Keywords: medieval Nottingham economy fairs administration booths stalls market competition tolls
Subject: Agreement concerning Lenton fair and Nottingham market
Original source: 17th century transcript (believed to be from the Red Book), in Nottinghamshire Archives
Transcription in: W.H. Stevenson, ed. Records of the Borough of Nottingham, (London and Nottingham, 1882), vol.1, 61-66.
Original language: Latin
Location: Nottingham
Date: ca. 1300


Know, all faithful Christians who see or hear this document, that a disagreement having arisen between the Prior and convent of Lenton on the one part, and the mayor and burgesses of Nottingham on the other, regarding Lenton fair and certain privileges belonging to that fair, the disagreement between them has, through the mediation of judicious men, now been settled amicably to the following effect: viz. that the Prior and Convent, by unanimous agreement and communal decision of their Chapter, have surrendered and quitclaimed to the mayor and burgesses of Nottingham four days from the duration of their fair of Lenton, which king Henry III granted to them and confirmed by his charter. So that the Prior and Convent, or their successors, will not hold the fair for more than a full eight days, it beginning on the day before St. Martin and lasting from the morning of that day until the close of the eighth day. They also grant in good faith, on behalf of themselves and their successors, that neither they nor their successors will hereafter petition the king, nor anyone else, to obtain any increase in length, beyond the eight days, for their fair, to the damage and detriment of the mayor and burgesses of Nottingham, or their heirs.

Furthermore, the Prior and Convent have granted, on behalf of themselves and their successors, to the mayor and burgesses of Nottingham, that cloth merchants, spicers, skinners, and mercers of the community of the town who wish to hire booths at the Lenton fair shall pay 12d. for each booth covered with the covering of the Prior, or their own covering, for the duration of the fair. Each of them, according to his status, shall have a booth among other merchants, outsiders – that is, the best among the best, the middling among the middling, and the lesser among the lesser; with the exception of those selling "blakkes" and cloths stitched together, each of whom shall pay 8d. for a booth that is covered with their own covering, or uncovered. Everyone else who wishes to hire a booth shall have each for 8d.; excepting ironmongers, each of whom wishes to rent a booth and occupy a space shall pay 4d. for the booth, but if they do not want a[n assigned] space shall each pay 2d.. Similarly, tawyers and shoemakers who do not occupy a plot shall be exempt from [paying for] stalls, covered or uncovered, or from any charge relating to stallage. Let it be known that each booth is to measure 8 feet long by 8 feet wide, excluding the pentices, as for other outsider merchants. On condition that none of these merchants, regardless of status, presumes in the hiring of or payment for a booth or booths, stall or stalls, to act as a go-between for the use of any outsider, but only for his own use; nor may he sell from those stalls or booths the goods of an outsider, only [those] for his own profit or on behalf of another merchant of Nottingham. If it is found that any of these merchants has sold or hired contrary to the abovesaid stipulation, the warden of the fair has the right to remove the outsider merchant or merchants, and the goods found in such booths, until compensation has been made for the deceit. If any of these merchants needs more than one booth, he may have them for the price already indicated, based on the measurements stated, paying the higher price for the better [booths] and the lower price for the lesser, in the way already stated.

The Prior and Convent have also granted that those merchants who wish to hire stalls but not occupy a plot of land, shall henceforth pay 2d. for the stall, as they were accustomed to do in previous times. If there are poor men who customarily paid nothing in times past for their stalls, they are henceforth exempt from this kind of stallage. All folk from Nottingham who buy and sell tanned leather, hides, or skins of whatever kind, whether dried or fresh, and everyone from Nottingham who passes through Lenton during the time of the fair with carts, wagons, and pack-horses need not pay toll or any customs. In return for this exemption, the mayor and burgesses of Nottingham have granted in perpetuity to the Prior and Convent of Lenton a building in the Saturday Market which Gilbert de Beston recently held and which his ancestors had previously assigned to the Prior and Convent through a certain agreement. Furthermore every Nottingham man is exempted from toll on all goods for his feeding and clothing. But on horses, oxen, and other animals and livestock to be traded they shall pay half of the toll [normally payable] on animals bought at Lenton fair and taken away for resale; but nothing need be paid on animals slaughtered there.

