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Markets & Fairs

When the demesne land grew more produce than was needed for feeding the lord’s household and for replacing stock and seed-corn, and when tenant farmers produced more than was needed to feed their families, they traded the surplus for cash with which to purchase essentials such as farm tools, cloth, salt for preserving meat, and to pay fines and taxes. Merchants and wholesalers had been buying wool, grain and cheese from manors since the end of the eleventh century; a fair held near the source of the River Meon offered the opportunity for farmers to sell their produce.

Fairfield

Fair field, location of East Meon’s annual fair.

When the demesne land grew more produce than was needed for feeding the lord’s household and for replacing stock and seed-corn, and when tenant farmers produced more than was needed to feed their families, they traded the surplus for cash with which to purchase essentials such as farm tools, cloth, salt for preserving meat, and to pay fines and taxes. Merchants and wholesalers had been buying wool, grain and cheese from manors since the end of the eleventh century; a fair held near the source of the River Meon offered the opportunity for farmers to sell their produce.

East Meon held its annual fair on Lady Day (25th March) in a field belonging to the chapel of ‘St Mary in the Fields’, named ‘Fair Field’ or ‘Chapel Close’.  The event survived until the late nineteenth century, by which time it was a horse-fair held in the village itself.

Trading at medieval fairs was open to all and the tolls (higher than market tolls) were collected by the diocese. Livestock was the main commodity, but tradesmen travelled up to 25 miles to sell goods including farm equipment – carts and wheels, harness, horseshoes, nails, sawn timber, tar and fearsome chemicals to treat sheep-scab. Unemployed farm labourers also touted their trades. In the 12th century, Petersfield received a charter from the Earl of Gloucester to hold a market, and this was confirmed in 1198 by John, Count of Mortain (later King John). It was a trading centre for sheep and wool, and although not as important as Winchester, was 5 miles away as opposed to 17 miles. (It is, however, recorded that six East Meon men found a cart to carry the bishop’s wool for sale anywhere in the country).

Unofficial markets were held in the churchyard of All Saints, usually on feast days; these were unpopular with the church authorities, which tried unsuccessfully to suppress them.’ In 1321 Thomas le Mason left to his wife Alice and his brother Peter two stalls next to the stile. Four years later a third stall in the same location was surrendered by Thomas le Barrer. Stalls were movable wooden trading booths but by the 14th century many had become semi-permanent structures which could be bought, sold and inherited. Peter le Mason’s property next to the style of the churchyard was explicitly called a shop in 1339, when Peter surrendered it to Richard le Ridler, who enlarged it by acquiring additional ground on its south, east and north sides, suggesting that it bordered the churchyard on its west side.’

The surnames of these shop-owners provide evidence of a demand for building materials in East Meon in the fourteenth century. Surnames were often taken from occupations, and Richard le Ridler was probably a siever of sifter of corn, or possibly of sand and lime in making mortar, while Peter le Mason was a stoneworker; their shop was probably the medieval equivalent of a builder’s yard.