The Trading Region





Trading Methods

Trading Region





This chapter will identify and proffer explanations for the extent of the trading region of Wigan in the early seventeenth century, along with those significant centres of trade which could not be considered part of its "region". The nature of trade between Wigan and the region, and significant centres will be explored.

The frequency of references to townships trading with Wigan in the records of the Wigan Court of King's Pleas is mapped on Map 1.


This map shows that Pemberton and Haigh, which both border Wigan, were the most frequently referred to townships, followed by the south and eastern townships of Aspull, Ince, Hindley Ashton, and Abram. In the north and west, Standish and Upholland stand out, and are surrounded by the lesser-named townships of Coppull, Wrightington, Shevington, Orrell, Billinge, and Winstanley. All of these townships together form a discrete bloc, and will be described thus in this chapter. They will be further subdivided into the Central Zone (Haigh and Pemberton, which stand out from the other townships because of their frequency), the South-Eastern Zone, and the North-Western Zone, as listed above.

As well as a discrete trading bloc, the map shows a number of significant centres of trade outside the immediate vicinity of Wigan. Most of these were in the north west: Ormskirk, Winwick, Warrington, Bolton, Manchester, Preston, and Chester, but London also merits mention.

Map 2 shows the frequency of references to townships from Probate Debtors' lists. The south eastern zone is clearly apparent, Pemberton, and Standish and Upholland, the main townships from the North Western Zone are also significant, but Haigh and the minor townships are not. A number of other townships also met the frequency criterion for inclusion, but were not included on Map 1. This is because, in all cases, they are referred to in the debtors' list of a single testator. Peter Laithwaite, in 1620, had nine debtors in Halifax, and Hamlett Green, in 1635, had five debtors in Lancaster. The evidence of the debtors' lists, therefore, broadly confirms the existence of the South Eastern Zone, and shows the importance of Pemberton, Upholland and Standish, but not of Haigh and the other townships in the North Western Zone. This is probably a consequence of the paucity of surviving debtors' lists from the period, making statistical inferences difficult because of the very small numbers involved. The rather larger numbers generated by the WCKP evidence provides a better basis for analysis and is therefore the main source for the remainder of this chapter.

 There are a number of reasons for the trading region being as it was, in terms of size and function. The presence of neighbouring markets was a factor. The nearest neighbours were Ormskirk, Chorley, Bolton and Preston. By road, the former three were all at least ten miles away. Assuming the market areas intersected half way between these towns, that would result in Wigan having a market area of approximately five miles. All of the townships shown as part of the trading bloc are within five miles of the centre of Wigan. There may have been legal reasons determining the location of markets in the medieval period, which was the great age of market and fair creation, but by this period other factors were more important. [i] One of these factors was transport. The notoriously poor state of Lancashire roads during this period, and for many decades afterwards has been cited as historians as one of the reasons for the comparative immobility of the population. Despite this, trade was conducted with even relatively isolated places: Hamlett Green traded with a number of townships in Amounderness, there was some trade with Liverpool, although the trade with Liverpool may genuinely have been inhibited because of its inaccessibility. There is some evidence that road improvements around Wigan were taking place in the period. This may have had the effect of slowly opening up the feasible trading area of the town.

The growth of alternative methods of trade may have distorted the trading pattern. Where goods were traded by intermediaries such as chapmen or shopkeepers, who bought in bulk and sold locally in small quantities, the figure for the number of transactions would belie the importance of Wigan to the town. It is possible that the reason for the absence of Chorley from inclusion in the trading bloc, despite it being contiguous with Coppull, which was its south western neighbour is precisely this. Chorley, which was less than half the size of Wigan in the period, had four shopkeepers in 1642, and it is therefore possible that, rather than the inhabitants going to the market at Wigan, they would buy such goods as pans at these shops.