The mayor and burgesses have granted, on behalf of themselves and their heirs, that while Lenton fair is underway – that is, for eight days – no market shall be held within the town of Nottingham, not for any kind of merchandize, except for [retailing] within houses, or in doorways or through windows; not bread, fish, meat, other victuals, or leather shall be sold, except in houses, doorways or windows. If the Prior and Convent, or their bailiffs, find anything for sale elsewhere, they have the right to take whatever action they wish, without any opposition. The Prior and Convent and their successors, or their bailiffs, may throughout the duration of the fair – that is, for eight days – receive tolls taken in Nottingham from all items on which toll should be or is usually collected according to the custom of the fair of Lenton, without any objection or obstruction from the mayor and burgesses, or their heirs; this they grant insofar as they have the power. In return for receiving this toll within the borough of Nottingham during the period of the fair, and for release from a dinner which the Prior and Convent have traditionally given each year for the mayor and burgesses of Nottingham, they and their successors will pay at Nottingham every St. Edmund's day in perpetuity 20s. sterling to the mayor and burgesses, and their heirs. When the Prior and Convent wish it and send word, the mayor and burgesses, and their heirs, shall (without any obstructionism) have proclamation made in Nottingham of the starting date of the Lenton fair, while at the same time receiving from them [i.e. Prior and Convent] full surety for their faithful payment of the 20s. to them [i.e. mayor and burgesses] or their heirs on the date already stated.

Furthermore, the mayor and burgesses, on behalf of themselves and their heirs, have promised in good faith that they will to the best of their ability uphold, and cause to be upheld, without violation, all these terms. In order that this agreement have force and permanence, both on the side of the Prior and Convent of Lenton and on that of the mayor and burgesses, or their heirs, the Prior and Convent have set their common seal to the part [of the document] remaining in the possession of the mayor and burgesses; and the mayor and burgesses of Nottingham have arranged for the seal of the Community of Nottingham to be affixed to the part remaining with the Prior and Convent of Lenton.

And let it be known that all merchants of the town of Nottingham who wish to hire stalls or booths in the fair, shall be given a place the best among the best, the middling among the middling, and the lesser among the lesser, each according to his status, as indicated above regarding cloth merchants, spicers, skinners, and mercers.


Nottingham was one of medieval England's medium-sized towns, perhaps most important for its military role, both during the struggle between the Anglo-Saxons and Danes, and after the Conquest as a key royal stronghold in the Midlands and location of an implanted French settlement. The king was often in residence there and this may help explain Henry II's unusually generous grants of commercial advantages to the county town. Its position on the Trent, which gave it access to the sea via the Humber, and its proximity to the overland route of the Fosse Way also favoured its commercial development. The town acted as one central collection point for wool for the English cloth industry (a weavers gild being in existence by 1130, before even a merchant gild is known to have existed) for export to France or the Low Countries. Nottingham was constantly waging a battle to ensure its commercial privileges, or its control of a stretch of the Trent, were not jeopardized by competition.

Lenton was a short distance outside Nottingham, upstream along the course of the Trent. A Cluniac house was founded there in the early twelfth century and endowed with substantial lands. A charter of Henry II freed the priory from all taxes, tolls and customs (which would have included those otherwise payable for purchases from Nottingham markets); a later charter of the same king granted the priory a fair of 8 days duration at Martinmas, with the right to impose toll on any goods traded at the fair, excepting food and clothing bought for the personal use of the purchaser. Henry III granted an extension of 4 days in 1232, probably to assist the priory with raising the money for renovations to its buildings; by the latter part of the century the priory had built up a heavy debt load. Profits from the fair could not have made much of a dent in this debt, even though in 1387 those profits constituted over 10‰ of the priory's annual revenues. The variety of wares sold at Lenton fair is indicated in the above document, and as late as 1538 gold, cloth, leather, and fish were still being traded there; yet by 1584 it had declined into being only a horse-fair. Nottingham, meanwhile, had its own 8-day fair in late September, documented only by confirmation in royal charter of 1284 which also granted a second fair, of 15 days in late November. These were of less import than the Lenton fair. But, even without its fairs, Nottingham was an important trading centre, with multiple marketplaces.

