go to table of contents  INTRODUCTION 

 Founders and their aims

Keywords: town-founding mesne boroughs market holders economy development property holding royal demesne planted towns patronage William Brewer Hungerford King's Sombourne Bridgwater Chesterfield Axminster Torrington religious orders land reclamation bishops planned towns Salisbury Winchelsea revenues


We cannot comfortably talk about a deliberate policy of urbanization informing town-founders in medieval England. The proliferation of towns seem rather to have come about for many reasons, but mostly as a secondary outcome of other policies: the development of monarchical administration in the various and disparate regions of England, accompanied by Christianization through the establishment of minsters; the preservation of state and people in the face of Scandinavian invasion; the post-invasion restoration of law and order and particularly the centralization of commerce in order to assure its lawful character; the subjugation and domination of actively or potentially hostile territories by the Norman invaders; the extraction of profit from conquered domains; and the king's rewarding of supporters by gifts of estates. These policies did not always produce towns as an immediate result, but they at least gave rise to foci of settlement (featuring some commercial and sometimes industrial activity) that would be considered proto-urban. It is clear that the establishment of markets, and sometimes of towns in association with them, had come, by the late thirteenth century, to be perceived by many manorial lords as a standard, if speculative, strategy for increasing the profitability of selected estates, while at the same time ensuring an at-hand supply of goods and services that might be required by the seigneurial demesne and by the manor-house, where the lord could be expected to reside during at least a few weeks of each year. Landlords had much to gain from fostering trade through the establishment of markets on their demesnes, though they could not guarantee that such initiatives would be economically successful – that depended in part upon the advantages of the location, the quality of the settlers recruited, and above all the inclination of itinerant traders to frequent the market.

Yet, while acknowledging these self-interested motivations that underlay urbanization and the growth of the market network, one cannot help feeling – particularly given the number of educated churchmen and capable lay administrators among the early founders of English towns under the Norman and Angevin kings – that there was an intent to 'modernize' the English economy, in the sense of bringing it up-to-par with continental counterparts; and that the establishment of market towns across the country was seen as a strategic direction in achieving that – a strategy with which the Normans and their European allies already had good experience. Yet it may be argued that the intentional plantation of new towns, or promotion of well-situated rural settlements to urban status, during the High Middle Ages could not have been as effective as it was had not the Anglo-Saxon monarchy first been driven to foster a close, yet natural, connection between towns and markets, so that the foundations for provincial 'super-markets' were in place for the Normans to enhance and elaborate into a denser network of larger and smaller markets permeating much of the realm and capable of serving the needs of local, regional, and long-distance commerce. If not the foundation, then at least the formalization of markets was, more conspicuously than the foundation of new towns, the result of deliberate acts stemming from dominion over territory; territorial location played some role in the emergence, just possibly spontaneous, of some markets – crossroads being the obvious example – but it was human agents, with the ability to perceive the potential of good location and the ability to obtain a royal licence, who were more influential in the crystallization of market networks.

Overall we must consider the monarchy the largest creator and proprietor of towns and markets, as fitting for the largest land-owner. This is not to say that kings were pro-actively involved in large numbers of town foundations, although Edward I is well-known for his particular interest in that activity; but they were owners, or part-owners, of most of the oldest towns and they, directly or through their agents, were as eager as any other feudal lord to develop their estates. Many royal urban foundations were accomplished through charter grants promoting existing settlements, but not a few were new plantations; among towns (in either category) in whose foundation the king was directly involved are Great Yarmouth Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Portsmouth, Melcombe Regis, Kingston-upon-Hull, and New Winchelsea; the interest in controlling coastal ports is to be noted, though perhaps not an early preoccupation of the monarchy.

Setting aside the burh programme of Saxon monarchs, royal involvement in urbanization was particularly true for the first century following the Conquest, when the new Norman monarchs needed to secure their tenure by erecting castles, improving supply lines, and importing from abroad settlers – both secular and ecclesiastical – on whose loyalty they felt they could rely. These needs naturally led to growth in the urban sector. After that initial century, kings were less engaged, but supported their subordinates in town-founding activities (notably through granting or approving charters of privileges and market licences), although the energetic Edward I, due partly to his ambitions for expanding his dominion beyond England and partly to an interest in the urban sector as a vehicle for furthering his economic policies, was more directly active in urban development than his immediate predecessors. The king was, on the one hand, a landlord interested in increasing the value of his demesne, which comprised widely variegated estates – incorporating castles, hunting-lodges, river and coastal ports, manors in fertile agricultural areas and others through which passed roads connecting to major cities. The king was also the agency with the greatest interest in fostering a national economy and a more effective national administrative framework – the ultimate aim being to thereby increase the value of his kingdom – such as through direct taxation of urban residents at a higher rater and indirect taxation of merchants through customs imposed on long-distance commerce.

Beresford [New Towns of the Middle Ages, p.100] calculated, based on the sample (now considered relatively small) of planted towns he surveyed that the monarchy was responsible for the founding of 12‰ of planted towns in England, though 35‰ of those in Wales (in whose conquest the Plantagenents came to take the leading role); this may not at first seem large, but is if we consider the number of monarchs in comparison to the number of other English magnates involved in town-founding. As lords of towns, kings also, strictly speaking, owned numerous markets; but most of these were, in practice, turned over to local authorities, once such had emerged and had begun to obtain rights of autonomous administration. The number of markets established on royal demesne is harder to estimate; since the king's creations needed no royal licence, our best source of evidence for markets is much less helpful in identifying those of royal foundation, though there are records of instructions to sheriffs to see to it that a market on a royal manor was publicly proclaimed and/or put into operation. A good instance of this concerns King's Langley (Herts.) where – a royal palace having been constructed a decade earlier on the queen's manor of Childerne Langley – in 1290 the sheriff was ordered to proclaim in his county court that, (on the basis of the king's will, as opposed to any licence) a Thursday market and Easter fair were to be held henceforth, although in 1347 it was necessary to issue a repeat order, on the grounds that both institutions had for some time fallen out of operation, blamed on administrative negligence; the market, which lay on a route between London and the Midlands, had likely been instituted partly in order to keep the palace supplied – Edward I had previously held his court there for several weeks and aroused the ire of locals by purveying provisions from them but failing to pay for them – though its subsequent neglect does not seem to reflect any decline in use of the palace, which served as royal retreat during the plague's visitation of London, and Edward II had introduced a large new consumer group by sponsoring the foundation of a Dominican friary nearby – though that use became increasingly sporadic after the reign of Richard II, and a serious fire in 1431 encouraged neglect. The number of manors whose names point to a sometime royal lordship – such as Kingsland in Herefordshire, and West Kington and Kingston Deverill in Wiltshire – do not provide much help, for by the time we have evidence of their markets, most have been alienated to some third party. Of course, technically, as enablers – that is, issuers of market grants and licences – kings might be considered to have played a leading role in the proliferation of markets; but in this their role was more reactive than pro-active.

Yet, although kings might invest substantial time and money in significant town-founding efforts, as for example at New Winchelsea or Berwick, their magnates, greater and lesser, were collectively more productive in the role of founders of towns and markets; the Earls of Cornwall provide one example of this category of property developers. This was much the same group that engaged in founding monastic houses or collegiate churches, which could be considered as development initiatives, in terms of enhancing the spiritual value of landed estates, though whether, or to what extent, such foundations added financial value or appeal to prospective settlers is harder to judge. Yet when Edmund, Earl of Cornwall, founded a priory at Ashridge ca. 1283, he could include among his endowments that the monks and their tenants might freely buy and sell in any of the already fairly numerous markets and fairs under his lordship [Henry Todd, The History of the College of Bonhommes, at Ashridge, in the County of Buckingham, London, 1823, p.6] – that is, exempt from tolls, stallage, pontage, passage and lastage – and a few years later the king extended that exemption to the entire kingdom, although most useful to the priory must have been the founder's explicit inclusion of his commercial institutions at the nearby borough of Berkhamsted, thus precluding the need for any market to be established in Ashridge itself. Some magnates satisfied themselves with the foundation of a single market town on their principal manor, but others – particularly those whose lands were more widely dispered – were likely to experiment with multiple foundations. Beresford [loc.cit.] estimated 45‰ of his surveyed English towns were founded by lay lords (46‰ in Wales). Collectively, the English nobility held more manors than the king and feature more prominently as market-owners.

