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 ca. 1254 : Market Lavington

Keywords: Market Lavington manors villages new towns economy marketplace market licences competition lawsuits Devizes

Lavington was a Domesday manor that had belonged to the Confessor's queen; although the name is Saxon in origin, archaeology has found evidence of some Romano-British occupation on the site, along with an early Saxon cemetery nearby. It is situated at what was the junction of two through-roads, of which the north-south connected Salisbury and Devizes, while the other headed east into the Vale of Pewsey and west to Westbury. It was the latter that furnished the axial street of the village, with the church at the west end and the village around it, extending as far as the north-south through-road, and the manor-house immediately north-east of the church. It is conjectured that a new town was laid out further east along the spinal street, beginning from the east side of the Salisbury-Devizes route – thus extending the village, rather than being detached from it. The roughly square marketplace was not at the crossroads, but beside the street a little further east, where a lesser route from the north joined it. On the east side of the marketplace once stood a building where tolls were paid, the manor court held, and some vendors perhaps found shelter – something similar to that at Thaxted – though from what date it existed is unknown.

Lavington acquired its prefix around the time a market licence was granted in September 1254, though initially the name took the form of Staple Lavington and later Chepying Lavington, both prefixes referring to places of commerce. Around May of the following year the market at Lavington was challenged by that of Devizes, on the grounds that being held so close (within two and a half leagues) and on a Wednesday, the day before the Devizes market took place, it was proving harmful competition. The 1254 grant was made to Richard de la Rokele, as lord of the manor, and at the same time he acquired licence for an August fair at Lavington, a market and fair for a manor he held at South Ockendon (Essex), and right of free warren on his demesne. Richard's mother was the daughter of Geoffrey Fitz-Peter who, although only the son of the royal forester of Ludgershall, rose to become Chief Justiciar under Richard I (who rewarded him with the earldom of Essex) and under John. During Henry III's reign Richard entered the service of Prince Edward, as a keeper of various castles and forests, but notably as the prince's steward in Ireland and, from about 1246 to 1256, as lieutenant of the king's Chief Justiciar in Ireland; the latter was John Fitz-Geoffrey, younger son of the aforementioned earl of Essex, and Richard's uncle. It was towards the time of John's retirement from his office that he sponsored Richard's request for the licences granted in 1254, perhaps a reward for good service. Richard himself is subsequently found in the office of Chief Justiciar of Ireland (1261-66).

Notwithstanding that the king had an obligation to take seriously the complaint by Devizes, and furthermore to protect his interests as the owner of the Devizes market, Rokele had proven a faithful servant to the monarchy in troubled times. The initial response of the king's government to the complaint – to order the sheriff of Wiltshire to prevent the Lavington market from being held (pending an enquiry) – was cancelled on the technicality that the orders had not been sealed and sent to the sheriff, which suggests someone had thwarted them. Thereafter Rokele's absence in Ireland on royal service provided grounds, probably for years, to delay the necessary lawsuit in the king's court. There is no indication the case made any progress during the final years of Henry III's reign, and Rokele's absence in the Holy Land 1270-72, escorting Prince Edward on Crusade, would have extended the legal excuses for respiting the case. Once himself on the throne, Edward is unlikely to have felt motivated to pursue the matter. Richard de la Rokele died in 1277, having already enfeoffed Emily Longespée in the manor, and under her heirs – by marriage, the Bruyne family, which obtained confirmation of the market grant in 1435 (even though the manor itself had been conveyed to Edington Priory in 1368) – the Lavington market continued to operate. In fact, evidence from the 1334 and 1377 tax assessments suggests it was prospering, with a population comparable to that of Chippenham and including merchants and taverners.

In 1268 it had been Rokele's turn to complain about a competitor: the market licensed two years earlier at Steeple Ashton, which lay about the same distance west as Devizes was to the north. Even though Lavington was not on the route from Salisbury to Trowbridge, which passed through Ashton – so that Ashton would seem less of a siphon of Lavington's trade than Lavington was of Devizes' – it was alleged that its competition had reduced the Lavington market's value by £40 annually; we may take such figures with a pinch of salt. The underlying problem was perhaps that Ashton's market took place the same day of the week as Lavington's. It is uncertain whether this challenge succeeded; that Ashton's prefix first appears in 1268 suggests it derived from staple and that the market was still operating; yet in 1309 the owner (Romsey nunnery) found it necessary to obtain royal confirmation of its market grant.

The case of Lavington shows that the timing of pursuit of a market licence could be governed by factors other than the pace of local growth of commerce. The Wiltshire manor had been co-owned by the Rokele family since the time of Henry I, yet Richard's father did not seek to formalize any market activities taking place there, perhaps because engaged in a jurisdictional dispute with the co-owner of the manor. Although Richard may have had a more entrepreneurial disposition, or was better attuned to trends, or simply in need of more money as he rose in responsibility and status, he took advantage of family connections to ensure that his licence request would have a favourable reception despite the perhaps anticipated risk of opposition from Devizes. It is probable that a market was already operating at Lavington before the licence was acquired, although far less certain that a planned town pre-existed the licence.

Although situated on an significant crossroads, and able to weather the challenge to its emergent market, Lavington faced a stronger competitor in Devizes and there is no sign of any industrial concentration or specialization that might have given it a competitive advantage. Its commerce probably focused around the grain and wool of the area, and consequently brewing may have been of some importance, although cloth-making is little evidenced. At the Dissolution its market and fair were considered to have only a very modest value. Lavington remained a small market town through the Middle Ages and beyond, expanding little beyond its medieval core; today it is considered a village.

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Created: December 31, 2018.
© Stephen Alsford, 2018