How to look for records of... Markets and fairs

How can I view the records covered in this guide?

How many are online?

  • Some

1. Why use this guide?

This guide will help you find information on the grants of rights for fairs and markets.

It will also suggest some more general records relating to the history of fairs and markets.

2. What can I find at The National Archives?

There is no simple register, at The National Archives or elsewhere, of people who are now entitled to hold markets and fairs.

You can trace records showing an early royal grant of such rights but these may have no bearing whatsoever on present day market rights.

Early markets and fairs were generally held in one of two ways and this affects whether it was recorded in a charter or not.

If they were held:

  • by virtue of a specific royal grant, you are likely to find a charter recording it
  • by prescriptive right, that is, based on immemorial custom, you may not find any charter evidence

You are also unlikely to find charters for markets and fairs held on the land within the royal demesne.

Most grants before 1733 were in Latin and there may not be a published translation. It is also rare to find details of the exact site or regulations governing the market or fair.

3. Medieval and early modern markets and fairs

3.1 Grants for markets and fairs until 1516

From 1199-1516 royal grants of markets and fairs were generally recorded in charters. You can usually find these in the Charter rolls (C 53). Grants are also sometimes in the Patent rolls (C 66) and Close rolls (C 54).

To find these grants start with the Gazetteer of market and fairs in England and Wales to 1516 (hard copies also available at The National Archives). This provides detailed information on the evidence for markets and fairs, and includes references which you can use to find the original documents in The National Archives. Please note, not all sources referred to in the Gazetteer are available at The National Archives.

You can also find summaries of grants in the printed calendars of Charter rolls, Close rolls and Patent rolls. These are available at The National Archives and major reference libraries.

For 1199-1483 an incomplete list of charters conferring rights over markets and fairs, compiled using documents in The National Archives, is in Appendix XIX of the First report of the Royal Commission on market rights and tolls (1889). Although superseded by the Gazetteer mentioned above, it is useful as it lists the grants chronologically.

3.2 Grants for markets and fairs after 1516

From 1516 royal grants were generally recorded in the Patent rolls (C 66).

There are a number of different types of calendars and indexes to help you search the Patent rolls, all of which are available at The National Archives.

3.3 Markets and fairs in special jurisdictions

The sources mentioned above do not cover grants made by special jurisdictions (notably the Duchy of Lancaster and the Palatinates of Chester, Durham and Lancaster).

To find grants within the Duchy of Lancaster, search Discovery, our catalogue, using the keywords ‘market OR fair’ within the record series DL.

For the Palatinates of Chester (CHES), Durham (DURH) and Lancaster (PL) read the publication notes within their full catalogue descriptions. These provide details of finding aids for the series.

3.4 Clerk of the Market

The Clerk of the Market of the King’s Household exercised control over weights, measures and market prices.

You can find related records in:

From the 1640s all owners of market rights were fully liable for maintaining their own correct weights and measures.

A few sample indentures of receipts for standard weights and measures from the Exchequer in the late 17th and late 18th centuries are in E 407/88.

4. Modern markets and fairs (late 18th century onwards)

For records of commissions, licences and correspondence concerning markets and fairs, search:

  • HO 45 by keywords (‘market’ or ‘fair’, for example)
  • HO 141 and HO 152. Choose the relevant file by date. The original documents will include further indexes and classifications

You can also search the London Gazette on The Gazette website for orders to discontinue fairs or alter their appointed days.

Owen’s New Book of Fairs lists the places and dates of markets and fairs held in the 18th and 19th centuries. The published successive editions can be difficult to find; however some are available online.

The First Report of the Royal Commission on Market Rights and Tolls (1889), Appendix XXI, reproduces Owen’s lists for 1792 and 1888.

5. Other records in The National Archives

If you are researching the history of markets and fairs, explore:

  • Inquisitions ad quod damnum (C 143). From the reign of Henry III, these inquisitions often preceded royal grants to determine how they would affect existing rights. They are calendared in Lists and indexes XVII and XXII, available at The National Archives
  • Investigations into alleged abuses of market rights in
      1. Quo Warranto proceedings (see Placita de quo warranto, Record Commission, 1818)
      2. the central courts at Westminster, including the prerogative courts such as Star Chamber and the Court of Requests

A useful introduction to litigation records, including courts held at markets and fairs themselves, is in C Gross and H Hall, Select cases concerning the law merchant.

Some surviving records of local courts are among the Court Rolls (SC 2). You can use Lists and indexes VI at The National Archives to help identify them. Others are in the appropriate local record offices.

You may also find many incidental references in other enrolled Chancery series, in the Pipe rolls (E 372) and in State Papers Domestic, some of which have been calendared or published.

6. Further reading

Some or all of the publications below may be available to buy from The National Archives’ bookshop. Alternatively, search The National Archives’ library catalogue to see what is available to consult at Kew.

Victoria county history is useful for establishing whether a particular manor was royal demesne at a given date.

A collection of Household Ordinances and Regulations (London: Society of Antiquaries 1790) pp 53 and 150

N J Williams, Sessions of the Clerk of the Market of the Household in Middlesex (Transactions of the London & Middlesex Archaeological Society) xix pt 2, pp 1-14

W Illingworth, Placita de quo warranto (Record Commission, 1818) (Particularly for 1278-1330)

C Gross and H Hall, Select cases concerning the law merchant (Selden Society vols 23, 46 and 49)