Those individuals or families who had, at different times, influence at court, or over whom the king desired to have more influence, seem to have had an advantage in acquiring licences; but the issue of such authorizations, since it provided a revenue stream, or generated patronage associations potentially beneficial, to the Crown, could also benefit lesser land-owners who lacked such influence personally or through sponsors of higher social rank. In considering such sponsorships we need to distinguish between the lord of a manor and its tenant, who might be one and the same, but most often were not. An example is the market licence for Great Codford (Wilts.), or Codford St. Mary, issued in 1254 to Albreda de Botereux, at the instance of Oliver de Ingham, a Norfolk man – he using the same occasion to license a fair for his manor at Waxham, while a market at Ingham had been instituted by an ancestor – whose family had a history of service to the monarchy in Gascony (where the licence was issued); Lord Ingham was the actual owner of the manor and was presumably petitioning for the grant on behalf of Albreda, possibly his tenant in the manor or holding it as dower, she being apparently linked to him by blood or marriage [C. Parkin, An Essay Towards A Topographical History of the County of Norfolk vol.9 London, 1808, p.317; J. Ingram, Memorials of the Parish of Codford St. Mary, Oxford, 1844, p.3], her surname coming from a second husband. The growth in interest in owning a market, or in founding a town, was not driven purely by pragmatic or financial needs; it likely became one of the markers of social status, warranting a sometimes speculative investment.

Whether a new town or market prospered or foundered is likely to have owed much to the determination and sustained interest of the founder and his successors. The Hungerford manor of the earls of Leicester provides an illustration. Although the bulk of the earldom estates lay in the Midlands, among those elsewhere was Hungerford in south-west Berkshire, close to the borders of Wiltshire and Hampshire. No settlement of that name was mentioned in Domesday, but its site lay within the royal manor of Kintbury, on the south bank of a tributary of the River Kennet, itself a tributary of the Thames, and at the point of intersection of two through-roads, one connecting Oxford with Salisbury (later serving as Hungerford's High Street), the other London with Bath (via Newbury and Marlborough); the place-name occurs in the early twelfth century without clarifying what lay there.

Kintbury was part of the Conquest spoils of Robert de Beaumont and from him passed to his descendants, Earls of Leicester, who also came to own Eddington manor on the opposite bank of the Kennet; by 1147 they had built a church within the village to serve the residents of both parishes and, before 1220, a bridge to supersede the ford across the Kennet; a leper-house, heard of from the late twelfth century, may also be of their foundation. These actions might be read as the family's intention to develop Hungerford. The vill at Eddington, however, passed to the Oxford priory of St. Frideswide – though with the restriction that there could not be erected a church to rival the parochial claims of that at Hungerford – and, ca. 1170, in conjunction with a new earl confirming the grant, the "community of burgesses of the town of Hungerford" [Spencer Wigram, ed.The Cartulary of the Monastery of St. Frideswide, vol.2 Oxford Historical Society, vol.31 (1896), p.331] issued a charter acknowledging that perquisites from the annual leet court for Hidden (part of Eddington and neighbouring Hungerford) belonged to the priory, and sealed it, by common consent, with their common seal. This rather extraordinary (for its date) statement suggests the existence of a borough whose burgesses had rights beyond simply burgage tenure; it was perhaps this group who held Hungerford at farm for part of the 1170s, when the Beaumont earl had temporarily forfeited. In 1241 Hungerford is referred to as a borough, while its market is mentioned a few years later, in the context of a legal challenge to ditches recently dug at Shefford, several miles north of Hungerford, which were said to impede travel to Hungerford's market; the Hungerford jurors who pronounced against the ditch included two men with the by-name Mercator. No licence is known for the market, which is explicable if Hungerford had been given borough status by the Beaumonts. A fair is not heard of until 1361, but since it was to be held on the festival of the saint to whom the parish church was dedicated, it may well have ben much older.

At some point the focus of settlement was shifted, away from Hungerford's church (a little west of the High Street) to the junction of the two through-roads; the two foci remained connected by Church Street. Burgage plots were laid out along each side of the north-south through-road (High Street), the plots terminating at back lanes, with a few more plots added, perhaps later, along part of the cross-street; a rental of ca. 1470 lists close to a hundred burgage rents, based on a standard 8d. annual rent, although many of the plots had undergone subdivision or amalgamation by then. The crossroads was where the market cross was set up, with the market stalls – for each of whose site the manorial lord was due a penny rent each year – placed along a widened stretch of the High Street in each direction, as far as the quayside on the river. In 1431 we hear of a group of stalls being rented by tanners, and the same assignment of stalls to that particular trade is indicated in the 1470 rental, which also designates about a dozen stalls as shambles, out of a total of some 32 stall plots (not all of which had structures erected upon them), up from 23 in 1431 – though the change in number could as easily be indicative of abandonment as expansion.

With the extinction of the male line of the Beaumonts, a nephew, French noble Simon de Montfort, claimed a share of the inheritance, ineffectively, but his more notorious namesake son (1208-65) was allowed his lands and the title of earl (1239), though only after demonstrating loyalty to the English Crown by marrying the sister of Henry III and widow of the Earl of Pembroke. The layout of a burghal component within Hungerford has been credited to Simon de Montfort [Norman Hidden, "Aspects of the Early History of Hungerford," Hungerford Virtual Museum, http://www.hungerfordvirtualmuseum.co.uk/index.php/39-publications/1003-aspects-of-the-early-history-of-hungerford, last accessed 21 March 2018]; yet it could as easily have taken place during the Beaumont period, and the best we can say about the new town foundation is that it likely took place at some time in the twelfth or early thirteenth century. The case for Simon as founder is based primarily on other indications of his interest in developing Hungerford. He was the initial benefactor to, and probably the founder of, a small hospital-priory, charged with providing lodgings for the aged, infirm, and sick, situated at the entrance to the town; royal letters of protection for this hospital and for the older leprosarium may well have been obtained (1232) through his influence at court [Hidden, op.cit.]. Simon also obtained (1246) royal permission to enclose some woodland on his manor, in order to convert it to a deer park, and proceeded to eliminate others' rights (pannage and herbage) in those woods. These may have included rights of the townsmen, for it was in 1573 claimed that they had been granted such rights by Simon, although the pertinent documentary evidence had gone missing. It seems Simon was intent on making Hungerford a congenial residence when he was in that part of the country, and perhaps the caput of his estates in the region. In that context he may well have wished to bolster Hungerford's role as a market centre. Yet, if Simon had such an interest in Hungerford, it did not prevent him giving it to the Crown in 1265 – when he had the king and Prince Edward his prisoners – as part of a wider exchange deal that netted him greater estates; thereafter it was sometimes referred to as Hungerford Regis. Edward I gave it to a son, who had become earl of Leicester and later of Lancaster, and so Hungerford became part of the duchy of Lancaster. John of Gaunt is said to have given the townsmen fishing rights in the Kennet and rights of grazing, an act – known only through local tradition, for again the purported cocuments were among those missing later – something that perhaps explains why tradition credited him as founder of the borough.

Simon de Montfort offers a fairly typical profile of a leading land-owner whose seigneurial rights included markets obtained through various means: as part of his earldom (e.g. at the borough of Leicester); through the dower rights of his wife (e.g. at the borough of Luton); as family heritage, such as at Beaudesert (Warks.), where Thurstan de Montfort had rebuilt a castle then obtained a market licence in 1141, though Peter de Montfort relocated the market in 1221 to nearby Henley in Arden, perhaps introducing a burghal component at the same time, or a little later; and through personal acquisition, such as at the Northumbrian village of Embleton, where Simon licensed a market in 1257, two years after acquiring the manor. Hungerford evidences interest not merely in holding but in developing select estates, and how this could be part of a gradual process spanning multiple generations.

Unsurprisingly, the greater peers of the realm, with their vast but dispersed estates, are seen as founders or owners of large numbers of markets, although it is usually difficult to determine to what extent they were directly involved in fostering the market network, beyond strategic decisions, and how much was left to the stewards or bailiffs who managed their estates. Individual earls rarely instituted many new markets, but numbers built up gradually as succeeding generations of a dynastic house added more; some examples whose names appear often within this study include the de Vere earls of Oxford, the Clare earls of Gloucester and Hertford, and the Bohun, Mandeville and Bourchier earls of Essex.

