|COMMERCE AND ITS REGULATION|
|Subject:||St. Giles fair, Winchester|
|Original source:||Hampshire Record Office, Winchester Cathedral archives, DC/A1/15|
|Transcription in:||G.W. Kitchin, ed. A Charter of Edward the Third Confirming and Enlarging the Privileges of St. Giles fair, Winchester, Hampshire Record Society, vol.6, pt.2 (1886), 26-42|
Edward, by the grace of God King of England and France and Lord of Ireland, to his archbishops, bishops, abbots, priors, earls, barons, justices, sheriffs, reeves, officers, and all other bailiffs and loyal subjects, greetings.
Know that whereas our ancestor the renowned Lord William, formerly King of England, by his charter gave and granted to God and the Old Minster of St. Peter, in Winchester, and to the Bishop of Winchester of that time, a fair [to be held] at the church of St. Giles situated on the east hill of Winchester together with all the rents and judicial jurisdiction that belong to it within the city of Winchester over the course of three whole days (that is, the day before the festival, the day of that festival, and the day following the festival); he to hold it, along with all its customary rights, as fully and freely as he [the king] might, were it his own.
And afterwards the renowned Lord Henry, once King of England, brother of the said King William, by his charter gave and granted to God and the Old Minster of St. Peter and St. Swithun, in Winchester, and to William Giffard, then bishop there, a fair at the said church of St. Giles with all the rents and judicial jurisdiction that belong to it within the city of Winchester, for eight whole days (that is, the three days that his brother King William granted, and then the five days following), along with all customary rights, as fully and freely as the same king might hold it, were it his own. And later the well-remembered Lord Stephen, once King of England, our ancestor, by his charter further granted to God and the church of Winchester, and to his brother Henry, then bishop there, and to all his successors, an increment of six consecutive days for that fair of St. Giles at Winchester. So that in total it might last fourteen consecutive days. He wishing and commanding that the said fair should, throughout those fourteen days, have all those customary rights, exemptions, and liberties it was accustomed to having, within the city and beyond, in the time of the aforesaid King Henry. Still later the well-remembered Lord Henry, once King of England, successor to King Stephen, and our ancestor, by his charter granted to God and the said church of Winchester, and to the bishop there of that time, an increment of eight days to the fair; so that whereas in the time of his grandfather King Henry it had lasted no more than eight days, henceforth it might last sixteen days.
The which charters our father, the Lord Edward, recently King of England, confirmed through his own charter; granting, for himself and his heirs to John, recently Bishop of the place, that even if he or his predecessors might not previously have used the aforesaid liberties, it was still permitted they be fully used and enjoyed henceforth (as is more fully specified in that confirmation).
We, pursuant to recent arguments put forward by the venerable father William de Edyngton, the present Bishop of that place, have been given to understand that he and his predecessors as bishops of that place, by virtue of the generic terminology of the aforesaid charters and [the requirements] of the fair, have from the time of the issuing of those charters, or otherwise from time immemorial, had their own judges, who are called Justices of the Pavilion, with cognizance of pleas and other business for the duration of the fair, as well as [the keeping of] the keys of the gates and custody of our city of Winchester throughout the time of the fair. And they have had various other liberties, exemptions, and customary rights that, even though not explicitly specified in the charters, they have been using without hindrance or opposition. And he has requested of us that, if it pleases us, such liberties, immunities, and customary rights which the Bishop and his predecessors have exercised by virtue of the generic terminology of the charters and confirmations, or from time immemorial, might be formalized by expressly specifying them in writing in a charter, and granting that the Bishop and his successors may exercise those liberties, immunities, and customary rights in perpetuity, without obstruction.
Wishing to be more fully informed about this, we commissioned our well-beloved and trustworthy William de Shareshull, John de Sancto Paulo, William de Fifhide, and William de Overton (or two or three of them) to hold an enquiry through [a jury of] reputable and law-abiding men of the county of Hampshire, under oath, from whom all the premises, circumstances, and other relevant facts about the matter might be better and more fully known. From a report on the inquisition made by the Williams at our command and submitted to our Chancery it appears that the aforesaid William, the present Bishop, and his predecessors as bishops of that place, by virtue of the aforementioned royal grants and their terminology, as well as from time immemorial, have held (and the present Bishop holds) the said fair in the said location named in those charters, now known as St. Giles' Down, for the above-stated sixteen days duration. And that by reason of this fair, and by virtue of the terminology or otherwise from time immemorial, as already stated, the present Bishop and his predecessors have exercised the following liberties and customary rights.