The Lenton and Nottingham fairs should have been complementary rather than competitive. But the Lenton fair offered serious competition with the borough market – and the loss of revenue in tolls that this implied – for its duration. At the same time, the borough market provided competition for the fair. When Henry III granted the extension of the fair's duration this doubtless exacerbated the competitive environment. Some kind of compromise was desirable to put an end to the past tensions and bones of contention at which the document hints. It may have been the house's financial problems that made the prior and convent amenable to a settlement with Nottingham that would ensure its merchants did not boycott the fair, as sellers or buyers, while protecting the fair from loss of trade to Nottingham's market. The agreement gives some idea of the range of facilities available to sellers at the fair:

  • simple assigned stations, probably mainly for trader with fewers or more portable wares, earning lower profit-margins;
  • stalls that were likely similar to the modern outdoor market stall (greater in length than width) on specific select plots, or just put up wherever space could be found, probably on the peripheries;
  • more elaborate booths erected on larger, square plots of land, with tented covering (optionally available for hire from the priory) or uncovered, some also with awnings, desirable for merchants selling pricier goods more at risk from the lements, such as cloth, furs, or spices.

The agreement, however, could have done little to help Lenton priory reduce its financial difficulties, for its debt was much greater than its annual income. In 1313 the king had to appoint a warden to manage its secular affairs, with a mandate to reduce the debts. It is not known how long this situation remained in force, but it may have had little success; a similar arrangement was again put in place in the 1330s, and in 1347 the priory had to lease out one of its manors and obtain royal approval to sell some of its tithes.

At the close of the thirteenth century, Nottingham had an important leatherware industry; the cloth-making industry was also of some prominence in the borough. It was primarily those involved in the retail side of these industries who were intended as the beneficiaries of the agreement between borough and Priory, although an apparent amendment at the end of the document extends the benefits more widely. The Priory agreed to ensure Nottingham's traders had equal prominence at the fair to merchants from other parts of the country or abroad, while at the same time ensuring that this did not discourage other merchants from attending in person (that is, using Nottingham merchants as their factors for commerce at the fair).



"day before St. Martin"
The day (literally "eve") before St. Martin refers to Martinmas, which took place on November 11. The translation of St. Martin (4 July), which could also have been meant, would have placed the fair in a more propitious season for attracting visitors from afar; however, other evidence, internal and external, supports a November date.

In this context, booth (selda) appears to refer both to the stall structure and to the plot of ground it occupies; traders not requiring a pre-determined and probably central location, but instead setting up a more temporary stall structure, were thus not subject to a fee for renting a specific plot, but only to stallage; in special cases, there might be no fee at all, and this may have applied to some who wandered around the fair hawking their wares. The pentice refers to an overhang of the roof covering; particularly if the fair were held in November, the upper-scale merchants would want to protect their wares and potential clients with such a cover. This term survives today as penthouse, whose most common modern application has been redirected, but originally meant a covered but open area such as a lean-to shed or workshop, a walkway (portico), window-shade, or any overhanging extension from a larger structure; the extensible awnings of twentieth century shops and porches of residences are among modern counterparts.

"St. Edmund's day"
This was the festival of the Anglo-Saxon king and martyr, making the payment date 20 November, which fell soon after the close of the fair and the completion of the burgesses' part of the agreement.

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Created: October 28, 2014. Laste update: October 31, 2015 © Stephen Alsford, 2014-2015