Another good example is the Longespée family, whose members and spouses established a large number of markets and fairs over the course of the twelfth to early fourteenth centuries, of which only some will be mentioned below. William Longespée was an illegitimate son of Henry II who, in 1196, effectively became Earl of Salisbury by marrying Ela, the young daughter and heiress of the previous earl and sheriff of Wiltshire; his career followed a military path and he was one of the few barons to remain loyal to his half-brother King John, though wavering towards the end; he had influence in the government during Henry III's minority (1216-26), but was largely abroad defending Gascony. This William is associated with Amesbury, obtaining a market licence for it (1219) and possibly founding a new town component, while his grandson later added a fair. After William's death in 1226, Countess Ela went on to hold the post of sheriff of Wiltshire for two years, before founding Lacock Abbey and becoming its first abbess. William and Ela had between eight to ten children. These included::

The Redvers, holding the earldom of Devon, are another family quite active in south-western England in founding new towns (notably on the Isle of Wight) or improving existing towns with market and fair licences (e.g. Cricklade, Highworth). Active in the same region were the earls of Cornwall, such as Richard, younger son of King John, whose eportfolio of towns and markets is examined elsewhere in this study, though few were the product of his own foundation. As noble houses rose and fell, not a few seigneurial towns came into the hands of the monarchy, increasing its share in the urban sector, although some were subsequently granted to other lords.

Other nobles, many of whom who failed to establish dynasties that were long-lasting or continuously prominent, could also see the value in acquiring markets to boost their incomes and bolster their status; one example, Hubert de Burgh, is discussed elsewhere in this study, while two others are Edward II's sometime favourites Bartholomew de Badlesmere, whose market-licensing activity is likewise elsewhere discussed, and Piers Gaveston. Baron Badlesmere is not a typical example, for his activity all came in one thrust in 1315 when, capitalizing on years of military and other service to the Crown and perhaps on service connections to the Bohuns and Clares, he persuaded King Edward to issue him with licences for markets and fairs on thirteen of his manors, and fairs alone on three others, an extraordinary package. However, there is no indication he founded any of these commercial institutions, nor contributed in any significant way to building the market network, for he had acquired the manors (and many others) by purchase, marriage to a Clare, or other means during his rise to prominence; none was associated with his manor at Badlesmere nor any of the other Kent property he had inherited from his father. The portfolio he had built up was divided among heiresses two generations after he was executed for rebellion against his benefactor (1322). Piers Gaveston's rise – through the favour of Edward II, obtained through a long friendship rather than formal service – into the upper ranks of the aristocracy, as Earl of Cornwall and husband of the king's niece, sister of the Clare earl of Gloucester, was over before Badlesmere obtained his multiple market licences. During Gaveston's brief period of ascendancy he first received from the king a market at Leatherhead (Surr.), although he alienated it two years later, and he and his wife were jointly granted markets and fairs at Brading (Hants., 1309), Torpel (Northants., 1309), and in the Yorkshire towns of Boroughbridge and Knaresborough (1310); all these had previously belonged to the Crown, and the Yorkshire properties had been held by a previous but deceased Earl of Cornwall. Like Badlesmere, Gaveston (or perhaps Edward himself) understood that market settlements were a useful component of the landed base of economic and political power, but again Gaveston was not founder of any of the institutions and cannot be considered a true developer.

This prominence of the lay aristocracy in etablishing markets was attained within the century and a half following the Conquest. However, it does not take the form of a 'gold rush' to furnish all manors with markets – or at least market licences, for many more manors than we can see in the documentary record may have had some kind of informal markets taking place. Yet there seems to have been a fairly general inclination to furnish caput manors – where a lord might be in residence with some regularity – with market facilities; this would obviously help provision the manor-house and provide an outlet for selling surplus demesne product, livestock, or household supplies (notably wine, in the case at least of royal manors). On the other hand, we can rarely be confident that the custom of a seigneurial household, whether lay or ecclesiastical, would have, by itself, provided sufficient business to support a weekly market; in fact, where household accounts survive, we often see purchases being made further afield, though it seems likely that small and regular purchases of necessaries were sourced from local suppliers.

New Salisbury
John John Speed's map of Salisbury, ca.1611
Speed's depiction of New Salisbury, a market town founded to correct the deficiencies of Old Salisbury, shows not only the grid pattern that was the basis of the medieval plan for the new town – still, by Speed's time, the main area of settlement, before suburban expansion really took a hold – but also the watercourses and ditches, bridged at strategic points, that ran through the wide streets and marketplace for drainage and to supply flowing water to residents and market users, something sorely wanting in Old Salisbury; gradients required to assure the flow of water prompted adjustments to the rectangular pattern of the grid. The marketplace (M) was assigned a fairly central position in the plan, discreetly distanced somewhat from the cathedral precinct (P). Within the marketplace we see the pillory for punishing market offences as well as a cross-topped structure probably representing the Cheese Cross (built ca.1416), sheltering pedlars of dairy products and fruit, while the main cluster of interior buildings represents various rows of stalls, within and around the marketplace, that developed into permanent shop-residences, such as the butchery (sales and slaughter) and fish-shambles – occupied by residents, while outsider butchers and fishmongers were assigned stalls at less central locations. The development of these permanent rows, consuming some of the original marketplace space, disguise the large size originally allocated to that space. A larger building, west of the pillory, can be equated with the bishop's guildhall, a two-storey stone structure built ca. 1300. Perhaps originally a market chapel, St. Thomas' church (C) stands at one end of the marketplace with, a little further on, the Avon crossing and a riverside mill that may have been an early focus for settlement in the area; at the church end the marketplace was flanked by Minster Street (incorporating what is the modern High Street), part of the most direct route between the new cathedral precinct and Old Sarum, while along the opposite end ran the Carter Street stretch of the medieval High Street, the latter conceived as the new town's principal thoroughfare.

Whether a legacy from the cities of the Ancient Roman empire or the burhs of Late Saxon England, or simply a rational approach to planning and planting new towns, a grid-pattern layout of streets, creating blocks of land for sub-division into residential plots or for public uses, was a common approach to planning larger new towns in the Middle Ages. In the case of smaller projects, whether planted towns or burghal components expanding existing settlements, a more standard and economical plan adapted a stretch of existing street or through-road – sometimes extended, often widened to provide space for market activities – where that stretch was crossed or joined by some other access route. In some of these places (including several discussed within this study) historians have perceived grid-pattern layouts; but it is difficult to be sure whether this appearance is the result of initial planning or later emergence of additional streets running into or parallelling the original, as the consequence of organic growth and/or subsequent phases of further planned development.
New Winchelsea
Satellite photograph of the central area of modern Winchelsea.
Remnants of the grid-pattern street layout of the planned town of New Winchelsea, can still be clearly seen in this birds-eye view. In founding New Winchelsea, the king aimed to preserve the persons and the financial viability of an existing but at-risk community of taxpayers situated at a strategic point (militarily and economically) on the English coast. His plan's provision for residential, commercial, and spiritual needs of inhabitants echoes the fundamentals of practically all new town initiatives in medieval England. Even the elaborate layout for New Winchelsea can be perceived as incorporating the more basic concept of an axial street (originally Third Street, later the High Street) – connecting, via a formal gateway, Strand Gate (S), the estuary harbour with the old manorial centre of Iham – with tenements facing onto the street serviced by a Back Lane. Between those two east-west streets lay the parish church and its churchyard (C). Two blocks further south was the area allocated as the main marketplace (M), originally flanked by Fifth and Sixth Streets (later reduced to lanes, before falling out of use). The medieval marketplace was flanked on all sides by property plots: those to east and west mostly of the narrow-and-deep burgage type, while others north and south tended to be a little wider and shallower; in either case those of the tenants whose occupations are known were artisans, service providers, or butchers. Church and marketplace could be considered the core elements of original new town plan. With Winchelsea's decline in prosperity and population, and corresponding contraction of the used area of the planned town, market activity refocused around the church and the original marketplace – no longer centrally-located within the surviving residential area – gradually reverted to wasteland, while market activity declined and ceased entirely ca.1800.

Men lower down the aristocratic scale might also be active as market-founders, with those at the lowest end of the scale usually satisfying themselves with a single instance. William Brewer (ca.1145-1226) has elsewhere been noted as founder of several new towns and, both in conjunction with and independent of that role, he instituted a number of markets. His case is worth examining in some detail, since it illustrates the extent of influence, both direct and indirect, a single enterprising individual could have on the growth of the market network. Like Badlesmere and Gaveston, though preceding them chronologically, Brewer lacked blood connection to any English aristocratic family; but he was able to achieve a good marriage, for someone of his social position, to the mistress or widow (second wife) of an Earl of Cornwall. His Devon family having some tradition of service to the monarchy in the administration of the royal forest in Hampshire (notably La Bere, or Ashley, forest), and he himself evidently a man of capability and intelligence, who worked his way up through faithful service in the governments of Richard I and John – the latter sharing Brewer's interest in urbanization, as a means of generating new revenue for the Crown – later becoming a valued counsellor to the young Henry III. His formal roles included Justiciar, Baron of the Exchequer, and more than one term as Sheriff of Devon (the first as early as Henry II's later years, his father also having served that king in the same post); he was also Richard's sheriff in numerous other counties, including Somerset, Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire, although his heavy-handed administration prompted the residents of several of the counties to petition for his dismissal. En route he built up a sizable collection of estates across the country, particularly in the south-west, through royal grants, purchases, or other methods. It is less clear whether he was able to mould these into a baronial honour, though his name has been linked to the barony of Bampton, held after the Conquest by Walter de Douai and his heirs, and then passing by marriage to the Paynel family, to one of whose barons Alice, daughter of William Brewer, made her second marriage; Bampton seems to have become a borough during Brewer's lifetime, though a market was not licensed there until some decades after his death.