Viz. that whoever is then Bishop of the place has, and ought to have, judges, who are called Justices of his Pavilion of that fair, appointed by commission of the same Bishop. Each year, at the opening of the fair (that is, on the eve of St. Giles' Day, before, at, or immediately after sunrise), these justices shall ride to the South Gate of the city, or to the city gate called King's Gate, as they choose, and there enter, at which southern gate the mayor, bailiffs, and citizens of the city are to meet them and to deliver and turn over to them, as the officials acting in the name of the Bishop, the keys and custody of the south gate; and those justices shall install there whomever they wish as keepers, or janitors, of the gate. From there all shall ride together to the city's West Gate, where the mayor, bailiffs, and citizens shall in the same way deliver and turn over to the justices the keys and custody of that gate and the city's wool trone, and the justices appoint a keeper, or janitor, of that gate. And there they shall have a proclamation made about the fair, with the following gist: viz. that no merchant nor anyone else, for the period of sixteen days, may buy, sell, or put up for sale any merchandize anywhere within a radius of seven leagues around the fair site, other than at that fair, upon [penalty of] forfeiture the merchandize to the use of the Bishop.
This proclamation having been made, the justices, mayor, bailiffs, and citizens shall ride together to the North Gate, and there, in like fashion, shall be delivered and turned over to the justices the keys and custody of the gate; they may appoint whomever they wish as keeper, or janitor there. Following that, the justices shall have the same proclamation made, there and anywhere else in the city they wish, and as often as they choose and are accustomed to doing. From there the justices, mayor, bailiffs, and citizens shall ride together to the city's East Gate and its keys and custody shall likewise be delivered to them, with the exception of tolls and customs [collected] at the East Gate that are due or belong to the Abbess and Convent of St. Mary's, Winchester, their successors, and their church. The justices, mayor, bailiffs, and citizens from there shall ride together to the Pavilion of the Bishop's fair atop St. Giles' Hill, outside the city; once there, the mayor, bailiffs, and citizens may withdraw, returning to the city when they wish.
The justices may choose and appoint a mayor and bailiffs to serve in those posts in the city for the duration of the fair; in addition, a coroner to perform within the city those duties that pertain to the office of coroner, for the duration of the fair, and he may be a man of the city or an outsider, whichever the justices wish. And they shall have a marshal to execute their judgements and serve them as required, both within the city and outside it.
From the time when the keys and custody of the gates are handed over, as specified above, the Bishop shall have, through his justices and other officers, custody of the entire city and cognizance of all pleas relating to transgressions, debts, and any other contracts, whether involving residents or tenants of the city or others, whomsoever they may be, within a radius of seven leagues from the fair site. In addition, all other men or merchants, of whatever kind, who are parties to contracts or agreements made, no matter when or where whether within this country or overseas are to hold and plead cases relating to the same at the said Pavilion, so long as someone of the city or the specified surrounding area introduces a related plaint within the specified duration.
All personal actions initiated before the justices, between the opening of the fair and the eve of the Nativity of the Blessed Mary [7 September] should be conducted and regulated first on the basis of summonses and attachments, and afterwards by distraints, just as is the usual procedure in our royal court, and as the case demands or requires. And from the eve of the Nativity of the Blessed Mary to the end of the sixteen days the procedure in all pleas and plaints introduced in accordance with ancient custom of that fair used (as already stated) from time immemorial shall begin with distraint and continue, always by distraints, hour to hour or day to day, at the discretion of the justices, in order to provide plaintiffs with swifter remedy. Both residents of the city and everyone else are to be subject to the same process in presenting arguments and being administered justice. If, when before the justices, any of the parties submits to an inquest in these kinds of pleas, or in any other kind of plea whatever over which the justices of the Pavilion have cognizance, the marshal is to be instructed to convene before the justices an inquest jury, whether of city residents or outsiders be it men of the Soke, or of the fair, or merchants found at the fair, (whether of the city, or of London, or any other place within the country or from overseas) as proves necessary. Once the jurors have duly assembled, then, in the presence of the party or parties, they are to be administered a collective oath concerning those things which the justices ought to put before them; that is, on pain of imprisonment, or otherwise a fine, at the discretion of the justices (just as is the usual procedure in our royal court before our judges); and this whether they be residents of the city, or Londoners, or foreigners. After someone is convicted by this kind of inquest, or by his own admission, in any personal action, he is at once, by the judgement and orders of the justices, to be attached by his body and handed over to the marshal for safekeeping until he has satisfied the [opposing] party and the court.