Trade with the Significant Centres probably arose because of the nascent specialisation of the English economy. Bolton and Manchester were developing as the organising centres of the woollen textile industry. Individual entrepreneurs in these towns had begun to accumulate substantial amounts of capital as a result of their trading activities. In 1588, Thomas Brownsword, a Manchester clothier, died with a personal estate valued at 1109.[ii] At least some of the fancy goods sold by chapmen and in the shops of Wigan came from the haberdashers of London and merchants of York. One of the goods which was of considerable importance to the important pewter industry of Wigan, which almost certainly met the needs of most of Lancashire [iii], was tin. At least one Wigan pewterer, Lawrence Forth, bought tin from outside the town, but its place of origin is uncertain. During the period most of the tin used in England came from Cornwall, although the market was largely controlled by London merchants. [iv]The functional specialisation of these Significant Centres lay not only in the production or distribution of particular material goods, but also in the lending of money, large sums of which were injected into the economy of Wigan during the period.

With regard to Wigan's trading bloc, the trade of the period was overwhelmingly dominated by agriculture. Husbandmen and yeomen, closely followed by gentry, were the most common traders in the period. The trading bloc was essentially Wigan's larder, insofar as over fifty per cent of the Plaintiffs from the bloc were agriculturists. Haigh, Aspull, Standish and Pemberton, in particular,  stand out as being important providers of agricultural produce to Wigan. The tithe accounts of 1627 show Wigan as the largest producer of "corn" in the parish, closely followed by Billinge. Next in order were: Pemberton, Aspull, Hindley, Orrell, Holland & Dalton, and Ince. [v] Billinge certainly traded agricultural products with Wigan. The WCKP record does not include any husbandmen or yeomen, but does list three badgers, and two badgers, Henry Cowdall and Roger Winstanley, were licensed at the Wigan sessions in 1636. However, more significant numbers of husbandmen and yeomen are recorded trading from other townships. In 1627 only 4 tithe was due from Ince, the smallest amount from any township, yet there were references to 11 husbandmen or yeomen in the WCKP records. This strongly suggests that Ince was producing mainly for the Wigan market. Pemberton and Aspull were significant producers and the numbers of agriculturists trading with Wigan reflects this. Hindley was another significant producer but had relatively few agriculturists trading with Wigan. The grain trade was probably controlled by badgers. It appears that Richard Aspull, a badger, was a significant trader with the town. In 1636, another four badgers, Lawrence Bimpson, Henry Green, William Harrison and James Rigby, were registered. Orrell paid almost the same tithe as Hindley but there is little evidence of significant grain trade between this township and Wigan. Orrell was probably producing for its own needs or serving a different market. Haigh and Ince both paid very small tithes, but traded extensively with Wigan, suggesting that they produced largely for the urban market.

The agriculture of these townships was largely agrarian: herds of cattle, as listed in probate inventories,  were generally small, not usually being of more than ten animals, and they therefore do not compare with the larger herds kept in east Lancashire. [vi] Richard Charneley of Haigh had 24 "little beasse" valued at thirty pounds in 1623[vii], but his was an exceptionally large herd. Another yeoman, Ralph Brown of Aspull had Geoffrey Deane, one of the butchers renting a shop under the Moot Hall, and Alexander Ormishaw, a tanner, also of Wigan, as debtors in the 1630s. Geoffrey Deane also owed money to Miles Gerrard, another Aspull yeoman, in the early 1630s. William Lowe of Aspull in 1641 had forty two pounds worth of corn, and William Martinscroft of Standish in 1637 had thirty pounds of growing corn and twelve pounds of oats and barley. It would appear that although the focus of agricultural production of these three townships was primarily grain, some of which was sold to Wigan, some selling of animals also took place.

The St Luke's Day Fair was a horse fair. Although there is little evidence of how the fair operated during the early seventeenth century, by the early Restoration period, it appears to have acted as a trading centre for horses drawn from the surrounding countryside: from within a five mile radius. At least some of the horse buyers made multiple purchases at the Fair. Thomas Rowley from Shropshire bought eight horses in 1662 and Henry Bradley bought three at the Fair of the following year, returning at least once later in the decade to buy more. [viii]The relative lack of registrations of badgers from these townships at the Wigan Quarter Sessions (none in 1636 and only one from each township in January 1642) suggests that the primary concern of agriculturists here was in the production rather than the marketing of grain. Indeed, most of the badgers who sold in Wigan came from outside the immediate trading bloc. Probably the most significant of them was Geoffrey Houlcroft of Winwick, north of Warrington on the vital route south out of the county. Also from Winwick were Thomas Cowper and Henry Orford, other badgers trading with Wigan. Badgers from within the trading bloc who had debtors in Wigan were Alexander Shephard, an Aspull badger who sold malt to the town, and Robert Smith, also of Aspull, Richard Aspull and Henry Green of Hindley. Badgers could trade a range of goods but were primarily concerned with the sale of foodstuffs, especially malt and grain. That this is the case is suggested by an analysis of the debtors profile of the badgers: of 59 debtors only six are husbandmen or yeomen, implying the sale of foodstuffs which would not be required by self-sufficient producers.