In a period, following the Anarchy, when the promise of English commerce was becoming apparent, William Brewer seems to have appreciated, from an early age, how to develop the revenue potential of estates by introducing markets and burghal components; interestingly, he acted as a witness to many of John's charters granted to boroughs. We might bear in mind that merchants and manorial lords were not the only ones hoping to take advantage of a growing volume of commerce cross-crossing the realm; the deployment of markets and fairs increased the number of major land-holders with a vested interest in keeping roads and verges clear of highwaymen, ambushers, outlaws, poachers, and horse-thieves – a concern not so distant from the duties of foresters. Ca. 1190 William obtained from Richard I the grant of a market at Stockbridge (Hants.), and confirmation of the same within the opening year of John's reign, only one day after John had confirmed to William all the lands and the hereditary office of forester held by his grandfather in the time of Henry I. During Henry III's minority William, or his like-named son, added a licence for a fair whose timing makes reference to the dedications (St. Peter) of both the parish church and a subordinate chapel situated at the eastern extremity of Stockbridge, at a crossroads; though the parish church pre-existed the Brewer lordship, it seems likely enough William built or expanded the chapel to serve the original market settlement.

An area within the hundred of King's Sombourne, and at one extreme of the manor of the same name, of which it was a member. Stockbridge was located between two branches of the River Test, where crossed by the main route between Winchester and Old Salisbury, near where that road was crossed by another connecting Andover and Southampton, on the east side of the settlement – a promising site for commercial development in a region with which the Brewers were quite familiar, as it lay within their jurisdiction as foresters. The village comprised one long and wide street, and the location specified in John's confirmation, which granted William the entire manor, was 'Le Strete'; the grant of a one-day market (weekday unspecified) was said to be an enhancement (in augmentum) of the value of the manor, indicative of William's plans to develop the manor, but it is unclear whether the intent of this wording, in a period before licence terminology was standardized, was that William would designate a market-day at a later time (there being, at this date, less concern about competition with other markets in the region, of which there were then none in that part of Hampshire) or, improbably, that the day might fluctuate, so long as the market was held only once weekly. This was apparently a prelude to Stockbridge acquiring borough status under his lordship, but in this, his first experiment with town-founding, William is not known to have issued the residents with any charter of borough liberties, although, based on claims of later inhabitants, it seems they essentially came to hold the borough at farm from the manorial lords. It may be that William's development plan involved no more than the installation of a burghal component around Stockbridge's main street/marketplace, either side of which is flanked by burgage-type plots, seemingly laid out in discrete blocks of varying depths and possibly representing separate phases of development, with the earliest unit near the chapel [Dave Hopkins, Extensive Urban Survey - Hampshire and the Isle of Wight: Stockbridge Archaeological Assessment Document, Hampshire County Council, 2004, p.5]; a concomitant of the differing depths is that no service lanes are evident at the rear of the plots. The first documentary reference to burgages is in the 1230s (after William's death) and further references in that century indicate they were increasing in number. Domesday had mentioned a few burgesses on a Somborne manor, but it is very doubtful their burgess status derived from Somborne [Rosalind Hill, "The Borough of Stockbridge" Proceedings of the Hampshire Field Club and Archaeological Society, vol. 33 (1976), pp.79-80; Hopkins, op.cit., p.3].

When Brewer obtained (1200) royal permission to have a castle at either Stockbridge or Ashley – another of Brewer's manors, a few miles south-west – he opted for the latter, where he restored a fortification raised during the Anarchy and afterwards slighted; this castle was well-placed to control and protect the Winchester-Old Sarum road. Brewer's interest in a castle was, beyond its military potential at a time when the new king lacked popularity (Brewer himself being considered by some an evil royal counsellor), partly as a status symbol to signify aristocratic aspirations, but perhaps also to have an appropriate base for hosting his royal master – John is frequently recorded as staying at Ashley – and providing him with hunting opportunities in La Bere. Ca. 1201 Brewer founded a priory at Mottisfont, another royal manor which had come under his lordship by that date, a few miles to the south-east of Ashley (but also in the Test valley) – like the castle, an act to demonstrate his wealth, piety, and worthiness of high social status. Brewer endowed the priory with all his land at Mottisfont, but not until 1351 were a market and two fairs licensed there, on a separate manor held by the canons of York cathedral, although Brewer's manor had the privilege of holding the assize of bread and ale, which might just point to an unlicensed market during his time.

William Brewer's next project, more ambitious and elaborately planned, was Bridgwater, situated on the River Parrett, which empties into the Severn Estuary, whose tidal force assisted ships proceed up the river; in the post-Conquest centuries Bridgwater became Somerset's most important inland port (retaining that role up to modern times) and moderately large vessels could be unloaded there or their cargoes transferred to barges for shipping further upriver, or to carts for transport overland. The place-name, however, likely refers to a river crossing by bridge (probably built during the lordship of Walter de Douai, around the time of Domesday), rather than the alternative possibility of a quay or jetty [Clare Gathercole and Chris Webster, Somerset Extensive Urban Survey: Bridgwater Archaeological Assessment, Somerset County Council, 2001, p.4] Brewer evidently recognized the potential for further development and in 1199 acquired the manor, whose village was already fairly populous by 1086 though seemingly of a purely agricultural character. The following year, with royal approval, he began work on fortifying the place, with a moated castle that became a focus for urban growth and incorporated a Watergate giving access to the riverside, as well as stone entrance gates through the ditch-rampart surrounding the settlement; the gates were to control traffic and facilitate toll collection. Brewer probably also rebuilt the bridge in stone – which, by impeding larger vessels from proceeding, would have increased Bridgwater's business as a port and transhipment point – and might even have had basic quayside facilities constructed on either side of the bridge. Less certainly, he may have built St. Mary's church, which has a central position in the town and whose oldest surviving fabric is thirteenth-century, though this does not preclude a church that served the earlier agricultural community. William is more clearly associated with the foundation there of an Augustinian hospital, whose endowments were ratified by the king in 1216, and whose dedication to St. John Baptist may help explain the timing of the fair. Brewer further acquired a royal charter giving Bridgwater the status of a free borough, as well as a market and 8-day fair, with right to impose stallage and collect tolls on commercial goods, along with payage, pontage, passage, and lastage – reflecting his intention to capitalize from commercial through-traffic – although his burgesses were advantaged by being exempted from the same, at Bridgwater and throughout the realm, London excepted. The following year saw some fine-tuning, with market-day switched from Thursday to Monday. The marketplace seems to have been a large, roughly rectangular area in a central position within the town, between the churchyard and the castle gate [Gathercole, op.cit., p.17], onto which converged several roads, including the wide High Street, able to accommodate market overflow; but its extent is uncertain as it was later subdivided into specialized marketing spaces and parts have been obscured by later encroachment. Thanks in no small part to Brewer's development initiatives, as well as the growth of the cloth industry there, Bridgwater went on to flourish commercially, its market one of the most important in the county, at least until the mid-fourteenth century, and it became one of the county's most populous settlements, containing roughly 650 burgages (not all in occupation) by the last quarter of that century, which can be associated with a number of morphological units representing phases of growth, some spilling out beyond the town ditch. For Brewer, Bridgwater served as the caput of his estates in that region.

William Brewer's town-founding activities continued with an even more ambitious undertaking: developing two towns at once. In 1204 King John granted William the royal manors of Chesterfield (Derbs.), Axminster (Devon) and Sneinton (Notts.) to hold at farm; after Prince John's abortive rebellion in 1194, Brewer had been given custody of many of John's Midland estates, and so had the opportunity to develop his own landed interests in that region. Sneinton, despite being near a crossing of the Trent, was also neighboured by Nottingham, so perhaps Brewer doubted its potential for carving out a market niche. But the grant of Chesterfield was accompanied by liber burgus status – although we may note that it had already been taxed as a borough in 1198/99 – with liberties and customs based on those of Nottingham and Derby, at Brewer's selection, and a market on both Tuesday and Saturday and an 8-day fair (not linked to the parish church dedication), along with the right to take market and fair tolls from all non-burgesses. The vague terms of the grant, along with Chesterfield being a mesne borough, rather than self-administering, was a recipe for the conflict between townsmen and seigneur which is evidenced during the remainder of Brewer's lifetime, with the townsmen forming a merchant gild as a vehicle for self-determination; despite Chesterfield's borough status, local administration would continue to focus on the manorial court up to the sixteenth century.