Similarly, any who effect a rescue from the officials of the Bishop, or his justices or their officers in the fair or its Pavilion, or within the seven leagues, or at Southampton or who obstruct them in carrying out their duties or the orders of the justices (whether they be residents of the city, or outsiders, or from Southampton, or anywhere else) are at once to be arrested, taken to the Pavilion, and there detained until they have paid a fine to the Bishop for that trespass or rescue. And if they, or anyone convicted in a lawsuit and committed to custody, as mentioned above, within the sixteen days of the fair refuses to make satisfaction to the other party or parties in a lawsuit or pay a fine to the Bishop, as ought to be done, he is, as soon as the sixteen days are over, to be taken to Wolvesey and there detained in the Bishop's custody until he pays the fine and makes satisfaction in the way mentioned.
All actions for debt between merchants (whomever they may be) that arise during the fair are to be held as was always the custom in the past before the justices, by proof of tallies, in accordance with merchant law, if the complainant wishes it. And if any [accused debtor?] who are attached or distrained to appear before the justices, at the suit of some complainant, refuses to submit himself to the judgement of the justices within the aforesaid sixteen days, then at the close of the sixteenth day of the fair the goods and chattels that have been attached, distrained on, or arrested should be appraised by reputable and law-abiding men of the Winchester Soke and turned over, at the discretion of the justices, to the plaintiffs [to satisfy them] for their debts and damages, if any of the distraints suffices. If the value of the distraints does not amount to the sum of the debts and damages, then they are to be turned over to cover a portion, greater of smaller, of the debt; this being the usage of the men of the city of Winchester and London, as well as of other persons of other places.
All pleas initiated before the justices that are not brought to a conclusion within the sixteen days shall, at the close of the sixteenth day, be adjourned to the eve of St. Giles in the following year; that date is to be assigned to the parties of such pleas.
Many tenants of the Bishop hold their lands or tenements of the Bishop by the service of performing suit at the said Pavilion. They are to come there each year on the eve of St. Giles, before the first hour, to perform their suit, armed and horsed, as often as necessary. The justices shall choose from them whomever they wish three or four, or more or fewer, as they consider necessary to remain and provide service at the fair throughout its duration, to carry out the judgements and orders of the justices at any location within the seven leagues and at Southampton, as often as needed, and for keeping the peace and the fair secure; this being customarily undertaken at the cost of the Bishop. Those tenants are to return and be prepared undertake what has been indicated whenever, and as often as, they are forewarned by the justices.
During the fair there are to be there certain servants and officers to receive the plaints, record the pleas, and execute the judicial sentences; viz. the chamberlain, the marshal, the usher, and various other servants of the fair. They may take, from those who prosecute plaints, or are distrained on, or convicted in pleas before the justices (or in many other cases) the customary rewards or fees though these may be reduced, if there is reasonable cause, at the discretion of the Bishop or his justices and have from time immemorial taken such fees for the performance of their duties. Distraints ought to be reasonable and not too severe, at the discretion of the justices and as the business coming up before them demands. Each day of the fair the marshal, immediately after sunset, shall ride through the middle of the site and have public proclamation made that each merchant is to close his booth without delay. Once such a proclamation has been made, no-one may sell any merchandize, nor expose it for sale; should anyone do so, and be convicted of the same, he is to pay a fine, to be determined by the justices, to the Bishop for that trespass. And from the making of the proclamation until sunrise of the following day no-one, except the Bishop's officers and justices, should be roaming about the fair site; anyone so doing is at once to be attached by those ministers, taken to the Pavilion, and must pay a fine, as already indicated.
