Enfield’s market Makers

By Joe Studman

Enfield Market is celebrating the 400th anniversary of its charter but the history of the market goes back much further. 

Geoffrey de Mandeville held Enfield after The Norman Conquest as well as estates throughout Essex and Middlesex. His grandson, also Geoffrey, considered a market so important that he petitioned King Stephen to move the market from Newport (Essex) to his stronghold at Saffron Walden in 1141, but he didn’t establish a market in Enfield.

By 1236 Enfield manor was in the hands of the powerful de Bohun family and it is in 1303 that King Edward I granted Enfield a charter to hold a weekly Monday Market. Humphrey de Bohun had recently married the King’s daughter and the Charter may have been part of the wedding dowry.

Enfield Market charter
Enfield Market charter

Classification as a Market Town by Royal Charter allowed the Lord of The Manor to make substantial profits from tolls and fines. It also disallowed any other village or town in a seven-mile radius from holding a market. Perhaps de Bohun expected to make a profit but the 14th century experienced poor harvests, The Black Death and The Hundred Years War; it’s no surprise the market was not in its early years a success. David Pam* records that Humphrey only visited Enfield once. He stayed from April until November 1347 and never returned.

 

It is thought the earliest markets were held on Sundays in churchyards as this was the most convenient time for farmers to bring their produce to sell. This tradition seems to have persevered up to the end of the 16th century. In 1585 trouble erupted outside St Andrew’s Church when the traditional butchers’ stalls were upended by a furious curate who was offended by the breaking of The Sabbath. The dispute involved The Archbishops of London and Canterbury as well as Lord Burghley. We don’t know the final outcome but every household in Enfield, bar seven, signed a petition to have “ministers quiet and discreet”.

Enfield Market Place, 1913-14
Enfield Market Place, 1913-14

Over 30 years later King James I granted “certain parties” one market in Enfield on Saturdays. The site of the market and the profits belonged to the parish and were invested in a trust for the poor. A market house was erected to keep “just and even scales and lawfully sealed weights”. By 1648 the market was flourishing and there were 14 tiled stalls, seven boarded stalls and 90 tiled trestles were also ready for use.

 

For the next century or so the market was leased to the landlords of The King’s Head but rents charged suggested that the market didn’t give a good return. Historians in the early 19th century claimed the market had virtually disappeared. However, towards the end of the century the market had a renaissance, so much so that local shopkeepers complained of costermongers setting up during the week.

The market officially remained a Saturday market until 1974 when it became a two-day market. With the recent resurgence we now have a three-day market, and long may it continue. Enfield Market celebrated its 400th year with a Charter Fayre in May which included arts, crafts, music and plenty of fun for all the family.

*A Parish Near London Volume one of A History of Enfield. Published by Enfield Society 1990.

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Enfield Market Place c.1935
Enfield Market Place c.1935

 

 

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