The grant of Axminster manor was accompanied by a Sunday market and a fishery. No fair is mentioned nor is borough status, but both omissions were rectified in a royal confirmation issued in 1209, according to Beresford & Finberg, yet absent from a further confirmation issued 1215 – in the context of the Magna Carta crisis – by which the king also remitted the payment of the annual farm and added Axminster hundred (explicitly excluded in 1204) to the grant. So some uncertainty remains over this grant; but that the fair was said to be of eight days duration, beginning at a festival of St. John Baptist (which saint was once shared the dedication of the parish church) adds credibility to the earlier confirmation. The charter indicated Axminster's market to have long been in existence, while other sources show Chesterfield's market also to have been providing revenue to the Crown for about a half-century previous to the grant, and a fair also existed earlier there, though this may have been one intended to benefit a leper hospital. The grant of two market days is more unusual, and may have reflected the existing situation, or perhaps Brewer was confident that the extent of local commerce warranted it; the king was happy to oblige, since he was using the charter to piggyback on Brewer's successful record of extracting revenue from market towns. Despite Chesterfield's market flourishing, so that its original site – to the north of the parish church and near the communal moothall, but hemmed in by converging roads – had to be supplemented, and was eventually superseded, by a much larger marketplace [Philip Riden, "The Origin of the New Market of Chesterfield", Derbyshire Archaeological Journal, vol.97 (1977) p.5]; the old marketplace, or some part of it, continued to host the presumably smaller Tuesday event, referred to as the 'weekday market' (though this would not last much beyond the sixteenth century), while the presumably larger Saturday event was held in the ne new marketplace. It is debated whether Brewer was instrumental in creating the new marketplace – to which there are documentary references from the 1220s – or at least an initial phase of its development, by allocating manorial land to the purpose and laying out plots for rows of stalls or shops, to be rented, or whether that process had begun prior to his time [Gill Stroud, Derbyshire Extensive Urban Survey Archaeological Assessment Report: Chesterfield, Derbyshire County Council, 2002, p.25; Riden, op.cit., pp.5-12].

Chesterfield, whose place-name indicates the presence of a Roman fort (in the first and second centuries AD), lay on a ridge overlooking the confluence of the Rother and Hipper rivers; it was situated, within a very large parish, in the centre of a network of old Roman roads and valley routes through its and neighbouring shires. One of these passed directly through Chesterfield en route to a crossing of the Rother, continuing to Derby and Worcester, while another connected to the Cheshire salt wiches. Furthermore, it lay between two different economic regions: – good arable farming to the east, pastoral farming and mining of lead to the west, with coal, clay, and iron also plentiful in the surrounds. From the twelfth century we have indications that suggest Chesterfield might be considered proto-urban [Stroud, op.cit., p.9] and the cloth trade is evidenced there by 1202, though we do not know its extent – but the marketplace later included rows assigned to drapers and mercers. Such things may have been what persuaded Brewer to further Chesterfield's development into what would become an important regional centre, benefitting from having one of the earliest Derbyshire markets. Despite the presence of a minster church in the Early Middle Ages, the settlement appears of little significance at the time of Domesday, when within the manor of Newbold; but Chesterfield seems to have emerged within it as a separate manor by 1093, and by the 1160s, when we have the first of several Pipe Roll references to a market there, yielding 22s. 7d to the king, it may already have had a marketplace surrounded by burgage plots.

Axminster, situated on a small hill or spur overlooking the River Axe, which emptied into the English Channel, lay at a junction of two Roman roads: one connecting Lincoln and Exeter, the other Dorchester and Exeter; as at Chesterfield, there had been a Roman fort and associated civilian settlement in the vicinity, skirted by one of the roads. Closer at hand, these roads connected to: in Devon, Honiton, where an earl of Devon founded a small borough in the early thirteenth century and its market is heard of a few years later, the port of Seaton at the mouth of the Axe, formed by adding a burghal component with marketplace to an older Saxon settlement (though its market was not licensed until 1276), and the port of Sidmouth, where borough and market are both are both evidenced in the same century; the Somerset communities of Ilminster and Crewkerne, their markets existing at the time of Domesday, and also Chard, whose episcopal seigneur would establish a self-governing borough in 1236 and formalize the burgesses' market and fair in 1253; and along the Dorset coast, Lyme Regis, whose market is recorded in 1220 and licensed three decades later, with the existence of a borough formally recognized by royal charter in 1285, and Bridport, a Saxon burh and Domesday borough whose royal market was explicitly mentioned in 1278.

The earliest documentary reference to Axminster itself is from the eighth century, when we hear of an atheling being buried there; the place-name indicates the presence of a monastic church, founded by some Wessex king, which was likely the focus for Saxon settlement. In 1246 Newenham Abbey was founded, just south of Axminster, by Reginald II de Mohun, the son of Alice, one of William Brewer's daughters and heiresses, and in 1258 he bequeathed Axminster manor and its like-named hundred to the abbey. Prior to Brewer possession, Axminster had been part of a large royal estate. The 1204 charter to William Brewer indicated that a market had been customarily held at Axminster – that Sunday was the day of the event also suggests some antiquity; it may well have been a hundredal market. George Pulman [The Book of the Axe, 4th ed., London, 1875, p.622] claimed that it was moved to Saturday after the Church opposed Sunday markets. The abbey also held a fair, which was challenged, as unlicensed, under quo warranto, the abbot defending that it was part and parcel of Axminster manor and calling on the head of the Mohun family to corroborate, though this was an underage heir, which stalled proceedings.

Axminster not having received a great deal of attention from historians (nor archaeologists, with the notable exception of the Roman fort and roads), it is not known to what extent Brewer was active in developing the place. One of the first things he may have done, upon acquiring the manor, was to erect a fortification. King John had given him, in 1200, permission to fortify three castles – one at a Devon location of his choice, one of two specified options in Hampshire, and one at Bridgwater. Axminster's street-plan preserves, in Castle Street and Castle Hill, suggestions of such a structure and, although no significant above-ground remains survive or have come to light during excavation, thick sections of wall within later properties [Pulman, op.cit, p.595] and reported observations of a ditch lend support to the possibility that a castle once existed, possibly built on the site of an Iron Age hill fort; local tradition portrayed the alleged castle site as a Saxon royal palace, and also has reference to a site known as 'The Castle', which in much later times, long after any castle must have been abandoned and fallen into ruin, was used as a marketplace. The street plan also gives some hints of an oval settlement enclosure [John Fisher, Axminster Interim Conservation Area Review, East Devon District Council, 1999, p.4], but there is no concrete evidence of one, and whether such earthworks might have been a pre-Conquest feature or an extension of the castle is unknown. The original marketplace is likely to have lain in a central position, between the castle and the parish church of St. Mary's, but was subsequently relocated on different occasions, in part as fires cleared neighbourhoods of buildings.

Whether Brewer had any hand in rebuilding the parish church is unknown, but the oldest surviving fabric is from late twelfth or early thirteenth century. A more certain way in which Brewer contributed to Axminster was in defending his market there against competition. In 1220 he made complaint to the king's court that the markets at Sidmouth and Lyme Regis were harmful to Axminster's. This is our first reference to the Sidmouth market, and is supported by a similar complaint by Falkes de Breauté – who, as guardian of the heir to the earldom of Devon, was probably trying to protect Honiton's market – on the grounds that Sidmouth's market day had been changed from Sunday to Saturday, without royal licence. Brewer alleged that Lyme Regis' market had likewise been raised without licence. The challenge may explain why a later manorial lord, Elias de Rabayne, mid-century, relicensed Lyme's market for Monday then ,some years later, changed it again to Wednesday, which brought forth a complaint in 1278 from Bridport, whose own market was a Wednesday event; it was argued that Rabayne was operating his market every day of the week and, though he denied he had strayed beyond the official Monday event, a jury found otherwise and stated that Lyme's market was detrimental to Bridport's, partly because they were only a few miles apart. In 1223/24 Brewer raised an objection to the establishment of a market at East Teignmouth, a Saturday event licensed 1220 by the canons of Exeter), which Letters assumed was also in defence of Axminster, though there was a considerable distance between the two, so that it might have been on behalf of the much closer market at Newton Abbot (see below). The proliferation of small market towns in Devon meant that complaints of unfair competition were relatively common there. We do not know the outcome of the legal contests Brewer initiated, but he may have felt his status at court gave him an advantage against rivals.