No merchant is to have a fire within the fair site overnight, unless it be in a lamp or mortar. If anyone does otherwise, he is to be punished by amercement. If any house within the barriered area of the fair is broken into or dismantled in order to enable someone quickly to pass through, with items purchased or to be sold, and evade paying customs or toll, whoever owns the house shall be punished by a severe amercement, to be determined by the justices; moreover, those items carried off without custom or toll are forfeit to the Bishop.
The justices and the Bishop's treasurer then in office at Wolveseye, along with the clerk of the aforesaid pleas, may receive each year four basins with ewers, by way of fee, as they have been accustomed to receive from ancient times, from those foreign merchants called Dynamitters merchants, who sell brass vessels at the fair.
Also, the mayor and bailiffs of the city, after they have been selected by the justices, as mentioned above, may make and have the duty to make summonses, attachments, distraints, and to carry out any other orders from the justices, stemming from all plaints and pleas [tried] before the justices in the Pavilion of pleas that is, those relating to matters arising within the city without any interference of obstruction from any resident of the city. And whenever citizens are summoned, or forewarned, [to appear] before the justices in the Pavilion, during the said sixteen day period, they are to come, without objection, to undertake whatever is their duty to do, according to the laws and customs of the fair. Furthermore, the aldermen and all men of the tithings within the seven-league radius are obligated to come whenever hue and cry is raised or blood is spilled. If anything else occurs to disturb the peace in their aldermanries or tithings, they are to attach the offenders and obtain from them surety (in those cases where there is something to be taken) for their abiding by the laws and customs of the fair. And they are to come on a daily basis, throughout the duration of the fair, to the Pavilion to report to the justices such cases as have occurred; the justices will proceed further [on these matters] according to the laws and customs.
The Bishop is to have all animals, goods, and chattels which are classified as waifs and strays found within the seven-league limits.
At the beginning of the fair the justices are to elect, from among the Bishop's tenants who owe suit at the Pavilion, some judicious man as coroner and take his oath that he shall undertake and perform each and every duty that pertains to the coroner's office, both within the fair site and in the surrounding seven-league district. This coroner will be subordinate to the said justices, as if they were royal justices. Those justices will preside over all pleas of the Crown within the said district, whether [initiated]> by appeal or by indictment from facts that have come to light. For the duration of the fair they may pass judgements thereon and put them into effect, just as fully as do our own justices in such cases elsewhere in the realm of England.
Even though the town of Southampton is more than seven leagues distant from the fair site, the justices are permitted to despatch to that town, every year on the eve of the Nativity of the Blessed Mary (or before or afterwards, as they please) one of the officers of the Bishop's Pavilion viz. the marshal to make proclamation there that no selling or buying of marketable goods or merchandize, nor the tronage or pesage of such saleable items, with the exception of foodstuffs, may take place in the town of Southampton for the duration of the fair, upon penalty of forfeiture of those marketable goods and merchandize to the use of the Bishop. All merchants with marketable goods and merchandize are to come to the fair, as more fully set out in a composition made between Aymer, formerly Bishop-elect of Winchester, and the community of the town of Southampton, confirmed by a charter of the Lord Henry, once king of England.
The justices shall post officers or wardens at the bridge of Stockbridge, at Romsey, Redbridge, Crabwood, Hursley, Mainsbridge, Otterbourne, Kingbridge, Curbridge, Alresford, and at various other locations, to collect and receive, to the use of the Bishop, tolls and customs on merchandize and other saleable goods passing over bridges and through other transit points, by the same method and rates as used in the fair and the city and in the seven-league district for the duration of the fair.
No merchant of the city of Winchester, nor anyone else, may sell, or is empowered to sell, or may put up for sale, merchandize or any wares within the city for the sixteen-day duration of the fair; should they do so, the goods shall be forfeited to the Bishop. No-one is to have a shop open during that period, nor should any pedlar open his backpack to sell or show wares such as purses, gloves, knives, and other small goods unless he has paid a [licence] fee to be determined by the justices or someone else deputed by the Bishop. The same justices, or others deputed by them to the task, shall, on the opening day of the fair, relocate city traders in foodstuffs, requiring them to move from the spots where those kinds of victuals are customarily sold in the city, to other places designated for that purpose outside the city, and that their victuals not be sold elsewhere. All bakers, butchers, and fishmongers of the city are to come to the Pavilion, on the first day of the fair; from them the justices will select the best-endowed, most law-abiding, and most judicious to provide those coming to the fair with wholesome, suitable, and sufficient foods, taking their oaths to that effect. So that, if any unwholesome food shall be found, those in possession of it shall forfeit it all, and nonetheless be heavily amerced by the justices.