The size of debts pursued in the Court of King's Pleas by the husbandmen and yeomen from the bloc suggest that the debts were incurred for small quantities of produce, rather than for lent money. Of fourteen debtors of Aspull agriculturists, only two were for more than two pounds. This may reflect the practice of pursuing defaulting debtors for larger sums using other means. James Wood, an Aspull husbandman, had twelve debtors for five pounds or more in 1639. Most of these debts were secured by bond, and therefore for lent money.

The leather industry was inseparable from the meat industry. There were at least ten butchers in Wigan during the period, nevertheless the town traded with at least fourteen butchers from out of the town. These came overwhelmingly from the north and west of the bloc. Alex Ormishaw, alias Ascroft, who was borrowing money from yeomen and husbandmen, also had a number of debts with butchers, the values suggesting loans rather than trade purchases. Peter Higham, another tanner and Peter Dean, a butcher, both of Wigan, were also indebted to these butchers. Thomas Garnett a Wigan butcher owed Henry Whittle, a Leyland butcher, 46s 8d for sheep. It would appear, given the paucity of debts owed to skinners, tanners, shoemakers and glovers from outside the town, that Wigan undertook most of the tanning and finishing of leather products destined for its own market.

Weavers of wool and linen were owed money by the burgesses of Wigan. Edward Leigh, a Haigh weaver, was owed money by Robert, Alexander and Richard Casson, all weavers, who appear to have worked as partners during the period. The sums owed were large (10 and 24) and therefore probably for lent money. There were other weavers trading with Wigan in Abram, Aspull and Pemberton.

The manufacture of metal products was also taking place in the townships around Wigan, and metalworkers from these townships were trading with the burgesses. In Pemberton John and Gilbert Hindley were, respectively, a panmaker and a pewterer, and may have been related to an existing family of Wigan metalworkers. The three Wigan debtors of the former were all Wigan metalworkers, suggesting the sale of either raw materials or of manufactured pans, possibly to take advantage of the toll benefits of having wares sold at the Wigan market by burgesses rather than foreigners. In Hindley, David and Robert Green were both nailors, once again sharing their surname with another family of Wigan metalworkers. Richard Fairclough, another nailor trading with Wigan, lived in Orrell. John Smith of Atherton, described in his inventory of 1632 as a nailor,  had large quantities of iron and nails in Atherton, Manchester, Rochdale and Bury, as well as over a hundred and fifty pounds of debtors. The apparent willingness of Wigan metalworkers to trade with their supposed rivals in the countryside suggests a more complex relationship than that of pure competitor, as suggested by the Court Leet records.

Just outside the local trading bloc, Ormskirk was a market centre of some local importance. There is evidence that the area around Ormskirk was also a centre for the leather trade. Wigan traded with Billinge, Holland, Ormskirk during the 1630s. In the early 1620s, Hugh Ascowe, a Wigan tanner, had debtors in Holland, and Lathom, and owed 12 to "the Burhers of Ormschurch & Holland". He also had several pounds worth of bark at Lathom.[ix] Alexander Ormishaw owed a small debt to William Laithwaite, an Ormskirk innkeeper, and was indebted to James Tyrer and Griffith Whitestones, both of whom were Ormskirk butchers.

Turning to the Significant Centres outside the bloc, the most striking feature of the London creditors is the size of debt. The majority of debts in the bloc are for a number of shillings. Almost all the debts owed to Londoners are for tens of pounds. Of seventeen debts only one was due from an agriculturist; the remainder were owed by three gentlemen, four chapmen, six metalworkers and three other tradesmen. Debts owing to residents of Bolton, Manchester and Chester were not as substantial, but tended to be larger than most of the debts owed within the bloc.