Not all of William Brewer's property development initiatives helped communities along the path of urbanization. Several places that came under his aegis never became boroughs, but their names are indicative of ambitions for them: Market Deeping (Lincs.), Chipping Torrington (Devon), and Newton Poppleford (Devon).

One of a collection of villages known as the Deepings, in fenland beside the River Welland, Market Deeping lay just a few miles north and east, respectively, of the boroughs of Peterborough and Stamford, while a similar distance to its north-east was Spalding, whose market was referenced in Domesday. An earlier tenant than Brewer, Richard de Rulos, is credited by Camden with having already made improvements in the early twelfth century, converting fenland to meadow, pasture, and perhaps residential plots, embanking the river to protect from flooding, and converting a Saxon chapel (dedication to St. Guthlac, a Lincolnshire saint) into a church, whose oldest surviving fabric is from late in the same century; Richard became connected with the Wake family through marriage, while his daughter married Devon land-holder Baldwin Fitz-Gilbert de Clare. Brewer may nonetheless have felt there was still room for another market in the area, or scope to exploit the existing settlement, for in 1220 Henry III's caretaker government issued him with a provisional licence for a Thursday market at the manor of Market Deeping, and a few months later he secured a release from the palfrey he had committed to pay for the licence; the market-day clashed with none of its aforementioned competitors, so we hear of no objection from their owners. What may have been known as East Deeping at the time of Domesday, when a moderately large settlement, and perhaps as Deeping St. Guthlac for a while, seems to have acquired its more permanent epithet after the grant of the market licence, though possibly it was already the location of an informal market. The settlement had a linear plan-form focused on a convergence of roads: that from Stamford, following the river-bank, becoming the High Street, in which was held the market, at a point where joined by a road from the church, passing the manor-house, and another leading to the river crossing, bridged at unknown date. Some plots on Church Street are reminiscent of the burgage type, but there is no evidence burgage tenure was ever implemented at Market Deeping. In the opening years of the fourteenth century the market licence was renewed, and a fair added, by members of the Wake family, into which Brewer had married one of his daughters prior to 1213. Conceivably, Brewer's interest in Market Deeping stemmed from that connection rather than any conspicuous virtues of the location for commercial development. Family or other social relationships, while not necessarily as important as economic factors, are potential influences on the aims or decisions of market licensees and, though harder to come to grips with, cannot safely be ignored by historians.

Just over a year after William Brewer took out the Deeping licence, we find the king approving a grant by William de Torinton to Brewer of property in Devon and Somerset that included the manor of Torrington, with its liber burgus and fair – this grant perhaps taking the form of a mortgage or pledge for a debt, for the duration of three years. Torrington's location was connected by several roads to other parts of the south-west and it would, in due course, become a centre for the wool trade, cloth-making, and later glove manufacture. Domesday confirms Saxon-era evidence of a fairly significant farming estate, held by the Conqueror's half-brother, Odo, with several villages, and we later hear of a castle held by Odo's son – this being destroyed during the Anarchy but subsequently rebuilt and in the hands of the aforesaid William de Torinton (presumed a descendant or tenant of the Fitz-Odo line) in the early thirteenth century, though it was slighted in 1228 on grounds of having been rebuilt without royal permission, and had disappeared from the landscape by Leland's time. This offence might just possibly provide a clue as to why Torrington and its fair would be mortgaged to Brewer. The castle topped a steep escarpment overlooking the River Torridge, some miles inland from the coast, though the navigable head of the river was only two miles distant; the settlement, bounded on three sides by the river and a tributary, grew up around roads ascending and running along the same ridge, though with less severe a drop than at the castle site.

Beresford & Finberg believed the borough had been founded, within the settlement differentiated as Great Torrington, by the Torinton family, at some point in the twelfth century; new settlement at that period may have focused along the approach road to the castle and been intended to service the garrison. A church was in existence before the close of the twelfth century. By the mid-thirteenth the vill had become known as Chipping Torrington, in deference to the unlicensed borough market – market activity there being documented as early as the 1180s [J. Ratcliffe, Devon Historic Coastal and Market Towns Survey: Great Torrington, Devon County Council, 2013, p.4] , perhaps taking place in a roughly rectangular space beside the churchyard, into which ran various streets, including one that led to a bridge over the river. Burgage plots can be discerned around the marketplace and parts of the road to the bridge; in 1326 we hear of 43 burgages in Great Torrington. The market is heard of again in 1371 when held by the widow of Richard de Merton who, mid-century, had several royal licences to crenellate, though more likely this meant fortifying a manor-house rather than rehabilitating the castle. If Brewer had held Torrington for only a few years, he is unlikely to have contributed much to its development.

William Brewer's son, also William, who became his heir following the death of an older son ca.1214, took up his late father's mantle but briefly, by acquiring in 1226 a Tuesday market for his manor of Poppleford. This lay a few miles north-west of Sidmouth, on the road between Exeter and Lyme Regis, and on the River Otter, which reached the coast at Budleigh Salterton, although the river would only have supported navigation by small boats. 'Poppleford' refers to a pebble ford across the river. It seems likely that Brewer held Poppleford of the Redvers Earls of Devon; William junior had married a daughter of the 5th earl, but Poppleford probably reverted to the earldom after William junior died without a direct male heir. Poppleford was later held by the Courtenay barons of Okehampton, who were somewhat distantly related to the Redvers, through marriage, and were their successors in the Devon earldom; the barony of Okehampton was the largest baronial landholding in Devon, whose caput was the castle at the (Domesday) borough of Okehampton. In 1254 baron John de Courtenay, whose father Robert had in 1221 licensed a fair to complement Okehampton's long-standing market, renewed the market licence for Poppleford – though for Thursday instead of Tuesday – and added a fair, and at the same time acquired licence for market and fair at Chawleigh (also Devon, and also later evidenced a borough); Poppleford was then said to be within the manor of Aylesbeare (sometimes mistakenly confused with Aylesbury), which was also the name of the parish of which Newton Poppleford was a chapelry and tithing. The chapel was dedicated to St. Luke, whose festival was the focus for Popplesford's fair. In quo warranto proceedings of 1281/82, John de Courtenay's son Hugh (whose like-named son became the first Courtenay earl), and John's widow, born Isabella de Vere, were both called on to defend the right to market and fair at 'Nywanton'; Hugh defended his manorial rights on the grounds that his ancestors had held them as part of the barony, and Isabella on the grounds of dower, calling on her son to corroborate. Hugh asserted that neither of them were at that time operating commercial institutions at Newton. This may have been merely obfuscation, however, for the inquisition post mortem on Hugh in 1292 refers to rental income from the township of 'la Nywaton' and from a fair (there?), held of the barony. John de Courtenay's own post mortem, in 1274, had described Popelsford as a member of the manor of Aylesbeare and, though mentioning no fair, referred to a borough there.

It is unknown precisely when the epithet 'Newton' came to be added to Poppleford; it points to a new settlement component, perhaps burghal, but the date when this was created eludes us at present. It would be tempting, given William Brewer's history, to see it as a follow-up to Brewer's licence, but there is no evidence to support the hypothesis. Plots along Newton Poppleford's High Street have the long rear gardens that bring to mind burgages, but they might alternatively be the relics of strip-farming. Nor can we tell if Newton's market fell into abeyance at some point during the lordship of the Courtenays; yet Exeter was not far off, and there was plenty of other competition in the vicinity, from markets: to its south at Exmouth and Otterton – the last (mentioned in Domesday), on the Otter but closer to the coast; to its north at Ottery St. Mary (licensed 1227) and Honiton; to the west at Woodbury (licensed 1286, perhaps accompanied by foundation of a borough); and to the east at Colyton, another Courtenay property, Colyford (a borough), Seaton and Sidmouth (see above).