The Bishop shall have cognizance of pleas of freshforce and intrusions into tenements in the city, holding pleas of lands and tenements both those in the city and those being within seven leagues by [authority of] our letters patent. And he shall have cognizance of those pleas [initiated] before the justices at the suit of any parties who wish to prosecute or bring a plaint before them, and they may render and execute judgements as cases demand or require. All lords or others who have the right to hold a court baron within the seven leagues ought to come and anciently were accustomed to come on the opening day of the fair before the justices at the Pavilion to request permission to hold court sessions and pleas therein during the fair. The justices may give them licence for a fee, or on some other basis, as the justices wish. No lord nor anyone else shall hold any kind of court anywhere within the aforesaid precincts of the fair for its duration nor has ever held such, since time immemorial, without obtaining permission in the manner described. Should any do so, they are to be amerced at the discretion of the justices. Even if we ourself, or our Steward of the Household, or officials of our Marshalcy, should come within the precincts during fair-time, yet those justices shall preside over all pleas and exercise whatever other liberties belong to the Bishop and the fair, notwithstanding that the fair and its precincts are established within the verge. So that as soon as the Steward or Marshal, or those who preside over pleas of the Marshalcy, have been warned by the justices, they will withdraw from the precincts and not undertake or perform within those precincts any of the functions pertaining to the Marshalcy.
The same justices, in the name of the Bishop, may hold an assize of bread, wine, ale, and other victuals in the city, in the fair, or anywhere else within the seven leagues, during the sixteen days. The Bishop's officers may seize measures, weights, balances, and ell-rods being used in the city and the fair, or within the seven leagues, for the duration of the fair, take them to the Pavilion, and in the presence of the justices subject them to verification. Any measures, weights, balances, or ell-rods found not to conform to the assize standard are to be melted down, and those persons using them during the fair to be amerced; such amercements ought to be, and customarily have been, levied to the use of the Bishop.
No citizen of the city, nor anyone else who is not a member of the city's merchant gild may enter the fair with merchandize or commercial goods after the day of the Nativity of the Blessed Mary without paying a fee to the Bishop, to be determined by the justices.
Those justices, on any day and at any hour it suits them during the sixteen days of the fair, may enter the city and taste-test and subject to the assize all casks of wine offered for sale in that city, wherever they are found, by sampling from each of them, Should any be found to contain mixed, sour, or wholesome wine, they may remove them from the cellars and have the bottoms smashed; the taverners, or owners of that wine, are to be heavily amerced to the use of the Bishop.
Cordwainers, cobblers, and any other workmen or artisans whatsoever may not carry on their crafts or occupational activities, nor sell anything nor should anyone buy from them anywhere in the city except at the fair, under penalty of forfeiting [their products].
During the same period the justices are, as often as they wish, to send officers of the Bishop into the city, to take one or two loaves of every kind of bread for sale in the city and send them to the Pavilion. There those officers are to weigh the loaf or loaves that have been taken, and if any is or are found to be defective that kind of loaf shall be forfeit to the Bishop and the baker of the same will be adjudged to undergo the pillory, or otherwise may pay a fine, at the discretion of the justices.
During the sixteen days the Bishop may collect tolls or customs at all city gates. Viz.
Furthermore, from all merchandize and saleable goods that come or are brought
to the fair before the festival of the Nativity of the Blessed Mary
the Bishop levies, and is accustomed to levy, the following tolls and customs, viz.:
No one may be exempted from these tolls, except merchants and citizens of the cities of London and Winchester and the Honour of Wallingford; this [exemption is in effect] from the opening day of the fair until the festival of the Nativity of the Blessed Mary. In the event that those merchants and citizens of London and Winchester, or any other merchant or person from any other town or region, shall, after the festival of the Nativity of the Blessed Mary, brings or transports any merchandize or commercial goods through the fair, for the purpose of selling the same or of buying at the fair, then he shall pay the justices for a licence to do this in regard to merchandize or commercial goods thus imported or exported. If refusing, they will be compelled, by distraints made on their merchandize.
