Introduction to the history of medieval boroughs




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The urban economy
Drawing by J.C.B. Knight

A 20th-century artist's depiction of a street scene from a 14th century English town, illustrating the retailing of goods – such as cloth or (far left) cooked foods – from stalls outside of houses, the ground-floor interior being used rather for the production of goods. On the left-hand side a tavern is indicated by the alestake projecting from above the awning. A reminder that agriculture still had a place in many medieval towns, however, is the ever-troublesome pig.

Drawing based on a English manuscript illustration of ca.1400, touching upon aspects of the economic system. In the foreground a packhorse, loaded with merchandize, is driven towards an inn (with welcoming hostess); a network of inns across the country was important for commerce. The building at lower right, with hanging sign indicating it some kind of commercial or industrial establishment, may represent a craft workshop that produced some of the goods being transported by the horse. At rear right, the artist has depicted a walled town, location of major marketplaces for goods, while at left stands a castle or fortifed manor-house – residence of aristocracy who were consumers of luxury goods imported by merchants. The packhorse reflects the role of land-based transportation in the economy, while the ships and boats represent the importance of water transportation.


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Created: April 5, 1999. Last update: October 29, 2014 © Stephen Alsford, 1999-2014