Keywords: medieval Droitwich Worcester charter rights market competition trade disputes regraters stalls prices bread ale assizes salt industry
Subject: Inter-urban disputes over market rights
Original source: Public Record Office, Assize roll 1021, mm.8d, 11d
Transcription in: Doris Mary Stenton, ed. Rolls of the Justices in Eyre, being the rolls of pleas and assizes for Lincolnshire 1218-19 and Worcestershire, 1221, Selden Society, vol.53 (1934), 567-68
Original language: Latin
Location: Worcester and Droitwich
Date: 1221


[1. Complaint of Droitwich against Worcester]

The burgesses of Droitwich complain that the citizens of Worcester are harassing them contrary to the liberty they possess and contrary to the tenor of the king's charter, which they produce and which evidences that he granted them that they might buy and sell throughout all England, both within cities and outside them, all kinds of merchandize. In regard to which they complain that they [i.e the Worcester citizens] do not permit them to buy or sell in their town of Worcester, contrary to the liberty granted by the king. Furthermore, merchants or salt-dealers who sell salt by the bushel cannot have stalls in their town unless they pay stallage, whereas the charter exempts them from stallage; in regard to which they have unjustly taken 23d. from them for stallage. Furthermore, on Saturday – the day on which the king by his charter allowed them to hold a market in their own town – those citizens do not allow them to have that market as they ought to have according to the charter. And furthermore, when the burgesses of their town go to Worcester, they are not able to buy food before the third hour, and they request that this be corrected.

The citizens come and deny that they have in any way gone against the king's charter, for they freely allow them [i.e. the Droitwich burgesses] to buy and sell wholesale, as they ought and were accustomed to do not just on market days but on other days. But they never used to sell as regrators; nor should they, since they never had that right by the charter. They freely permit that they may have in that regard the same liberty that the citizens of London have. In addition they freely permit that they may buy food at an early or a late hour, and at any time of day. However, their regrators used to buy privately while the citizens were all at the cathedral, in order to resell at a profit, so that the knights of the county and others of Worcester could not find anything to buy around the first hour. Therefore provision was made that such regrators – including those of Worcester – could not buy in that way.

[2. Settlement between Droitwich and Westwood Park Priory]

A release by the men of Droitwich to the prioress and convent of Westwood. Which is, that the burgesses of Droitwich have given up their demands over bread and ale, so that the reeves or bailiffs shall not have a price for bread or ale different to that of their neighbours; viz.where the reeves used to demand 5 loaves or 5 gallons of ale [be sold] for a penny, when others used to take 4, this demand has been dropped. They have likewise conceded to the prioress and her men that they shall not demand or buy fish, grain or any other merchandize from them at a lower price than other neighbours [pay], unless the sellers agree of their own free will. Furthermore, the ale-tasters will not taste ale on the prioress' land except by a single cupful. If they want more to drink, they should pay for it from their own purse. If [the amount sampled of] the ale be more than is reasonable, the prioress shall be compensated. Furthermore, neither the reeves, nor the bailiffs, nor anyone else of the town shall remove stalls [of the prioress' men] once they have been set up in a place suitable for that type of merchandize. Furthermore the prioress' men do not need a licence from anyone to transport their manure – whether they acquired it by gift or purchase – across their land or the lands of others. Furthermore, if those men buy grain or any other merchandize [in a situation] where they have put down a deposit, no-one may intrude or separate them from their merchandize. The burgesses of Droitwich also recognize all [privileges] that are outlined in the king's charter to the prioress and convent of Westwood, which has been read out before the king's justices.


The establishment of markets in towns near to each other presented problems, as the Droitwich vs. Worcester case illustrates. Under English law, according to Bracton (compiling later than the date of this case, but from earlier sources), if two markets held on the same day or adjacent days were sufficiently close that one could be travelled to from the other, business transacted, and a return journey made in the same day – this one-day proximity being considered equivalent to a distance of 20 miles – then the competition was damaging and a case could be made for the more recently established market to be abolished. This may not have been well enough established or widely enough known by 1221 for Worcester to make the argument in its defence.

Droitwich's market lay about six miles from that of Worcester. It was held at one point in the High Street between a church and the site of the future town hall, rather than in a dedicated marketplace; it might originally have been associated with the churchyard [Victoria Buteux and Derek Hurst, Archaeological assessment of Droitwich, Hereford and Worcester, part of The Central Marches Historic Towns Survey 1992-6, 2005. p.17]. The place's economic importance lay primarily in its involvement in brine extraction, the manufacture of salt, and its export to other locations in England; it benefited from its position on a Roman road connecting Worcester to the Midlands, while other roads radiating out from Droitwich represent saltways along which cargoes of salt were exported.