The Bishop of Winchester and all his predecessors as bishops of that place, by virtue of the aforementioned charters, or otherwise from time immemorial, have hitherto enjoyed, through the sixteen days of the fair, not only all the various customs and liberties indicated above, but also many other liberties and customs not specified above, or not having come to mind, pertaining to the fair, fully and peacefully, without any opposition or impediment. Although our father allowed, by his charter granted to John, recently Bishop of Winchester, a predecessor the present bishop, that he and his successors might have in perpetuity at the said location an annual fair of twenty-four days duration that is, the aforementioned sixteen days and an extension of the eight days following with the liberties and free customs pertaining to that kind of fair, the present bishop and his predecessors have not exercised any other liberties or customs in the fair during the eight-day extension, than such as are expected to be associated with a fair, and are regularly used at English fairs.
We, inspired by a pious desire for the glorification of God and enrichment of the church of Winchester, and out of the sincere devotion we have towards Saints Peter and Paul the Apostles, to whom the church is dedicated and this all the more gladly in the time of William de Edyngton, the present Bishop of that place, taking into account his qualities, desiring to provide him and the church committed to his rule and that of his successors with the assurance of a tranquil and untroubled advancement, and being conscious that he has taken upon himself demanding and prolonged labours on affairs of the realm, and has faithfully and obediently conducted our business, judiciously and productively and given that we are also the patron of the Church of Winchester, founded by our ancestors, as a special favour, we accept, approve, and confirm each and every of the liberties, immunities, and customs recited above, which have been ascertained by, and are in the record of, the aforementioned enquiry. And lest in the future, through some growth of human malice or lapse in memory, these should be called into doubt or into dispute, or challenged on some technicality, in order that they may rather endure and be fixed, without any question or doubt, for all time, we, on behalf of ourself and our heirs, have issued in a fuller form [than normally required] the grant, confirmed by this charter, to William the present Bishop and his church, that he and his successors shall have and use each and every liberty, immunity, and custom recited above, freely, fully, and peaceably, without denial from ourself, our heirs, our justices, sheriffs, or any other of our officials. Moreover, we wish and grant, for ourself and our heirs, that the same Bishop and his successors may have and use all other liberties and customs which he and his predecessors have used by virtue of the aforesaid charters, the generic terminology contained therein, and of the said fair not specified above but perhaps overlooked and omitted by the inquisition held, in the same way that the present Bishop and his predecessors formerly have used and enjoyed them.
This extraordinarily detailed description of the operation of a fair, in the form of a privy seal charter granted 10 November 1349 to Bishop William de Edington, has the hallmarks of an author with a strong administrative bent or a legal mind, attentive to details, although the various clauses are not quite as well organized as they might have been (e.g. the interruptions of the train of thought on administration of the assizes by other matters not directly relevant). Bishop Edington may well have been closely involved in its drafting, not simply in approving the text, although one suspects that one or more of the king's legal experts was also involved. It shows a desire to have matters which had in the past been subject to dispute spelled out clearly enough to avoid future challenge.
It was to Bishop Walkelin, a kinsman of the Conqueror, that William Rufus granted the fair (or at least the profits therefrom) in 1096. From the outset there was a downside for the city authorities, for the king who was sole lord of the borough conceded that the bishop might take all royal revenues due from the city in the days when the fair took place;. If not initially, this would have eventually necessitated interposing episcopal officials into the administration of affairs that generated these revenues a compromise to civic independence that would only have worsened as later kings progressively extended the length of the fair, to what amounted to, at times, close to a month. The bishop's extensive jurisdiction during fair-time was not restricted to its main site atop a hill just east of the walled city, but extended over the city and into a temporary precinct of the immediate hinterland, superseding not only civic jurisdiction but that of a number of manorial lords. The extent of control the bishop exercised, jurisdictionally, geographically, and chronologically made it possible to provide the secure conditions that would attract foreign merchants. On the other hand, they fuelled an antagonism between burgess and monastic communities that would have existed anyway but was exacerbated by the bishop becoming virtually the lord of the town during fair-time.