Textile traders were constituted a large group of these traders. London haberdashers such as Thomas Stone, William Taylor and Henry Allen were selling large quantities of those luxurious haberdashery goods which were carried by Wigan chapmen such as Richard Casson and Miles Turner (who incurred debts of 50 and 37-18-0 respectively with Thomas Stone and William Taylor) and sold in the urban shops. Richard Casson had also bought goods from John Norris, a Bolton draper, valued at 4-10-0 in 1635. Francis Mosely of Manchester, variously described as a woollendraper, a clothier and a gentleman, had lent money to Alex and William Ormishaw, and spent some considerable time attempting to secure repayment of the debt.

The other substantial group from the Significant Centres were those whose business was trade: chapmen and merchants. One of the important differences between these three groups appears to have been the scale of their trading activity. Three Bolton chapmen Thomas Brooks, William Isherwood and Christopher Norris were owed debts of 30s, 20s and 12s respectively. Mercers debtors commonly owed in the region of three pounds or so, whereas most debts due to merchants were well into the tens of pounds. However, these values did not constitute absolute rules. Matthew Stones, a London mercer, was owed 14 pounds by James Markland, a Wigan mercer, and Francis Sherrington, a London merchant was owed the same sum by Richard Casson a Wigan chapman (also described as a gentleman). Thomas Hand, a Chester merchant, lent money to Alex and William Ormishaw. The former owed him 38, and they both had a joint debt of nine pounds.

Another tradesman from Chester had a number of debtors in Wigan. Thomas Cooper, an ironmonger, had also lent the Ormishaws several tens of pounds. He also had Charles Banks, a yeoman and Charles Leigh, an innkeeper, as debtors. The values owed suggest they were for loans.

 Although not technically one of the Significant Centres, York traders were amongst the WCKP plaintiffs and amongst probate debtors. Their debt profile was similar to that of the other towns, insofar as the debts tended to be larger than those within the local bloc. Phillip Herbert and William Rogers, both merchants, had lent money to Wigan chapmen, and Edward Cowper, a gentleman, was owed the irregular sum of 83 13s by a fuller.

The gentry of the significant centres were often drawn from the ranks of the large traders, and were thus a mercantile rather than a landed elite. Francis Mosely is variously described as a woollendraper, a clothier and a gentleman. William Cooke, also of Manchester was owed six pounds by Richard Casson, a Wigan weaver, and Ralph Forth, a maltman.  Thomas Turner, a Preston gentleman, was owed thirty pounds by the mixed partnership of a pewterer, a butcher and a yeoman. Hugh Laithwaite was a Wigan panmaker and, at the time of his death in 1640, he was indebted to two men from York to the value of 68, a London man for 45, a Newcastle man for 8, and an anonymous merchant from Leeds for 40. This 161 represented the vast bulk of his working capital and their repayment would probably have resulted in the sale of almost all his personal estate.

Warrington was a centre of some importance, being the town on the road out of the county, providing the only crossing of the Mersey west of Manchester. Whilst Wigan traded with a diverse range of individuals, primarily involved in trade, Warrington was also the main supplier of pharmaceuticals for Wigan. In 1647, John Chadwick, a "practiser of phissique", petitioned the burgesses of the town that he might be made free to practise his profession in order that the townsfolk need not go to Warrington to procure drugs. [x]In summary, it appears that the main role of tradesmen from the Significant Centres were to provide large quantities of "luxury" goods which could not be produced by Wigan's trading bloc, and to supply some of the larger capital demands of the town.


Turning now to the question of what Wigan provided to the trading bloc, the trading pattern is noticeably different from that of the inward trade.

Although Wigan had men described as yeomen and husbandmen, and these people engaged in agricultural activity, as the evidence of their inventories shows, the pattern of their debtors is crucially different from that of extra-mural agriculturists. Many of the debts were owed by other agriculturists, some of them owing by bond, suggesting large scale loaning of money into the countryside. Of the eighty five debts due to yeomen presented to the Court of King's Pleas during the period forty seven of these were due from husbandmen or yeomen.

Whilst money lending obviously was an important sideline for some Wigan husbandmen, others were engaged in traditional agricultural pursuits. James Gardner sought payment of a debt for 4s for ploughing the fields of a Haigh widow in 1638. George Lyon presented Geoffrey Houlcroft, the prominent Winwick badger, for the substantial sum of 6-8-6, the irregular sum involved suggesting a trade debt, probably for corn. More characteristic of Wigan's internal agricultural system was the keeping of small numbers of cattle. In 1637 John Tompson sought payment of 4-4-6 from an Ormskirk butcher, possibly for meat, and John Waring had sold 46s 8d worth of ewes to a Coppull butcher in the same year.

In the leather trade, butchery was largely dominated by the Deane and Forster families. Of eleven butchers' debtors, five were from Pemberton, suggesting a very localised market for meat. There were at least eight skinners trading in Wigan during the period. Edward Sumpner sold sheep skins worth 53s 2d to John Crooke of Euxton in 1639, suggesting that skinners worked on their own account, not merely skinning a slaughtered animal for a customer and charging a fee. Amongst the buyers Humphrey Mather of Southworth and Oliver Allenson of Shevington, both glovers, stand out and were probably regular buyers from Wigan skinners. There were at least eight tanners in the town in the period. One of them, Roger Asmall, sought payment of a debt of 4-3-0 from Thomas Pennington, an Upholland shoemaker in 1637. There were at least ten shoemakers in the town during the period. Most of these traded within the local bloc. There were also a number of glovers and saddlers in Wigan during the period. On the whole, it appears that Wigan had a well-developed leather trade in the early seventeenth century. The frequent references to trade with butchers outside the town, combined with the presence of at least ten butchers in Wigan, suggests that the demands of the town for meat and leather were such that a significant number of animals destined for the tables and shoes of the town were provided by butchers from outside the town. Conversely, many of the leather products used in the region must have been finished in Wigan, despite the presence of numbers of tanners, rshoemakers and other leather traders throughout the local countryside.

In the textile industry, the presence of large quantities of yarn, cloth, and linen in the inventories of some substantial burgesses suggest the development of a mature market in textile products. The inventory of Hugh Forth [xi] shows that  he had "yarne at whitninge and weavinge" to the value of 83. This suggests that Forth was a "putter out", providing local weavers with yarn and paying them by the piece to weave it into cloth. In the records examined, there does not appear to be any other evidence for the putting out system.

There were at least sixteen weavers, linen weavers and coverlet weavers in the town in 1642. There are no repeated references to single individuals in the WCKP records, which may have suggested the existence of a "putter-out" in the town. The debts due to individual weavers were relatively small, suggesting they sold quantities of cloth on credit, direct to the consumer. For example, in 1630 Roger Higham, a Wigan weaver, was owed 6s 4d by Thomas Winstanley, a Standish husbandman. There were at least ten tailors in Wigan .....

As has been noted the most important industry of Wigan in the period was the metalworking industry. The industry consisted of pewterers, braziers and panmakers. The pewterers had developed a form of credit network amongst themselves, and frequently sought repayment of debts from other pewterers. Gilbert Langshawe was owed respectively, 1-16-0 and 18s 9d, by Rotherham and Wigan pewterers.[xii] The WCKP evidence suggests that most of the pewterers' debtors were trade debtors, and this impression is largely confirmed by the inventory evidence, although some loans of several pounds do appear, especially to other pewterers. Of the seventeen Wigan pewterers listed as Plaintiffs in the WCKP records, five were owed money by other pewterers. At least some of the debts may be for old pewter which was an important raw material for the industry, being recycled and made into new pewterware during the period. Panmakers, of whom six are listed in the WCKP records, naturally also traded with other metal-workers, but almost certainly not to the same extent as pewterers. Roger Brown [xiii] traded largely within the Region shown on Map 1. He was owed two sums by two Wigan panmakers, one by a pewterer and he owed 10 to Gilbert Hindley, another pewterer. The presence of all the pans and pewterware in the probate inventories throughout the south central Lancashire region is indicative of the importance of the Wigan metal industries, because Wigan was almost certainly their place of origin and purchase.

