Methods of Trade





Trading Methods

Trading Region





There were many ways by which goods and services could be exchanged during the early seventeenth century. The most important method, for the vast majority of people, remained the market and fair. These institutions arose out of a need to exchange relatively small quantities of goods with people from nearby townships, and had served this purpose well since at least the twelfth century. However, the development of trade and the growth of both the national and international markets made these institutions, to some extent, less able to meet the new demands, and new methods of trade came to develop alongside them. These methods facilitated the transfer of large quantities of goods, often to be transported considerable distances.

There were two fairs in existence in Wigan by the early seventeenth century. The All Saints' Day Fair had been chartered in 1245, although a new fair to be held on Ascension Day was chartered in 1258, and this came to replace the All Saints' Day Fair, and by the late sixteenth century another fair had come into being on St Luke's Day. These fairs tended to be less rigidly controlled than markets, although they were a lucrative source of income for the holders of the right to their income. In Wigan the beneficiaries of this income had been the Burgesses of the town, but after a long-running dispute between the Bishop of Chester, who was also the Lord of the Manor of Wigan, and the Burgesses, in 1618 the rights to the income of the two fairs was split. The Ascension Day Fair was in the right of the Lord of the Manor, and its income was his, the income of the St Luke's' Fair belonged to the Burgesses. [i] The fair generated an income, but also imposed certain duties: the toll-gatherers had to be paid, the Fair had to be supervised, the streets swept and order maintained.  The total cost of holding the Ascension Day fair in 1619 was #8 11s 8d. [ii] It was the duty of the Pie Powder Court to redress the wrongs committed during a fair. Most of the misdemeanours consisted of assaults. By the seventeenth century many fairs had come to deal primarily in a single product: the St Luke's' Day Fair was no exception : it was mainly concerned with the sale of horses. [iii]Wigan was not alone in Lancashire in having the right to hold a fair. A winter fair was held at Preston, a fair on St Margaret's Day at Bolton and a fair was held at Chorley. The latter fair was probably for the sale of cattle. [iv] There is no direct inventory evidence of inhabitants of Wigan using either of these fairs, but in 1635 John Nightgale, a Wigan brazier, rode the horse of Ralph Forth, another Wigan brazier, to Carlisle Fair. He was accused og riding the horse to death and ordered to pay 5 damages. [v]The other major method of trade was in the open market. Selling in the market was circumscribed by a host of rules governing the payment of tolls, when trading could commence and cease, who had precedence to buy and sell, who had the right to trade, and where different trades could erect their stalls. The market at Wigan had been chartered in 1245, along with the Ascension day fair, and took place on Mondays. By the late sixteenth century, another market had come into being on Fridays. As with fairs, tolls were a source of income to their owners, and the Bishop of Chester and the Burgesses of Wigan disputed ownership. The 1618 ruling declared that the Monday market belonged to the Lord of the Manor, and the Friday market to the Burgesses.

"Everywhere marketing was subject to more or less strict regulation. Each town had its own company of market officers... Virtually every town had its tollgatherers, sweepers and bellman, and many appointed a couple of 'market lookers' for the general inspection of the market." [vi] Wigan was no exception to this and by 1629 the market had surveyors of flesh and fish, alefounders and searchers and sealers of leather. A host of regulations were enforced by these officials. The stalls of traders at the markets were not to exceed 5ft by 7ft, badgers coming to sell meal had to sell it on the market day and had to give inhabitants of the town the first option to buy, after which it could be offered to 'foreigners', the stalls of the different trades were to be located in different parts of the marketplace, goods could only be bought or sold in the town after the ringing of the market bell and goods had to be sold in the open market. [vii]Townsfolk were presented before the Court Leet for breaching these regulations. The main concern was that goods were offered for sale in the open market, at the proper time. Elizabeth Leigh, the wife of an innkeeper, was charged with buying butter before it came to the market. Jane Crosfield bought corn from Thomas Hyton, a badger from Skelmersdale, in her own house before the market started. [viii] Another concern was the activities of speculators, particularly in non-perishable foodstuffs,  who bought cheap and hoarded their purchases, either raising the market price by the scale of their purchases, or waiting until the price had risen sufficiently to give them a worthwhile profit. William Lythgoe, a badger from Hindley, was accused of this in 1649. [ix] The presence of competition from "foreigners" was an occasional cause of grievance. The Company of Butchers petitioned the mayor and burgesses of Wigan in 1637, saying they would "undertake to serve the Towne and marketts kept within the same sufficiently as formerly they & their Anncestors have done Notwithstandinge the (fact that)... Interlopers not dwelinge nor borne within the towne doe now kill sell & utter meate within this Burrowe contrary to all reason & good conscience." The butchers sought the restoration of their monopoly to sell meat within the town. [x]Notwithstanding all these restrictions, the market attracted people from some distance. In 1630 "complaynt was made to me [the Lord of the Manor] by one Michael Bently of Hallifax flaxmen, that they [the Mayor and bailiffs] had taken away three stone and two pound of his flax which he had brought to Wigan on my Monday Markett to be sold theire." [xi]The moothall was the dominant feature of the marketplace, and was an imposing building. It was "a hip-roofed building standing on rows of four pillars, with a door in the middle opening on to a balcony. On the ridge of the roof is a belfry containing the market bell, and in front of the hall is shown the market cross on a flight of three circular steps." [xii] It had probably been built at considerable expense during the early sixteenth century, and suggests that Wigan's market was flourishing at that time. It had come to be augmented and used for a variety of purposes by the 17th century. Shops had been built underneath it and by 1619 were occupied by eight butchers. It was used for meetings of the Burgesses, and probably as town gaol.

