Bildeston’s markets and fairs
During the medieval period, markets were major places of sale and purchase. Suffolk’s two largest towns Bury St Edmunds and Ipswich held markets on most days. Smaller centres, with markets held weekly, still had an intermingling of urban and rural owing to close contact with farming activities of their surrounding countryside.
Obtaining the charter
In 1264, Matthew de Loveyne, lord of the manor of Bildeston, was granted a charter by King Henry III for a weekly Wednesday market and a yearly three-day fair held around 29 September, the feast day of St Michael and known as Michaelmas.
Setting out a market place
Before the grant, the market might have existed unofficially or temporarily. However, in the valley bottom to the east of the original hill-top settlement, an open space suitable for marketing was laid out between two streams, and abutting the highway from Stowmarket to Hadleigh, thus taking advantage of a major route through the parish. Around this trading area developed an urban extension that flourished at the expense of the older village around the parish church and manor house. A former name for the southern portion of the present High Street was Nubury, which refers to this new market town created as a consequence of the charter grant.
By the 15th century, constant encroachment by buildings upon Market Place created Chapel Street and Duke Street, reducing it to one-quarter of its original size. Surrounded on all sides by houses, workshops and inns, in the centre stood the corn-cross, which was described in 1493 as new: whether it was an open cross as at Lavenham or a roofed shelter as at Bungay and Mildenhall is unknown. Nearby were a water pump and the shambles, small premises erected for sales of meat to be let out only on market days. In the north-east corner stood Market House, the upper room of which functioned as the manorial court chamber. On the ground floor were stored stalls and ‘market stuff’ when not in use, including the common beam with accompanying weights and measures.
In order to protect interests of as many people as possible and to ensure fair trade, there were strict rules governing conduct of markets. On trading days, those wishing to set up their wares came early to pay their tolls to the market bailiff. Business could not begin until the market bell had been rung that announced the start of trading: this made sure that forestalling did not occur. Stall folders contravening regulations had to appear at the market court and, if found guilty, were put in the town lock-up, which might have been at Nos.7-11 Duke Street, which was formerly known as the Gaol.
Developing as a centre
Bildeston as a small market town would not simply have been a centre for trade. As well as providing a sales pitch for local produce and itinerant traders, it would have been a focus for local rural life. Inns provided meeting places for the surrounding population, who were not only in Bildeston to buy and sell but also to hear news. No doubt encouraged by growing consumer demand, shops began to appear to cater for needs of nearby villages as well as those of townsfolk themselves.