a) What kinds of records sources are available for the study of medieval English towns ?
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b) What were the origins of the Medieval English town ? What sort of factors influenced the location of urban communities in the Middle Ages.
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c) Which were the principal towns of medieval England ? What criteria would you apply to determine the importance of a town ?
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d) What was the role of Markets and Fairs in the development of the urban economy ? What other forms of trade were carried on in English towns.
Abigail Bryant ----
It was very important for a settlement to acquire market rights in order for it to become a proper borough. The thirteenth and fourteenth centuries saw a boom in the area and between 1227 and 1350 it is estimated that approximately 1200 settlements in England and Wales gained market rights. This saw the development of urban area in places other than those directly related to the service of a Castle or a Fort. 

The distribution of these market towns or boroughs is thought to have been related to the theory of a 'reasonable journey', that is how far from a rural area could Mr. Bloggs walk to and from in a day, and a rough radius figure for a Market's catchment area would be approximately 20 miles. The Markets could be small but they were all the basic nuclei for prospering Market towns in this period. Their importance can be seen in the plan of some of the 'new' towns that were created, in these places the central high street and focus of all trade were often made wider than normal to accommodate market stalls and traders. This element can still be seen today in the plan of big market towns such as Chichester, Farnham and Bury St. Edmunds. 

Colin Platt remarks that 'it was the captive local trade that kept them (markets) solidly in being, whatever the state of national finances from their foundation through tot the present' Their main trade would be concerned with the supply of local foodstuffs to local people. Grain would traditionally be moved in large quantities over short distances The largely localized nature of trade would account for the sheer number of markets that were required and created in this period. 

The trade of raw materials at a local level was also very important, as there is great evidence to show that each town had their own groups of specialized craftsmen, all requiring materials for their trade which would in turn be manufactured and sold locally. 

Fairs flourished in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries and they held the key to trading exchanges on a more than regional level. They were a medium for the trading exchanges of more valuable or sophisticated kinds. Famous and large Fairs included those at Boston, St Ives and Winchester. Great boroughs often had more than one Fair, for example Derbyshire had twenty-four market towns and boroughs and all of them held their own Fairs totally 120 fair days in the  he county. A wider range of goods were available, more varied groceries, spices and wines, dyes and cloths, building materials and household goods and imports. They were not held on a regular weekly basis and frequently co-incided with a local saints day so they were traditionally treated as a holiday or celebration. 

This is where you went to buy something that would not normally be available to you at your local Market you would go to a Fair in search of some variety or some quality good or a bargain. Fairs also attracted Market traders who would buy a product in bulk and take it back to their local market and distribute it that way an example of this would be the traders from Salisbury, who would go to Southampton and the goods that they would but there ended up being distributed to markets in Wiltshire and the West Country. Fairs could also be dedicated to the sale of one particular product or animal there were Wool Fairs and Horse Fairs, cattle were also often traded at fairs.

The fair was also often served as a venue for deals to be made. Professional traders and foreign traders from different areas could organize to converged at the next big Fair that they could all get to and there business deals would be done often dealing with trade matters that were totally independent of the events of the Fair itself. In this sense Fairs can be seen as forming a very important link in the network of nation-wide and international trade.

e) What relationship did medieval English towns have with the surrounding countryside ? 
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f) What relationship did the towns have with the royal government ? What is meant by burgage tenure ? What benefits did towns expect to gain from Royal Charters ? 
Ben White ----
King Edward recognised that the towns were one of the main foundations of his state. The Angevins moved from the simple exploitation of the towns by the sale of urban liberties. Edward began the incorporation of the burgesses into parliament, this was an integral part of the mobilisation of every part of the community to help the king. The towns could also provide the royal government with money. The king also taxed the cities and the boroughs along with own reign at the higher rate than his rural districts. Burgage tenure began as the tenure of traders who lived for protection within the burgus. It required that their members should owe minimal labour services. Grants of ‘free burgage’ became grants of free borough that indicated the recognition of the borough as a distinct sort of community with a coherent set of institutions. In 1200 John made Dunwich ‘our free borough’. It granted townsmen right to sell burgage tenements without seeking permission, to have their own court. To account directly to the crown for the farms or dues of the borough and not have the sheriff collect them. Also to be free of the tolls throughout the land.   
g) How were medieval English towns governed ? What was the aldermanic system ? To what extent did the medieval towns control their own fiscal and legal systems ?
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h) What factors determined the social structure in medieval English towns ? What social classes would you expect to find and how would they be differentiated ? What evidence is there of standards of living and quality of life amongst the urban population of medieval England.
Katie Mooney ----
It was once seen that townsmen had their views completely separate from those of the countryside, but it seems they were not totally socially cut off form the rural surroundings, as once thought. It appears the basis of the urban social structure first came from the rural areas, who's excess population sought to fill it. As towns became more defined and stable, the social structures followed, creating their own customs and rules which can be seen to have been effected by:
  • 1) Wealth of the populace. 
  • 2) size and density of the town
  • 3) occupations of inhabitants 
  • 4) economic interest of town.
As these factors had a varying effect on different towns and created very diverse societies. The inhabitant of a town could include, merchants, (which also included wholesalers and retailers at this time), landed families moved in from nearby countryside, crafts/tradesmen, labourers and a few involved in the administration of towns. Different towns had varying concentrations of these inhabitant, and this led to the establishment of complex social systems in urban England. 