At the time of Domesday the king owned all the pits that had been dug to tap into the saliferous springs; there were five brine wells, around which a substantial number of buildings had grown up in association with salt production on such a large scale that (following technological improvement) by the seventeenth century as much as 3,000 tons were being extracted annually. Droitwich was not styled a borough by the Domesday compilers, and settlement may have been dispersed among several parishes or estates, formed around the different brine wells, on either side of the River Salwarpe, rather than unified under a single community; the recorded presence at that time of a large number of burgesses may be related to the operation of the salt industry, and based on freedom from toll on salt, rather than to Droitwich's status [J.W. Willis-Bund, ed. Victoria County History of Worcestershire, vol.3 (1913), p.75]. Droitwich was referred to as a borough in the Pipe Roll of 1155/56, in the context of royal taxation (but again possibly in connection with the atypical relationship of burgesses and king through the industry), but not thereafter until King John's charter of 1215. That charter granted the town and its salt workings to the burgesses of Wich at fee farm, the amount of the farm payable being high for a place of that small size (much higher than that of Worcester or Hereford, for example) and indicative of the value of the salt industry. The charter also accorded Droitwich some judicial jurisdiction through its own court, and its burgesses exemption from tolls throughout England; a communal seal is evidenced just a few years later. By this period it seems likely the various neighbourhoods unified, focused around a T-shaped street plan – the main streets fronted by burgage plots, and their junction serving as a marketplace, overlooked by the church.

Explicit grant of an eight-day fair in May, to be held in the town around the festival of St. Andrew (to whom the church was dedicated), was included in the 1215 charter. The Saturday market was not mentioned but it could be considered that the nature of the charter implied approval of an existing market, as one of the established liberties of the burgesses. This was doubtless the charter presented in evidence, and the reason why the Droitwich men now felt emboldened to challenge the Worcester restrictions – while Worcester's foundation charter dated from 1189. Both markets had almost certainly been in operation prior to royal recognition (Worcester's is mentioned in Domesday). Worcester's market appears to have been on a Sunday, judging from the reference to the townspeople attending cathedral services before the market opened. Although Droitwich townsmen's perspective may have been that they was defending their rights, from the perspective of Worcester burgesses, it was an attack on their own customs and charter rights. Worcester's defence consequently seems subdued and pragmatic, focusing on the issue of regrating – perhaps to capitalize on the strong distaste at this period for that offence (whereas later it was better tolerated).

No conclusion to the Droitwich-Worcester dispute is recorded; the hearing was postponed for later judgement.

Droitwich was flexing its muscles, being newly in possession of a royal charter giving it expanded powers and rights. Already in the eyre the jurors of Halfshire hundred had complained that the Droitwich authorities had begun to impose tolls on foodstuffs brought for sale in the Droitwich market; this being described as a "new custom", it doubtless had been instituted since 1215. The settlement with Westwood Priory also shows how the burgesses' interpretation of their new powers had brought them into conflict with a neighbouring community which considered itself exempt from borough jurisdiction, and which was either making use of Droitwich's market or perhaps had established a small market of its own (although, if the latter, no official licence is now known).

Although the principal interest of Droitwich's burgesses lay in monopolistic control of the local salt trade, including being able to regulate prices locally, they doubtless would have wished to expand their scope of activities and exploit potential revenue sources from other branches of commerce. In the decades following the above disputes, the physical infrastructure of the salt workings was not being well maintained and the townsmen were having difficulties meeting their financial obligations to the Crown. Yet the small area in the High Street used for the market suggests that Droitwich attracted little commerce beyond that in salt.

The disputes of 1221 show the Droitwich authorities trying to assert their control over local trade, by imposing restrictions or tolls on trade conducted by outsiders, while seeking to protect its burgesses from similar controls in place in Worcester. Worcester was doing the same. The men of Evesham complained to the eyre that, over the last few years, the citizens had begun taking tolls on sheep, pigs and other livestock, when in the past they had only done so on oxen and horses. The early thirteenth century was a period when towns were aggressively interpreting and exercising the powers they were obtaining via royal charters.



"before the third hour"
That is, they were not allowed to use the market in the first hour or two after its opening, when residents were given a chance to purchase their household needs before other traders (who were purchasing in order to re-sell) had their turn.

As those selling by retail (usually in small quantities) regrators were inherently middlemen, whose intermediation in trade pushed prices up.

"provision was made"
This would mean a by-law, or amendment to the borough custumal.

Droitwich is ringed by hamlets whose names incorporate 'wood'; Westwood was once one, a couple of miles northwest of Droitwich. After its church was donated to the Abbey de Fontevraud, a small Benedictine priory was built there not much before ca.1168, although its chapel continued to serve as the parish church; after the Dissolution it was replaced by a stately home but was remembered in the name of adjacent Nunnery Wood.

"her men"
I.e. the lay tenants resident on the demesne of the priory, some of whom were likely purchasing necessaries for the priory community.

Usually minor bureaucratic officers, although in places the borough executive appears to have fulfilled the duty – tasked with testing (by sampling) ale to ensure its quality complied with the requirements of the assize.

In the original ubi ernes dederint, where they shall have given earnest money (e.g. God's penny) as a sign of their seriousness and guarantee of subsequent payment of the entire price. This fixed the bargain and meant that no other buyer could interfere and supersede the deal such as by offering a better price

"king's charter"
This may mean the charter of Henry II confirming the donation of Osbert fitz-Hugh de Say of the site and associated properties, or perhaps more likely (given the timing of the dispute) a confirmation of Henry III which added exemption from soc, sac, thol, theam, infangnetheof, and other exactions and lawsuits.

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Created: October 28, 2014. Last update: August 13, 2017 © Stephen Alsford, 2017