Burgesses, who constituted almost a quarter of the adult male population, had an automatic right to erect a stall in the market place (probably).[xiii] Non-burgesses and "foreigners", however, did not. Non-burgesses had to pay a nominal fee to have a stall in the market: in 1637 it was between 6d and 6s. Non-burgesses were required to pay 10s each. The occupations of those renting stalls demonstrate the diversity of products traded at the market. There was at least one of each of the following: husbandman, miller, butcher, skinner, glover, currier, roper, mason, joiner, pewterer, labourer. [xiv] Everitt suggests that by the mid-seventeenth century over a third of markets had come to specialise in the marketing of a single product. Although the number of individuals whose occupation can be identified is relatively low, the diversity of the occupations of the traders suggest that this was not so in the case of Wigan's market, which sold a wide range of produce in the period. [xv]The third major method of trading was by retail shop, of which there seem to have been a growing number in Wigan during the period. Willan has identified shops selling a "combination of drapery, haberdashery and mercery with groceries and stationery" as being characteristic of general retail shops in the period. [xvi] Shops fitting this description certainly existed in Wigan. In 1629, a Mrs Marsh was presented to the Court Leet "havinge lately married George Vauce and havinge thereby lost her Freedome within this towne and Corporacion yet notwithstandinge shee keepeth Shoppe and still Contynueth the selling of Mercery groserye and haberdashery drapery and all other these Commodities" [xvii]

The range and values of stock could be large. Adam Banks, a Wigan mercer who owned a shop left the following shop contents in 1623 [xviii]:

In Grocerye in the Shopp             30li 8s 6d

In nales of all sortes                   17s 3d

In waxe and candles                      12s 5d

In haberdashe wares of all sortes    24li 6s 7d

In silcke wares of all sortes        14li 3s 1d

In mercerye wares of all sortes       7li 5s 2d

In parchment and bokes of all sortes     23s 6d

In white and colloured gladdine          13s 6d

Gloves of all sortes                     13s 6d

In cloth stockinges, and woosted and woollen

        stockinges                          36s

In candles                                  33s

In Aquavita Sallett oyle, Trekell Conservas and other oyles                              3li 9s

In Tobacco and Pypes                     33s 9d

In Boxes of all sortes                      13s

In whale skynn                           14s 6d

In matche, honny, and hoppes             13s 6d

In Brasse wyare                             18s

In Ballince and weightes                    36s

In Coardes of all sortes                  9s 4d

Two chistes in the Shopp                    16s

One quarte and other measures             2s 6d

Another shopkeeper (who's shop may have been in Preston) had over nine pounds invested in "tafatey, Riboninge statute lace, quicke silver fringe Buckinge Ashes and silke buttons". Considered with the stock list above, it suggests that textile items made up a significant proportion by value of the stock of a general shop.

There were also shops in the town which sold the product of a single trade. There were at least eight butchers' shops, all situated under the Moothall in 1619. In 1620 a shop was rented by Thomas Leigh, a flaxman, and in 1627 George Winstanley, a Wigan glover, sought to rent a shop from the Lord of the Manor. Other shops were probably maintained by Burgesses in their own homes. The total number of shops in the town is uncertain, although the manor rental of 1627 suggests there were at least 15. [xix] In 1642 in Chorley, a town about a third of the size of Wigan, there were four shopkeepers. [xx]

A fourth means of purchasing goods was offered by the itinerant traders. Probably the most common group of itinerant traders were the badgers who "bought corn or other commodities at one place and carried them elsewhere to sell; an itinerant dealer who acted as middleman between the producing farmer and the consumer." [xxi] It was certainly the case that badgers who traded with Wigan tended to sell grain: in 8 Charles I, Alexander Shephard, an Aspull badger was pursuing a debt for malt in the Wigan Court of King's Pleas; in the same year Geoffrey Houlcroft, a Winwick badger who was a frequent litigant in the Court, pursued a debt of 20 shillings for oatmeal and the following year, Alexander Shephard was pursuing four debts for malt. [xxii] However, Westerfield's assertion that they were intermediaries and bought grain for re-sale was probably not the case in Wigan. Of the sixty badgers licensed at the Wigan sessions of 1635, twenty four have no listed occupations, two were listed as gentlemen, and the remaining thirty four were either husbandmen or yeomen. This suggests that at least some of the grain they sold was grown by themselves. The occupational designations of the seventeenth century could also be misleading. The tendency of men to have multiple occupations has been well documented, and it is probable that some traders were functioning as badgers, by selling large amounts of grain, without being described as badgers, and perhaps not being licensed thus. The inventory of Henry Wakefield (1640) shows the typical stock of a panmaker, which is the occupation he chooses to describe himself in his will. His stock consisted of over sixty pounds worth of pans and metals. However, he also had 23 bushels of "homes made malte" valued at 17-5-00 and debts for Chester malt (presumably made in Chester or imported via its port) and home made malt for more than 40-00-00.

Chapmen and tinkers also brought goods to Wigan. Bolton, Chorley and Manchester had relatively large numbers of chapmen during the period [xxiii]. There is less evidence as to what they sold: in 14 Charles I, a Westleigh chapman pursued a debt for seven pounds for cheese and linen. Urban chapmen were more likely to buy "fancy" goods from either abroad or from the London market for resale locally: in 8 Chas I Richard Casson, a Wigan chapman, was accused of being indebted to Thomas Stones, a London haberdasher for 58-18-00; in 1628 Henry Allen and William Taylor, both London haberdashers sought payment of a debt from Miles Turner, another Wigan chapman; in 13 Charles I, a York merchant pursued a debt of 5-8-0 against Peter Deane and James Rigby, both Wigan chapmen. [xxiv] Tinkers were probably smaller traders than chapmen, and less is known about their activities. An occasional reference is made to them in inventories. In 1620, Peter Laithwaite, a substantial panmaker was owed 11-00 by "John Shawe tinckler". [xxv] In 1633 Gilbert Gardner, a brazier, was owed 1-2-00 by John Evans, another "tinkler" from Wrexham. In 1635 Hamlett Green was owed 5-15-00 by Robert Parker a tinker of uncertain residence. [xxvi]

The other itinerant group of traders consisted of those craftsmen who sought to sell their wares themselves, rather than to an intermediary. A number of Wigan craftsmen have packsaddles listed in their inventories and when combined with a list of trade debtors in diverse places, suggests that they carried their goods for sale to other markets. In 1635 Hamlett Green, a panmaker, had a pack saddle and a large volume of cloth and pans in his inventory. He also had a number of trade debts in Amounderness and east Lancashire and had probably carried his goods around the county to sell them.  Peter Laithwaite had "ffyve pack clothes & ffyve coards" as well as a number of debtors in Halifax and Sowerby (?), and was probably selling pans just over the Yorkshire border . Hugh Laithwaite, another panmaker, had the pack clothes and cords and a creditors for a total of 161-0-0 in York, Leeds, Newcastle and London. [xxvii]There is more direct evidence of travelling out of the purely local area for trade purposes. In 17 Chas I, John Naylor of Pemberton carried sheep skins from Liverpool to Wigan, for the benefit of Henry Marsden a Wigan skinner. [xxviii] The visit of John Nightgale to Carlisle Fair in 1635 has already been mentioned, but in 17 Ch I Robert Green, a Wigan fuller, hired a mare to travel to Newcastle, confirming the impression of the inventories that Newcastle was a trading partner of some importance during the period. Wales also had provided Wigan with some of its livestock: James Pilkington had three "Welsh beasts" in his inventory in 1627, and around that time Bishop Bridgeman complained that "Mr Peter Marsh owes me for his wool of 80 sheep he bought in Wales but hath not p(aid) for though they were shorn here". [xxix] Ireland was also probably a place of origin of some goods sold in Wigan, as well as a destination for some of the goods produced there. In 18 Chas I John Guest of Astley sought payment of a debt of 36-10-0 for Irish yarn from James Molyneux, a Wigan gentleman. Gilbert Gardner left "a lycence to transporte brasse into Ireland Rated or valued unto 5-00-00". He was owed money by people living in Chester and Liverpool, from which any brass goods would probably have been despatched, but also there were debts for three pounds and four pounds, respectively, owing by "Walter Dunn of Dublyn merchante" and "Christopher Williams of Tradarth merchant". [xxx]There is some evidence to suggest that some merchants employed or paid factors in other towns to sell or act on their behalf. Ralph Forth was a Kendal pewterer and traded extensively with Wigan. He was probably related the mercantile Forth family of Wigan. Roger Bullock, in his inventory of 1633, was described as a gentleman, and appears to have engaged in some substantial building work, having 31-0-0 worth of timber and 9-0-0 of stones. He was owed 134-0-0 "by Mr Robert Royden for rents hereof due unto hyme att the tyme of the decedents death which hee hath receaved to and for his use for all his lands in London", Royden was owed 2-0-0 for collecting these rents, as well as another 163 pounds for money lent to Bullock and expended by Royden on his behalf. The presence of the honorific "Mr" suggests that Royden was wealthy in his own right, and merely acted for Bullock on commission. [xxxi] At the other end of the scale, Hugh Forth had a two year lease on Nutters shop in Preston, taking his other agricultural and textile interests with his apparent building work, it is likely that he employed someone to run the Preston shop. [xxxii] Occasional references to goods "lying" elsewhere suggest that goods were taken for resale elsewhere, or bought and not collected. Gilbert Langshawe had up to 60li of goods in Rochdale, John Smith of Atherton, nailor, who traded with Wigan had 24-00-00 of iron and nails in Manchester, and a smaller value of iron and nails in Bury. [xxxiii]Trade also took place outside the formalised structure of markets, fairs, shops and licensed itinerants. It increased during the period because of the inability of the old structures to cope with the demands of the market. Private trading was regarded with suspicion during the period, partly because it took place free of toll, and partly because it threatened those who traded in customary ways. There is less evidence of private trade, where agreements to buy and sell were often made in inns on major roads and in large towns, than of any other form of trade during the period.  A large number of trade transactions in the period were by credit.  Bills and bonds were drawn up to evidence the indebtedness of one party to another, but usually for large sums of money. A credit transaction might be evidenced by a bond where a large volume of goods were transferred wholesale. Most local transactions were recorded in the debt book. These are sometimes aggregated in inventories, although the current debts were sometimes copied out in full. About five thousand cases for debt were presented to the Wigan Court of King's Pleas during the period 1627 to 1642, and probably represent a fraction of the total number of credit transactions which took place. The inventories of Wigan tradesman list many of their debtors: Henry Wakefield, a panmaker, had 75 debtors in 1640, Hamlet Green, another panmaker had 61 debtors in 1635, Thomas Markland, a goldsmith and money lender had 59 debtors in 1621. These debts could be for more than a hundred pounds, and may constitute half or more of the deceased's estate. 

When an individual was not known to the trader offering credit it was possible for a friend or neighbour, who was regarded as credit-worthy to "stand" for the credit seeker, and guarantee the debt. Edward Taylor of Standish vouched for Marmaduke Lunde of Rainford for 11-10-3 when he bought a horse from Lawrence Boulton of Langtree in 1629 [xxxiv]. It sometimes happened that the debt would be called in from the guarantor: efforts were made to recover a debt from Robert Fisher, who had stood for a "neighbour" in 1620, the same happened to John Rigby, who had guaranteed the debt of Patrick Dublin in 1640. [xxxv]Sometimes, the reputation of an individual may not be sufficient to secure credit. In these cases partnerships could be entered into either for a specific transaction or as an ongoing business arrangement. A Haigh chapman and two others had bought 46lb of tobacco worth 5-3-0 in 17 Chas I, a yeoman and two butchers had bought 58 shillings worth of wool in the same year, a pewterer and two others had incurred a substantial debt (48-0-0) in the same year, an unlikely partnership consisting of a miller, a yeoman and a pewterer were indebted to Gilbert Gardner, variously described as a brazier or gentleman, in 5 Charles I. Richard, Robert and Alexander Casson, all weavers from Wigan, appear to have remained together in some sort of partnership during the period, although the number of times they were pursued for debt suggests their partnership was less than wholly successful. [xxxvi]Relatively little is known about the use of credit. In 1637 there were 57 non-burgesses, from both inside and outside the town of Wigan, renting stalls in the market. Of these, a maximum of 10 (18%) are recorded as plaintiffs, and therefore presumably extending credit, at the Court of King's Pleas. Of the fifteen persons renting shops in the 1627 Rental of the Manor, only three were plaintiffs at the WCKP. Peter Marsh and Peter Dean both brought only a single case, and James Markland only two. The only surviving inventory of a shopkeeper, however, shows that he kept a debt book and had outstanding debtors owing over 37. [xxxvii] Of the 133 in-burgesses listed in the 1639 Poll Book, 93 can be matched with individuals in the 1642 Protestation Oath Rolls. Of these, at least 58 (62%) were listed at plaintiffs in the WCKP. This suggests that, although the evidence for the use of credit is somewhat mixed, burgesses were much more likely to extend credit than market traders, shopkeepers and non-burgesses.


[i] - G.T.O. Bridgeman, The History of the Church and Manor of Wigan, Chetham Society vol. 16, Manchester 1889, p222.

[ii] - ibid, p237.

[iii] -  Wigan Court Leet Records, 19/10/1629.

[iv] - LRO,  Edward Standanought of Coppull, WCW 1619 and William Lawrenson of Coppull WCW 1613.

[v] - WCKP, 12/3/11 Charles 1.

[vi] - Alan Everitt, The Marketing of Agricultural Produce, in J. Thirsk, editor, The Agrarian History of England and Wales. London 1967.

[vii] - Respectively:

- a. G.H. Tupling, Early Lancashire Markets and Their Tolls, Transactions of the Lancashire and Cheshire Antiquarian Society, vol. 50, p 126. Manchester 1934-5.

- b. WCKP 22/14/1626

- c. G.H. Tupling, Lancashire Markets in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries, T.L.C.A.S., vol 58, p20. (1945-6)

- d. Wigan Court Leet Records, 3/10/1635.

[viii] - WRO Court Leet Rolls, Roll 3, 1635.

[ix] - WRO Court Leet Rolls, Roll 7, 22/12/1649.

[x] - WRO Court Leet Rolls, Roll 4/c, 30/9/1637.

[xi] - Bridgeman Ledger Transcript, WRO D/Dz A 13/1  27/11/1630.

[xii] - Tupling 1945-6, op. cit. p6.

[xiii] - The 1639 Poll Book in Sinclair....., lists 133 in-burgesses. The 1642 Protestation Oath Roll lists 575 adult males. The burgesses thus constituted 23% of the adult male population.

[xiv] - WRO CL1/56.

[xv] - Alan Everitt, Marketing, p495.

[xvi] - T.S. Willan, The Inland Trade, Manchester 1976, p80.

[xvii] - WCKP 3/10/1629.

[xviii] - LRO, Adam Banks of Wigan, mercer, WCW 1623. The word "Item" has been omitted from the text, although it appears at the beginning of each line in the original inventory.

[xix] - GTO Bridgeman, op cit,.pp309-315.

[xx] - LRO, MF 24, Protestation Oath Rolls, Lancashire 1642.

[xxi] - R.B. Westerfield, Middlemen in English Business, Newton Abbott 1968, p 135.

[xxii] - WCKP 9/6/8 Charles I, 23/9/8 Charles I, KP8 (date between 8 Charles I and 11 Charles I).

[xxiii] - Record Society of Lancashire and Cheshire,  volume 4.

[xxiv] - WCKP 23/9/8 Charles I.

[xxv] - LRO, Peter Laithwaite of Wigan, WCW 1620.

[xxvi] - LRO, Hamlett Green of Wigan, WCW 1635.

[xxvii] - LRO, Hugh Laithwaite of Wigan, WCW 1640.

[xxviii] - WCKP 11/3/17 Charles I.

[xxix] - G.T.O. Bridgeman, op. cit., p 189.

[xxx] - LRO, Gilbert Gardner of Wigan WCW 1633. Hamlett Green of Wigan WCW 1635.

[xxxi] - LRO, Roger Bullock of Wigan, WCW 1633.

[xxxii] - LRO, Hugh Forth of Wigan, WCW 1623.

[xxxiii] - LRO, Gilbert Langshawe of Wigan, WCW 1637 and John Smith of Atherton, nailor, WCW 1632.

[xxxiv] - WCKP 19/10/1629.

[xxxv] - LRO, Henry Wakefield of Wigan, WCW 1640.

[xxxvi] - WCKP 11/12/17 Charles I, 29/1/17 Charles I, 23/4/18 Charles I, 25/4/5 Charles I, 12/11/7 Charles I.

[xxxvii] - LRO, Adam Banks of Wigan, WCW 1623.