The chronological growth of fair-time is a reflection of the success the event was having. Though it is likely the fair began as a venue for selling regional agricultural produce (including wool) and livestock the timing of the event well suiting disposal of the product from summer shearing it benefited from careful administration and from the advantages of Winchester's location, for the city was well-connected by roads to the coast, to London, and to many of the southern counties. Within a century of its foundation the St. Giles fair had become one of the leading English fairs, on a par with those of St. Ives and Boston, and certainly the most important one held in southern England. This may have been some consolation to the citizens for the supplanting, during the same period, of Winchester by London as the effective capital of the realm, certainly in terms of being the commercial centre. The fair drew merchants from across England particularly contingents from London (so large that the city's husting court suspended business during the Winchester fair), but also from towns of the Midlands and the north, such as Leicester (where attendance at Winchester fair was an allowable essoin), Lincoln, and York from Ireland, northern France, Normandy, Flanders (particularly), and other parts of the European mainland, including the odd Spaniard and Italian. Comparison of the tolls levied at the fair with city tolls collected outside of fair-time suggests that the fair's business became based primarily on its original commodities (mentioned above), cloth, and perhaps leather and certain foodstuffs that tended to be sold in bulk (such as wine and fish). The tolls on exotic animals points to a separate clientele in buyers for aristocratic households, who would also have been interested in luxury goods available at the fair; the presence of a relatively high number of wealthy households in southern England was likely another factor in the early success of Winchester's fair. Local or regional artisans are also likely to have featured prominently alongside manufactures of some outsiders, such as the London goldsmiths documented as being there in the early fourteenth century, or the metal-workers of Dinant mentioned above as are imported spices and perhaps dyestuffs.
The official enquiry preceding the 1349 grant was not the first that investigated St. Giles' Fair. The extensive control the Bishop of Winchester enjoyed over commerce during fair-time must have been the envy of other fair-owners, and in 1302 the Abbot of Westminster sought to defend a similar monopoly for his October fair there; this had been licensed in 1245 and extended in 1248 to a duration of a fortnight, while in 1250 the fair was granted the same customs used at St. Giles' Fair. In 1298 the duration was extended to a full month. The abbot asserted that during this time other fairs were supposed to suspend operations and all London shops to close. The resistance this provoked, and the response of the abbot in breaking into houses rented by visiting merchants in order to distrain wares being sold therein, wound up as a legal battle and a matter addressed before the parliament of Michaelmas 1302 and thereafter by the king's council. As the Abbot defended himself on the grounds of the grant of Winchester customs to Westminster, this occasioned an enquiry into St. Giles' fair, held in February 1303. The inquisition found that no merchants bringing wares to the fair were allowed to unload or sell it within the city or suburbs of Winchester, but only at the hilltop site a key restriction that is almost submerged in the lengthy 1349 grant and that any merchant found trading within the seven leagues, but outside the fair site, could be compelled to bring his merchandize to that site, through seizure of those goods (a matter necessarily to the forefront in the 1303 investigation). An exception was allowed in regard to grain and livestock (although toll was still payable on these to the bishop) something that seems to be passed over in 1349. Another 1303 finding not directly addressed in 1349 was that hucksters selling bread, meat or other foodstuffs outside the marketplace had to buy a licence from the bishop; this may perhaps have been addressed in the 1349 clause concerning relocation of traders in victuals.
Though the fair may originally have been held beside St. Giles church, on the crest of St. Giles Down, for the three-day period typical of new fairs, it gradually expanded not only in duration but in physical size, spreading down the hill towards the river and the city's East Gate for in 1162 a fire that began in traders' booths spread to the suburb beyond that gate. Before the time of the 1349 grant, however, the number of London and Lincoln merchants frequenting the fair had dropped off; at some point in Edward II's reign the large booth reserved for the Lincoln contingent was disposed of, and fewer northerners in general were coming. The geographical and chronological extension of the fair began to make it unwieldy at a time when business was declining. The 1349 grant was not likely to do much to revive business, but could only hope to assert episcopal rights to profit on such business as remained. The simple fact of the matter was that long-distance trade in bulk or luxury goods was no longer as reliant on fairs.
