The Market Traders Of Sixteenth Century Atherstone
Atherstone's position, laid out as a long 'ribbon development' along Watling Street, ensured its growth as a market town. While in the medieval period it was still, primarily an agricultural settlement, attempts were made to encourage merchants and traders through the creation of burgage plots, a type of land tenure giving them special privileges. A manuscript reference to the creation of nine new burgage strips from land belonging to seven tenants in Atherstone vill, discovered by Marjorie Morgan among the muniments of Cambridge's Kings College (Ms.C9), provides clear evidence of this.
By the late Tudor periods Atherstone had become a thriving centre for leatherworking, clothmaking, metalworking and ale-brewing. Local sheep farmers and cattle graziers supplied wool and leather to local tanners and shoemakers, while metalworkers, locksmiths and nailers fired their furnaces with local coal and the alemakers supplied thirsty palates on market days.
Marion Alexander's survey of sixteenth century Mancetter probate wills and inventories (below) gives a fascinating and informative coverage of these local trades and occupations. The 40 inventories listed for Atherstone include that of John Drayton (1556), here described as a butcher and elsewhere styled 'yeoman', and William Drayton (1557), a leather tanner. Hugh Drayton, who is also described as a tanner was probably related to the alehouse keeper of the same name mentioned in a 1597 Leicester archdeaconry court case relating to events which took place at the annual fair. Marion points out that tanners and butchers often engaged in farming and that many of these occupations were complimentary - farmers slaughtering their own cattle to provide tanned hides for shoemakers and saddlers.
Atherstone was also an important centre for weaving and clothmaking. Marion suggests that the area marked 'Tenter Flatt' on the Bracebridge map may have been used for stretching and drying cloth. William Reppington, a forebear of the family that later bought the manor of Atherstone, was a weaver and among those who left inventories are Hugh Middleton, a prosperous draper and Henry Blew, a 'haberdasher', selling finished cloths and felt hats.
As for alemaking, late medieval manor court rolls provide clear evidence that local women brewed ale to sell in the local alehouses, and that two ale tasters were employed to supervise the trade. Benjamin Bartlett, the 18th century antiquary, author of the famous History of Mancetter, observed that the town was 'walled with ale and paved with marble'. Francis Goddard's reference to 32 alehouses in Atherstone in 1720 also suggests there was also a thriving alehouse trade in Elizabethan times as local villagers from the surrounding area crowded into the town on market days.
The inventories reveal that the sixteenth century houses in Atherstone were quite modest in size. Even though many were double storied they rarely had more than four living rooms, but many had 'shops' and there were numerous baking houses, dairies, malthouses, kilnhouses, candlemaking rooms and tanneries attached to the premises. Larger residences such as John Abel's Mansion house which had eleven rooms, and on the outskirts of the town, Nicholas Lawrence's Oldbury manor, which had sixteen rooms, reveal the town's popularity as a haven for retired gentlemen.
Although only one of the surviving inventories belongs to a miller, that of John Rampton described both as a yeoman and a miller in 1557, there were probably others: two mills are recorded in 1573, one a windmill the other a watermill, grinding corn for bakers like Richard Knight, who also left an inventory. According to the antiquary John Nichols, as far back as 1388 several inhabitants of the town were fined for failing to bake bread in the public bakehouse in Bakehouse Lane and as late as 1780 copyholders were still being obliged to grind their malt at a horse mill in this lane running off the market square
The inventories from 16th century Mancetter provide a fascinating glimpse into Atherstone's Elizabethan merchants and traders, before the town was economically overshadowed by the bustling city of Coventry. They show Atherstone at this time as a typical midland market town, taking full advantage of its location and agricultural setting.
Particularly Marion J. Alexander, 'Sixteenth century probate documents from Mancetter', Warwickshire History, Winter 1985/86, Vol. IV, No.4. pp 122-133.
Mancetter Parish Register : W.C.R.O. DE 130/1 (starts 1576)
Manor Court Roll W.C.R.O. MR 13.
W.H. Beresford, 'The Origins of Mediaeval Boroughs in Warwickshire: An Additional Note: Atherstone', Warwickshire History I, no. 3 (1969)
VCH Warwickshire, Volume IV.
Bartlett and Goddard cited in John Nichols, Antiquities of Leicestershire, Vol. IV, Pt II, pp.1037-8.
LIST OF 16TH CENTURY MANCETTER PARISH INVENTORIES COMPILED BY M. J. ALEXANDER
Henry Blew, 1534, haberdasher, Mancetter
John Glover, 1535, gentleman, Mancetter
Christopher Eton, 1535
John Eton, 1535, [apothecary?]
Ellen Eton, 1535, widow
Robert Pass, 1537, tanner
Richard Knight, 1537, baker
John Whittington, 1537, yeoman
Robert Barfoot, 1538, vicar of Mancetter
Maud Newbold, 1539, widow
Edmund Parker, 1539, gentleman, Hartshill
Richard Harris, 1542, yeoman
John Goodall, yeoman, Mancetter
William Goodall, 1543
William Reppington, 1545, weaver
Thomas Chetwyn, 1547, gentleman
Isabel Northcroft, 1549, widow
William Divett, 1550
William Alsop, 1551
Richard Alyn, 1552
John Drayton (the elder), 1556 yeoman/butcher
Isabel Freeman, 1557, widow
Isabel Divett, 1557, widow
William Drayton, 1557, tanner
John Rampton 1557 yeoman/miller
Hugh Drayton [1557-8?], tanner
Hugh Middleton, 1558, draper
John Harding, 1558, husbandman
John Abel, 1559, smith
Simon Preston, 1559, weaver
Anne Glover, 1559, Mancetter
John Lewis, 1565, gentleman, Mancetter
Richard Harding, 1560, singleman, Oldbury
Jone Barfoot, 1576, Oldbury
Alice Rawlett, 1577, widow
Nicholas Ethel alias Lawrence, 1577, gentleman, Oldbury Manor
Joan Cowdall, 1578, Hartshill
Edward Bannister, 1579, gentleman, Mancetter
John Sydgewick, 1580, yeoman, Hartshill
William Hodgekinson, 1580
John Allsop, 1582
William Green, 1585
Thomas Nutt, 1586, shoemaker
John Checkley, 1586
Nicholas Bull, 1586, tanner
Margaret Green, 1587, widow
Michael Parker, 1587, Hartshill
John Weston, 1589, carpenter
John Person, 1589, tanner
Henry Disen, 1590
John Hopkins, 1591, husbandman, Hartshill
Thomas Wryght, 1592, chandler
Edward Nutt, 1592, shoemaker
William Launder, 1592, pewterer
William Brooke, 1593
John Hegge and wife, 1594, chandler
Robert Foscott, 1597, tanner, Mancetter
Thomas Wilson, 1598, butcher
John Abell, 1599, smith
Alexander Weston, 1599, husbandman, Mancetter
© Alan Roberts with acknowledgements to Marion Alexander, January, 2001