How was this diverse society divided? In many towns there appears to have been a three tiered class system, though the term class can not be strictly used as it is a relatively modern term, and seems to indicate that these divisions were more distinct than they appear to have been. There was much social mobility and each town seems to have had its own system, therefore it is difficult to pinpoint a exact pattern for the divisions. The most simple pattern appear to be: 

  • Upper class= merchants 
  • middle class= crafts/tradesmen 
  • lower class= servants and employees.
Though this can be take a general pattern, it does seem in many towns that these divisions were blurred as some of the towns leading inhabitants could be craftsmen and merchants could also be found in the middling class. It seems most towns were based upon a unintentional mixture of a social system based upon both wealth and occupation, which has caused difficulties for historians to define an exact structure.

An example, but not a typical case, is London, which had what has been called a social pyramid. At the top, the few elite resided followed by a many tiered middle class from the master craftsmen down to the unemployed, with the unemployed sitting at the bottom. Though London can not be taken as a typical example, it can be used to depict a similar system that existed in most the towns, but with far less divisions. Though historians have tried to simplify the social structure of towns, it seems each town's make up developed differently due to the needs of it inhabitants and the local countryside.

Finally, looking at the standard of living and quality of life within towns, and what evidence do historians have. Firstly, town records reveal factors about the state of towns , for example in 14th century Southampton it was ordained no cook or butcher should through rubbish into the streets, which may indicate this was a common practice and streets may have been very dirty. This is back up by archaeological evidence from Winchester, which provided evidence of refuse being left in the streets. This paints a grim picture in today's standards, but one must keep all the evidence into context of the time. Assessing the quality of life within towns is a much more difficult task, as historians have to mostly rely upon personal recollections which vary greatly. Some observers were very critical of the state of towns and commented upon the rich exploiting the poor, but other reports talk of London as a place with healthily air and well mannered people. Historians must be critical of these view but one must try to keep it within the context of the time and realize the varying difference between towns at this time, which developed with in their own context, while still effected by the influence of trade. 

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K.D.Mooney hiu45d@bangor.ac.uk 

I) What role was performed by the Medieval Guilds ? What kind of relationship did the Guilds have with the Urban government ?
Caryl Dane ----
There were two main types of guild - the craft guild and the merchant guild. The guild merchant was an important institution confirmed by charter to many, but not all towns.

In bigger towns there were guilds for the organisation of leading merchants, smaller towns which did not have a guild merchant had social and religious guilds.

The guild merchant was a body of traders who had joined together to regulate the town's trade. One of the primary motivations for forming a guild merchant was the desire to control the flow of commodities into and out of the town.

As towns gained a measure of self-government, this often led to merchant guilds dominating municipal affairs.

Guilds and oligarchic urban governments strictly regulated competition for raw materials among local merchants . The gild merchant regulated the borough markets and fairs, and fixed tolls that should be paid by outside merchants, though this last power was restricted by the many royal charters which granted merchants of other boroughs freedom from toll throughout the kingdom.

Breaches of rules were punishable by fines and the guild had its own court to punish offenders.

The merchant guild rules forbade the admission of craftsmen - "men with blue nails"- but in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries guilds may have included master craftsmen from the more important occupations. The craft guilds did not win collective recognition or play any affective role in political life until the end of the thirteenth-century, when economic circumstances had changed in the craftsmen's favour. As separate specialised craft guilds evolved, so the power and influence of the guild merchant waned.

They had a responsibility for quality control and were essentially friendly societies for mutual assistance and to protect the interests of their members, regulating wages and working hours. As much as possible of the town's trade and industry was restricted to guild members. A still more vital feature was their grant of assistance to members who had fallen ill or become impoverished through no fault of their own. The guilds modelled their structure and rules on town governments, with elected officials. An oligarchic hierarchy within the guild soon emerged. Guild ordinances were often approved by the town council as a means of enforcing legislation on quality control and illegal working. The existence of a craft guild indicated a court which resolved disputes between members of the craft, or between craftsmen and customers. Such courts were at first directly under borough authorities, although they seemed to have attained a greater degree of independence, there usually seems to have been a right of appeal to the borough court. 

j) What impact did the economic crisis of the mid fourteenth century have on the English towns ?

Using the relevant volume of ENGLISH HISTORICAL DOCUMENTS find, read and annotate the following documents: