Daventry market in the spotlight: A trading tradition stretching back 800 years

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It was once the beating heart of Daventry’s rural economy, a place to buy and sell horses and livestock, for weary travellers to restock their provisions, for farmers and merchants to trade grain, and for mercers, ironmongers and drapers to sell their wares.

And while Daventry Market may be on a smaller scale today, it remains an important part of the fabric of our town, with a history stretching back to the time of King John.

From the murderess who earned the market its first entry in the history books in 1203, through to its move to the High Street in the 1990s, local historian Colin Davenport explores a story 800 years in the making.

Although no royal charter setting up a market or a fair in Daventry is in existence prior to the one issued by Queen Elizabeth I in 1576, there is a tradition that one was granted by King John (1199-1216) and there is good evidence for this.

The first mention of a market in Daventry appears in the Northamptonshire Assize Rolls for 1203, when a case involved Emma Brunfustian, who was described as going ‘daily to the markets at Daventry and Northampton and is of the worst repute so that she has killed men and leads robbers to houses’.

Then in a legal case in 1329, Daventry claimed its weekly market and fair were granted by a charter given by King John and this was upheld. So by 1330 Daventry had a weekly market on Wednesdays and an annual fair on St Augustine’s Day – May 26.

By 1400 a building known as the ‘Mothall’ stood at the western entrance to the market, close to the present position of the Burton Memorial.

Around it were butchers’ stalls, while Market Hill had the drapers’, mercers’ and ironmongers’ stalls. To the north of the market square were the hog and horse markets and the corn market was held in the lane from the market square towards Norton. In the vicinity of the market square would also be beast and sheep markets.

The ‘Mothall’ was where the Lord’s steward held the manor court and collected the market tolls from traders.

The Elizabethan Charter of 1576 allowed Daventry two extra three-day markets at Easter and September in addition to the existing annual fair on St Augustine’s Day and the weekly Wednesday market.

Throughout the 17th and 18th centuries Daventry continued to flourish as a market centre as ever-increasing trade and passenger numbers travelled along the main routes through the town, especially from London to Coventry and Oxford/Banbury to Market Harborough/Leicester.

Indeed, Daventry’s market was important enough to be mentioned by Robinson Crusoe author Daniel Defoe, who in the mid-1720s described it as a ‘considerable market town which subsists chiefly by the great concourse of travellers on the old Watling Street way’.

The market underwent further change in the early 19th century, with the demolition of the old Moot Hall (the Moot Hall we know today had been built in 1769) and a reorganisation of traders to specific areas on the Market Square and along the High Street with the addition of stock areas for oxen and cows on Cow Lane (now New Street), Badby Road, Tavern lane and the western end of Staverton Road (now Warwick Street).

By the middle of the 19th century, Daventry had 14 fairs as well as the weekly market.

Mop Fairs were also held at the beginning of October for the hiring of domestic and farm servants –something still remembered today with the Mop Fun Fair.

The growth of the railways and subsequent decline of the traditional coaching routes diminished Daventry’s status as a market town, and the market was further hit by the agricultural depression in the latter quarter of the century. Consequently, although some of the fairs had disappeared by the 1930s, Daventry still had its weekly market on Wednesdays and a stock market, located off St James Street from 1914, on Tuesdays.

The Market Square itself had become adorned in 1911 with a memorial to a former town clerk, Mr EC Burton, commemorating his sporting achievements and his public service.

The cattle market ended in the mid-1960s, and even the ordinary market disappeared for a period in the 1950s until the expansion of the town in the 1960s led to its revival.

It was held in Market Square on Tuesdays and Fridays for many years until moving to its present location in High Street in the 1990s.