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New chapter for Bishop's Stortford's historic market

Bishops Stortford general views. Junction, North Street, Bridge Street, Potter Street and High Street. Pic: Vikki Lince
Bishops Stortford general views. Junction, North Street, Bridge Street, Potter Street and High Street. Pic: Vikki Lince

Bishop's Stortford's history as a market town is about to begin a new chapter, adding to a colourful chronicle which began just after the Norman Conquest.

In fact, at the time of the Domesday Book in 1086, there were more than 50 in England, but the parish is not listed.

Bishop’s Stortford’s very own Venerable Bede, local history expert Paul Ailey has traced the twists and turns taking us to the 21st century as part of his online archive www.stortfordhistory.co.uk.

He tells us that the market emerged when the Normans began to rebuild Waytemore Castle in the early 12th century. The arrival of stonemasons, labourers and soldiers doubled the town’s population at a stroke. At the same time, the river crossing which gives the town its name was the point where seven busy roads converged so there was a corresponding increase in travellers.

Mr Ailey writes: “Under Norman rule, new markets were created, or recognised, under a licensing system and at the discretion of the King. This was essentially a means of raising revenue for the royal coffers via toll charges and from merchants plying their trade. However, tolls were not excessive and seldom amounted to more than one per cent of a trader’s profits. Various customs also made certain goods exempt from the toll, most typically those bought for household consumption. Similarly produce from peasant households, such as apples or butter in earthenware pots, was also exempt.

“Bishops, like kings, were never slow at finding ways to increase revenue. And since no record exists of any king granting the town a charter to hold a market, we assume that permission was granted by the Bishop of London – responsible for the Manor of Stortford since the time of the Conquest. That said, it is possible that the market was initially established simultaneously with the rebuilding of the castle.”

After the granting of a charter in 1336, Bishop’s Stortford gained certain rights which are about to be returned, regarding licences for markets in neighbouring town’s and villages within 6.66 miles.

Mr Ailey writes: “By the beginning of the 14th century the market was thriving. It stretched east from St Michael’s churchyard along Wheat Hill (now High Street) as far as Dunghill Lane (now Devoils Lane) and to the southernmost boundary of the town, Teynter Hill (now Church Street).

“The marketplace was a meeting place for locals and where street performers occasionally entertained the crowds. It was also the most likely site of the town stocks. The square was approached via four short streets, or lanes: Dunghill Lane (now Devoils Lane), Chandlers Row (now Palmer’s Lane), Fish Row or Fish Market (now the road behind the Corn Exchange) and South Street.

“Between the 15th and 19th century, the town boasted a thriving leather market – tanneries in Water Lane producing the leather for curriers who plied their trade on the western side of the market square. The dressed and coloured leather was then sold in the leather market which, latterly, was in Poultry Hill (now Potter Street).”

Pedlars and foreign merchants were regulated and had to wait before they could trade so local traders got the best business.

In the 15th century, many traders’ stalls became permanent timber and plaster-built booths, before evolving into shops.

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