The debt profile of the braziers was not dis-similar from that of the other metalworkers, but they seem to have traded within the region more that either the panmakers or the pewterers. The value of their debts were relatively small and were owed primarily by agriculturists and craftsmen, suggesting production for and direct sale to a localised, predominantly rural, consumer market. As an example, James Hindley, a Wigan brazier, was owed 7s 6d by Randal Green, an Ince carpenter in 1640. They also made a few loans: Gilbert Gardner was owed 4 by Peter Lea, an Aspull husbandman, in 1629 and this debt was probably the repayment for a loan.

The Wigan gentry and mercers had a similar debtors' profile. They both lent sums of money to agriculturists in the region. Robert Markland was a Wigan mercer, and of his nine debtors, only two were not yeomen or husbandmen. Some of these debts were probably for trade items. He was owed 20s by a Warrington hatter, for silk and lace.

The debts owed to Markland were, by gentry standards, for small sums of money: at the other end of the scale was William Brown, a Wigan gentleman, who sought repayment of over 450 of debts at the Court. Over 400 of these debts were due from agriculturists, and most of them were for round pounds, suggesting loans. The tendency was to loan larger sums to agriculturists, and relatively smaller sums to craftsmen, although the largest sums were lent to fellow gentlemen. The recurrent names of some of the gentry in the region as defendants at the Court suggest some gentry were in financial difficulties in the period. Thomas Gerrard of Ashton was presented twelve times, Miles Gerrard of Ince and Edward Winstanley of Pemberton both seven times. Some members of the gentry were apparently living beyond their means during this period and were borrowing substantial sums of money to finance current expenditure, leading to long term financial difficulties which might lead them to sell or mortgage their assets, and permanently reduce their consumption abilities. [xiv]

The inventories of the widows of Wigan suggest that, with the exception of Ann Platt, the candlemaker's widow, they did not pursue their husband's trade after his decease. Instead, at least some of them invested their portion of their husband's estate by money-lending. They had a mix of small and more substantial debts. As was the case with the gentry, the latter were usually lent to agriculturists and gentlemen. Margaret Baldwin and Joan Culcheth were both owed 40 by yeomen of Haigh and Skelmersdale respectively, Jane Knowle and Elizabeth Leigh 12 and 40, respectively, by a gentleman of Ashton.

The burgesses of Wigan borrowed or bought on credit more than they sold or lent to the significant centres. For example, most of the debts incurred by inhabitants of Bolton were for a few shillings, although Elizeus Hey, a gentleman, had borrowed 100 on a bond from Christopher Anderton. Such large loans were the exception rather than the rule. Roger Bullock owned property in London and was owed 163 for rents at the time of his death in 1633.

[i] - c.f. Arthur Birnie, An Economic History of the British Isles,  London 1955, " In erecting new markets therefore, care had to be taken not to damage the interests of those already existing, and the thirteenth century legal writer, Bracton, mentions a rule forbidding the establishment of a market within 6 2/3 miles of an old one. Probably this was a rough measure of the area which a purely local market might be expected to serve."

 [ii] - T.S. Willan, Elizabethan Manchester, Manchester 1980, p154.

 [iii] - The hinterland of Liverpool was probably provided for by the pewterers of Liverpool.

 [iv] - LRO, Roger Green of Haigh, husbandman WCW 1633. Green was operating as a carrier, especially for metalworkers in Wigan. He also carried some goods from London. I am indebted to Mr David Cullum, who has recently completed a PhD. at the University of Exeter on the Cornish tin miners, for the information regarding the tin industry.

 [v] - G.T.O. Bridgeman, History..., pp307-8.

 [vi] -  c.f Of Good and Perfect Remembrance: Bolton Wills and Inventories 1545-1600, Bolton & District Family History Society, 1987.

 [vii] - LRO, Richard Charneley of Haigh WCW 1623

 [viii] - WRO, Calendar of Wigan Oath Books: 1662 & 1663.

 [ix] - LRO, Hugh Ascowe of Wigan, WCW 1623

 [x] - WRO, Court Leet Rolls, Roll 6, 1647.

 [xi] - LRO, Hugh Forth of Wigan, gentleman, WCW 1623

 [xii] - LRO, Gilbert Langshaw, pewterer, WCW 1637

 [xiii] - LRO, Roger Brown, panmaker, WCW 1633.

[xiv] - This is discussed in C.G.A. Clay Economic Expansion and Social Change: England 1500-1700, vol II, Cambridge 1984, p77.