Interestingly, the Brewer family shows no indication of fostering a market at its manor of Tor Brewer, despite that being located on the Devon coast (now part of Torquay), and despite William Brewer's gift of land there (1196) for the foundation of Torre Abbey. This tends to reinforce an impression of strategic discrimination in regard to those of his manors where William licensed markets. On the other hand, William was indirectly responsible for another market, which his abbey established in the manor of Wolborough, part of its endowment by Brewer, as a new town initiative, which became known as Newton Abbot. Today Wolborough is considered a suburb of the market town of Newton Abbot; at the time of Domesday it was held by Ralph de Brewer. A provisional licence for market and fair was issued in 1220, though whether Brewer's influence lay behind this grant remains unknown; if so, he may also have been instrumental in obtaining permission the following year for the market-day to be changed from from Wednesday to Friday and the fair moved ahead two months from the Nativity of St. Mary (to whom the parish church, mentioned in Domesday, was dedicated) to the festival of St. Leonard (to whom a market chapel, founded ca.1220, was dedicated), as well as for the abbey to be pardoned in 1223 the five marks due for the original licence. A confirmation of the licence was obtained by the abbey in 1269. The marketplace was in Wolborough Street , perhaps particularly (the shambles) near the chapel at the east end, where it widened to form a junction with other roads, one of which, East Street, led to a river crossing; map evidence suggests burgages along either side of Wolborough Street and East Street.

Very unusually, a second planned settlement was founded in Henry III's reign, on the opposite side of the modest River Lemon – a tributary of the Teign estuary, whose access to the sea helps explain the commercial potential of the site – almost immediately across from Newton Abbot, in the ridgetop manor of Teignwick (later Bradley, and still later Highweek, now another suburb of Newton Abbot). The neighbouring settlement came to be known as Newton Bushel, after the family that later owned the manor. An earlier lord, Theobald de Engleschevill – who held the manor on a life lease from Henry III until he obtained an outright grant in 1247 – had licensed a Tuesday market in 1246; just a few days later he was given royal permission to earn revenue from the manor by dividing the waste land up into acre plots and by laying out burgages, all for rental at 12d an acre, though any burgage plots are hard to make out on modern maps. Like Brewer, Theobald appears to have been a valued royal servant or courtier, rewarded with favours. Theobald's son having predeceased him, he in the year before his death (1262) conveyed the manor to a kinsman or foster-son, Robert Bussell, whose own son and heir Theobald defended, in quo warranto proceedings of 1281/82, holding a fair there, on the grounds the fair had been in operation since Henry III's grant of the manor. A William Busshel licensed two further fairs in 1309; one was at the feast of All Saints, the dedication of a local chapel, dependent on the parish church of Kingsteignton, which before the Conquest was a large royal estate and centre for hundredal and ecclesiastical administration, out of which Wolborough and Teignwick were carved, though no burghal component or market is evidenced there. Newton Bushel's market is suspected to have been in the vicinity of a chapel dedicated to St. Mary [P. Weddell, Devon Historic Coastal and Market Towns Survey: Kingsteignton and Newton Abbot, Devon County Council, 2015, p.8] whose surviving fabric is fifteenth century, though possibly successor to an older structure.

Torre Abbey shows no sign of having complained about this very close competitor, whose market-day was doubtless chosen to avoid a legal challenge. Neither of the medieval boroughs shows much sign of having expanded greatly, and excavation of some of the burgages has revealed modest buildings; nor does either market evidence great success, but each seems to have fared well enough. Not only did they have good access to the sea, but were well-placed in regard to a convergence of roads from the coast and interior of Devon: one of which, leading to Exeter, crossed the Teign just to its north, at Teignbridge, while a branch off that crossed the Lemon by a bridge linking the two Newtons. Almost a century after the abbey lost Wolborough manor at the Dissolution, the twin towns were merged, with a larger, united market established in Wolborough Street.

William Brewer retired in 1224 into the Cistercian community at Dunkeswell Abbey, where he died two years later. He had founded the abbey in 1201, on a site a few miles north-west of Honiton (and so within striking distance of Axminster), endowing it with all his property in Dunkeswell parish and other lands in Devon. But again, it was not a location for which he attempted to obtain market facilities, although the abbey obtained in 1290, licences for markets at Devon manors it held at Buckland Brewer and Broadhembury, as well as fairs at the Assumption of St. Mary, to whom the abbey was dedicated. The Cistercians were given to developing waste or difficult land into productive farmland, and perhaps a man like Brewer felt a particular affinity for that order. Foundations of religious houses were, of course, not simply charitable or pious acts, but also investments in the spiritual health, and salvation prospects, of the founder and any others whom the founder chose to associate in the prayers expected from the monastic communities.

William Brewer might be considered a medieval version of today's developer/businessman. He kept an eye out for opportunities with potential, and exploited them through a carefully thought out, if not quite standardized, approach, leaving behind him a number of market towns that are still boroughs today, though some of the markets and fairs in which he invested eventually failed, well after his own time.

He was not quite so successful in investing in progeny, however, one son predeceasing him and a second, William junior, outliving him only a few years – neither having done much to extend their father's 'business empire' – and dying childless, so that his lands, towns, markets, and other assets were divided among several daughters, for whom he had arranged advantageous marriages into baronial families, some already mentioned above. Their husbands or descendants later feature among operators of markets, such as: at Bourne (Lincs.), licensed by Baldwin Wake in 1281; Arthuret (Cumb.), licensed by the widow and son of John, first Baron Wake of Liddell; Nafferton (Yorks.) licensed by William de Percy in 1224; Dunster (Somers.) licensed 1253 by Reginald II de Mohun, though pre-existing in the borough; Sawbridgeworth (Herts.), licensed 1222 by Geoffrey de Say, and Linton (Cambs.) by his son in 1246. Another daughter married into the Braose family, despite it supporting the opposition to King John, various of whose members established a number of markets. We cannot attribute any of these to the direct influence of William Brewer, but in a certain sense they were his legacy disseminating across the country.

The spread of Christianity across early medieval England, and the related development of Church infrastructure was a factor in the growth of the market network, not simply because churchmen held large areas of land and controlled large numbers of agrarian labourers, but also because the clergy were among the occasional consumers of luxury items (e.g. those used in religious observances, or for beautification of churches), and paid for the same partly with money raised from the sale of products of agriculture and animal husbandry. Various arms of the Church, in their role as major land-owners, were responsible for a large number of town foundations; of Beresford's urban sample, 33‰ were founded by bishops or abbots who, unsurprisingly, were not well-positioned to found many towns in war-contested Wales. Ecclesiastical landlords were engaging in this kind of activity earlier than secular seigneurial lords, particularly in terms of towns growing up in association with monasteries, which tended to be – although not invariably – nodes of trade because they were relatively large consumer communities with a relatively high degree of disposable wealth.

The proliferation of monastic houses, including those of the military orders (e.g. the Templars) was a dimension to the re-acculturation of England under the Norman regime. Land granted to new religious foundations by the king and other lay beneficiaries of the Conquest was not always the most usable. But clearing of forest and reclamation of marshland not only permitted expansion of cultivation but stimulated the plantation of new towns: directly, in terms of creating space for new communal settlement, and indirectly, in terms of generating more grain, supporting more meat animals, etc., which necessitated an improved market network. It might also be added that forest clearance could sometimes give more security to commercial travellers, by removing cover for highwaymen [e.g. Calendar of Patent Rolls 1258-66, p.65]. Later, picking up the slack left by diminished royal involvement, bishops became more active in town-founding as they sought to improve the revenues of their dioceses, to provide for the consumer needs of the immediate ecclesiastical community and of lay tenants in the locality, and to create an outlet into the commercial network for surplus agricultural produce and for wool from the large flocks of sheep raised on their manors. Like monasteries, cathedrals needed specialized and expensive items that were part of religious ceremonies, though these were more likely to be sourced through merchants than markets.

Ecclesiastical involvement, however, varied considerably from region to region, so it is hard to make generalizations, though the Benedictines seem to have been the order most conscious of the revenues that could be obtained from founding towns. Although known for their planning abilities, as well as for sheep-farming – both building large flocks and breeding to produce better-quality wool – the Cistercians were not highly active in the field of town-founding, for they were required to isolate themselves from the contaminating worldliness of secular communities; yet they became active in developing the agricultural/pastoral yield of their lands, and this drew them into marketing surplus produce. They preferred to found towns in outlying parts of their estates, where they also had granges for storage of produce; there are few examples of this in England, but Market Drayton is one. The role of religious orders in establishing markets or new towns is less evident from the thirteenth century, but this was partly because new monastic foundations were fewer, popular religion refocused somewhat on the friars, and many of the existing monasteries declined in wealth as gifts and endowments fell off (partly stifled by the Statute of Mortmain), bad management took a toll on house finances, and the monastic life no longer drew so many recruits from noble families.

Some bishops and abbots seem, from personal inclination and background, more predisposed to this kind of initiative, although it may also be the case that, in some dioceses, if not a policy then at least a tradition of town-founding or market-founding was established, if only for a temporary period, and we must also bear in mind that it was part of episcopal duty to strengthen the economic foundations of their sees. For instance, a string of Bishops of Winchester in the first half of the thirteenth century founded a total of six small towns in Hampshire and Wiltshire, of which two failed to prosper, while planned market extensions were added to three longer-established settlements; by the early fourteenth century there were within the episcopal estates about a dozen towns whose markets contributed revenues to the bishops [Mark Page, "Shops and Shopkeepers in medieval Hampshire: Evidence from Fareham and Havant before the Black Death," Hampshire Studies, vol.66 (2011), p.162]. The estates of the Bishops of Hereford likewise included half a dozen places where planned burgage components were introduced.

The efforts of Bishop Richard Poore in town-founding (notably Salisbury) and in licensing markets and fairs has elsewhere been noted, but he was not the only Bishop of Salisbury to engage in such activities. To give just one, though a notable, instance, Bishop Simon de Gandavo was in 1300 granted, all on the same occasion, Monday markets at Godalming (Surrey) and Yetminster (Dorset), along with fairs at both places, Tuesday markets at Chiddingfold (Surrey, plus a fair there), Ramsbury (Wilts.), and Sherborne (Dorset), at the last two of which Bishop Bingham had much earlier licensed fairs; for which package he paid £ 20. There is no evidence of town-founding in conjunction with the licensing of any of these markets, but Godalming had, at the time of Domesday, been an important royal manor with minster church and site of the hundred court, while Sherborne had been an early episcopal seat, which gave way to an abbey, beside which a sizeable lay settlement had grown up by the Conquest; Bishop Roger of Caen erected a castle there (ca.1137), which became the focus for more settlement, and in 1227/28 Bishop Poore founded Sherborne Newland as a planned burghal component around a lane connecting the castle to a green at one end of Cheap Street. Bishops like Robert Burnell and Peter de Roches are other examples whose foundations are discussed within this study.

As a further example, Hugh of Northwold (fl.1202-54) took out licences for six markets during his career, first as an abbot of Bury St. Edmunds then as a Bishop of Ely, although only at one of those locations is there some evidence also of town-founding, while his predecessor as bishop had licensed two (non-urban) markets. It was rare for episcopal urban foundations to do as strikingly well as that at New Salisbury, for most tended to be small and unambitious foundations whose communities were not accorded any more independence of action than was felt necessary to achieve the limited goals of the founders. Yet there were exceptions, such as the episcopal market-town foundations at Lichfield (ca.1140, a planned addition to a long-existing cathedral-focused settlement) and Stratford-upon-Avon (1196, an entirely new planned town), both economically successful, at least until the economic contraction following the Black Death. Ecclesiastical institutions could call on a resource of educated men capable of planning urban layouts that drew upon theory but were able to adapt to the topographical and geological constraints of a site. Besides, informed town planning already had a history, in the burhs of Anglo-Saxon England.

Religious houses consumed a wide range of commodities although they usually tried to keep their expenditures closely managed. Having a market close at hand must have been useful to a monastic community, but not indispensable, nor is it likely that local traders could meet all the needs of such groups; some communities preferred to be at arm's length from secular activities or somewhat secluded from lay settlements, but even these could send officials or members off on missions to purchase needed goods, to markets of larger towns, to ports, and to fairs. For instance, Hempton Priory (Norf.) seems to have had a local market in the thirteenth century, but in 1500 that market has no explicit presence in an extant account of the bursar; it may have deteriorated or failed by that period, though fairs at Easter and in November, along with related court fines, were still earning over 40s. a year and manorial grain was being sold via numerous private transactions. Yet the priory was doing some of its buying and selling through markets and shops at Great Massingham, East Dereham, and Walsingham, as well as agents attending various fairs in the county [John L'Estrange, "Account of the Bursar of Hempton Priory for the year 1500-1", Norfolk Antiquarian Miscellany, vol.1, pt.1 (1873), pp.107-40]. Similarly, the Abbey of Crowland had in 1257 been granted its own market at that location (Lincs.), yet we have evidence [National Archives, SC 8/103/5116] that, around 1391, the abbey was sending servants to Market Deeping, a few miles west, to purchase victuals, and possibly to Stamford too, while it was also carting in victuals from another of its own markets, at Baston (just beyond Deeping), licensed at the same time as the Crowland market. Whether the latter was still operational in the late fourteenth century we do not know; but, if so, it apparently could not satisfy the monks' needs.

Most monastic consumer groups were not of a size, by themselves, to keep a local market financially viable, comprising only a small number of monks, though a larger number of lay servants and also the occasional novice, as well as fostering farming and other settlement in the vicinity; but the standard of living of monastic communities was relatively high, though rarely luxurious, their hospitable and charitable duties helped drive consumption, and their endowments might furnish adequate income to support this lifestyle (unless mismanagement brought economic difficulties). The larger and wealthier houses, such as Durham priory maintained a measure of self-sufficiency, in terms of baking and brewing on-site and having facilities to lay up quantities of foodstuffs for the winter; they maintained relationships with local merchants, some of whom might act as their purchasing agents, and were probably visited fairly regularly by travelling merchants with goods to sell. Their interest in establishing local markets may have been less to meet their own needs than to service their lay tenants of the vicinity. But since their realty endowments were often scattered across one or more regions, they might operate more than one market; Battle Abbey, for instance, not only had a market in the lay settlement founded outside its gates – its antiquity suggested by it being held on Sundays – and obtained from Henry I grant of a fair, but by 1312 also owned markets at Wye and Hawkhurst and fairs at both as well as at Challock, all among the abbey's manors in Kent. Similarly, the Abbey of Bury St. Edmunds generated a little of its considerable wealth from markets and fairs held not only in Bury itself but also at various other locations in Suffolk, such as the borough of Beccles (where the market was shared with the king), and manors of Mildenhall, Redgrave, Long Melford, and Southwold, as well as at Harlow (Ess.) and Brooke (Norf.); we might note that the abbots were very vigorous, and quite successful, in defending their Bury institutions against upstart competitors.

We might wonder quite how monastic communities were able to operate such worldly activities as markets; presumably they relied on lay officials or servants, or possibly farmed out the markets in some cases. Little light can be thrown on that question by this study, but the issue is illustrated by the case of the convent of St. Helen's Bishopsgate (London), which was in 1306 granted a market for its manor at Brentford (Middx.); a couple of years after the Black Death the priory sought royal confirmation of the grant, apparently fearing a loss of market rights, since – the nuns being recluses (and their lay servants perhaps having been removed by plague) – they were unable to attend to business affairs and the market had consequently fallen into disuse [Rotuli Parliamentorum; ut et Petitiones et Placita in Parliamento tempore Edwardi R. I, vol.2, p.403]. In the decades prior to the Dissolution, the priory was leasing the market to a layman.

As a generalization, we can say that the market towns established by secular lords, particularly the lesser ones, tended to involve simpler layouts than some of those commissioned by kings or by Church leaders, calling on town planners educated at least in the theory of spatial design. Lay lords were interested primarily in generating income from rents and market tolls and were guided more by pragmatics than cosmological ideals. Once market-founders had put in place the institution, and ensured that it was properly serviced by resident traders and artisans, most seem to have settled back to let the profits roll into their coffers, leaving mundane issues of administration to their local officials.

Over time that profit may have grown, if the volume of commercial activity grew, or diminished as competition ate away at commerce and exemptions reduced the amount of toll collectable. In either case, markets seem to have aroused less interest from their owners, except when there was a need to do battle against newcomer competitors, and this diminution of interest may have been that much more pronounced as ownership of the market passed out of the family of the founder, or became partitioned among heirs, along with the manors to which they were attached, further reducing the revenue seen by each of those heirs; we hear increasingly, over the course of the late thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, to anything from a third to an eighth part of market tolls being inherited. One extreme example is seen in the Tolbooth at Lynn ownership of whose various revenues had, by 1306, been so sub-divided that one of the heirs could be said to own "A third part of a fourth part", while by the time of her death in 1358 Queen Isabella had come into possession of "a sixth part of another fourth part and a third part of two parts of the same fourth part" [Calendar of Inquisitions Post Mortem, vol.4, p.263, vol. 10, p.257], along with some even smaller fractions of particular tolls; this made for complicated administration and frustrations for the burgesses, although in the long run worked in their favour, as the various part-owners ceded control to the borough authorities, in return for modest annual payments. In some other cases, the market-owners (mainly when absentee landlords) farmed out the market tolls, and often other assets, to the local community or others who perhaps in some cases were representing community interests. The distancing of many seigneurial owners from their foundations left markets to sink or swim on their own merits and on the shifting tides of commerce, allowing the network to shed some of its more artificial elements and to evolve in response to broader developing trends.



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Created: December 31, 2018. Last update: July 6, 2019 © Stephen Alsford, 2018-2019