Market town

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{company, market, business}
{land, century, early}
{law, state, case}
{city, large, area}
{town, population, incorporate}
{church, century, christian}
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{day, year, event}
{area, part, region}
{rate, high, increase}
{village, small, smallsup}

Market town or market right is a legal term, originating in the medieval period, for a European settlement that has the right to host markets, distinguishing it from a village and city. A town may be correctly described as a "market town" or as having "market rights", even if it no longer holds a market, provided the legal right to do so still exists.



In pre-19th century England, the majority of the population made their living through agriculture and livestock farming. Most lived where they worked, with relatively few in towns. Therefore, farmers and their wives brought their produce to informal markets held on the grounds of their church after worship. Market towns grew up at centres of local activity and were an important feature of rural life, as some place names remind us: Market Drayton, Market Harborough, Chipping Norton and Chipping Sodburychipping was derived from a Saxon verb meaning "to buy".

Market towns often grew up close to fortified places such as castles, to enjoy their protection. Framlingham in Suffolk is a notable example. Markets were located where transport was easiest, such as at a crossroads or close to a river ford. When local railway lines were first built, market towns were given priority to ease the transport of goods. In Calderdale, West Yorkshire, several market towns close together were designated to take advantage of the new trains. The designation of Halifax, Sowerby Bridge, Hebden Bridge and Todmorden illustrate such an example.

The English monarchy created a system by which a new market town could not be established within a certain travelling distance of an existing one. This limit was usually a day's worth of travelling to and from the market, and buying or selling goods. If the travel time exceeded this standard, a new market town could be established in that locale. As a result of the limit, market towns often petitioned the Monarch to close down illegal markets in other towns. These distances are still law in England today. Other markets can be held provided that they are licensed by the holder of the Royal Charter, which tends currently to be the local Town Council. Failing that, the Crown can grant a license.

As traditional market towns developed, they had a wide main street or central market square. These provided room for people to set up stalls and booths on market days. Often the town erected a market cross in the centre of the town, to obtain God's blessing on the trade. The cross was also a reminder "not to defraud by cheapening". Some take this warning to suggest that market traders were dishonest. Instead, it was a warning to townsfolk not to haggle the traders so low as to discourage their returning.

Notable examples of market crosses in England are at Chichester and Malmesbury. In Scotland, the crosses are called "mercat crosses". Market towns often featured a market hall, with administrative quarters at the first-floor level, above the covered market. Market towns with smaller status include Minchinhampton, Nailsworth and Painswick near Stroud, Gloucestershire.

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