there, though the St. Leonard's fair remained active as a livestock fair; decay of the church fabric is another reflection of economic decline.

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Created: December 31, 2018. Last update: June 23, 2021 © Stephen Alsford, 2018-2021