The lengthy description of the characteristics, jurisdiction, rights and privileges of the St. Giles fair in the above document might give the impression of a still powerful and thriving commercial institution, monopolizing regional trade for one of the longest durations of any English fair. Yet it must rather be understood as an effort to defend and preserve an institution that had passed its peak, whose earnings had declined severely, and whose ability to profit from tolls, and its power to monopolize commerce in Winchester and its environs, were the target of resentment and evasion, by both legitimate and illicit means. The St. Giles fair seems to have achieved its peak of profitability in the first half of the thirteenth century, judging from income recorded in accounts of the bishopric; these rose to just over £162 in 1250, but steadily declined thereafter. The account for 1292, though its total was lower at a little over £84, shows that the fair was still profitable enough, the largest sources of income including: ground-rents for stalls and booths, producing £25 15s. 8d (the Irish continent taking up 31 shop-windows, and the French 40); fees and tolls collected at the site entrances, amounting to £11 2s.8d, while late admission fees (for merchants entering the fair after the Nativity of the Blessed Mary) raised £5 18s.6d; fees for use of the trone generated £4 2s. 4d.; court profits amounted to £4 17s. Costs of operating the fair totalled £20 9s.7d, but two-thirds of this was to cover the costs of the bishop's household at Wolvesey during fair-time. So the net profit was very respectable, particularly compared to the much smaller proceeds from fairs held in small towns. Yet the war with France, particularly the conflict in Gascony, a major source of wine imports into England, contributed to lowering revenues. Obstructionism by the civic authorities had become sufficiently serious that in 1327 Bishop Stratford took opportunity of the change in national regime to complain to the king. Not only were merchants from the Midlands and the North less interested in the fair, but French merchants were less in evidence and the booth reserved for them appears to have been given over to English traders from the West Country. In 1346 revenues exceeded costs by just over £6, a meagre profit for a fair that had once been of international significance, but now could only draw from far afield a few Irish, Flemish, and Hanseatic merchants. With the disruption caused in 1349 by the first outbreak of plague, the fair made a net loss, and some episcopal action was called needed to address the crisis.
The purpose of the 1349 grant was to reassert, spell out, and crystallize the jurisdictional rights of the fair-owner, in the hope of restoring profitability closer to some former level. Even the seeming surrender of, if not the final eight-day extension itself during which it appears that the main hilltop site was closed and fair activity continued only in the city, though doubtful the municipal authorities tolerated extensive usurpation of their powers during the continuance then of any claim to commercial and jurisdictional monopoly during that period, should be thought of not as a concession to the citizenry who objected to the fair; rather it could be interpreted as a business move to improve profitability by reducing episcopal costs incurred in operating the fair for that additional period, and thus as another indicator of the downward pressure on the fair's financial viability.
The strategy of obtaining a detailed royal confirmation of episcopal rights to squeeze out of the fair as much revenue as possible seems to have had modest success in halting the tide in the short-term; in 1353 net profit was a little over £9. But by 1362, following a second outbreak of plague, fair finances were back in the red, with fewer participants renting plots for tents or stalls, and a number of the permanent booths having fallen into disrepair or finding no tenants during fair-time. Trimming costs did not stem the decline and it was only the receipts from judicial administration in the Pavilion that was keeping the fair afloat by the turn of the century; even in that sphere of fair administration the civic authorities were offering a certain resistance, paying the clerk of the Pavilion court an annual fee for allowing them to have a city attorney present at court sessions, in order to claim for the city court any cases over which the Pavilion judges were not supposed to exercise jurisdiction. Sensing the weakness of the fair, the citizens strove to offset its tyranny over them by obtaining in 1449 royal grant of their own fair around the festival of St. Swithun (July) apparently reviving a lapsed event that the city authorities had been holding in the late thirteenth century, perhaps in the cathedral cemetery. The accomplishment made the city authorities more comfortable with reaching, in 1451, a settlement of long-standing disputes with the bishop over the St. Giles fair; this did not gain the citizens anything beyond a pardon for recent disturbances aimed at blocking episcopal operation of fair rights, but at least brought about a measure of peace between the parties.
"William de Edyngton"
"custody of our city"
"William de Shareshull"
"William de Fifhide"
"William de Overton"
"South Gate, King's Gate"
"choose and appoint"
"cognizance of all pleas"
"house within the barriered area"
"indictment from facts"
"intrusions into tenements"
"from a tanner"
|Created: March 20, 2016. Last update: April 25, 2016||© Stephen Alsford, 2016|