You are here: Home Heritage TapestryTapestry PanelsMarkets & MaritimeHistory

History - Markets & Maritime

4 markets founded in the area during 12th/13th centuries

These were at Rayleigh (founded by charter in 1181), Rochford (1247), Shopland (c.1257) and Great Wakering (1265).

Markets, which usually operated once a week, were important for the local economy and their establishment or non-establishment could significantly affect the prospects for a community’s success or failure. They provided regular opportunities for trade and attracted tradespeople and customers from across the local area.

Market stalls gradually grew into static shacks and became the forerunner of today’s shops. Some of the activities associated with them – such as blacksmiths and corn traders – can be seen on the panel.

Rayleigh and Rochford are still market towns, while Great Wakering has a long, historic High Street where market stalls can easily be pictured once standing. That there was a market in Shopland is perhaps something of a surprise, as it is a rural, agricultural community, historically comprising just four large farms and no central focus. The market there was short-lived though, and the settlement never grew into a sizeable town like the other three.

3 fairs were established in this period too

These were at Great Wakering (1200), Rayleigh (1227) and Rochford (1247, the same year as the market).

Fairs, which were generally annual, were more for entertainment and relaxation. They included activities such as jesters, musicians and dancing bears.

Ale houses such as the one shown at the top of the panel were commonly located adjacent to market and fair sites – ale was safer to drink than water and alehouses provided a handy base for trade and refreshment. Rayleigh’s ‘Trinity’ Fair has recently been restarted and is proving very popular.

Maritime activities were also important

The very existence of the Rivers Roach, Crouch and of course Thames ensured that trades such as boat building, fishing and oyster laying were a vital part of the local economy.

Adjoining the alehouse at the top centre of the panel is a watermill, a reminder that watermills and windmills were a feature of the landscape and could be seen at Rayleigh, Rawreth, Rochford, Hockley, Little Stambridge and Barling.

The area has always been rich in bird life. At the top left are some herons, once prevalent in the area and a symbol of Rawreth village whose name means “herons’ stream”. Bottom-right are Foulness Island’s regular wading bird visitors, including avocets.

An important change in the area came in 1210 with the Sea Defences law, requiring sea walls to be built to protect low-lying land, with the result that some of the very marshy land was reclaimed. This brought into being Foulness, Wallasea, Havengore, Potton and the other islands.

These marshlands proved to be ideal for grazing sheep, so cheese, meat and ewes’ milk were in plentiful supply. It was also excellent timing for profiting from the wool trade, which reached its height in England during the medieval period.

View Panel View Timeline