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Leighton Market in the Middle Ages

Market cross detail June 2008
Market cross detail June 2008

There has been a market in Leighton Buzzard since at least 1086, when it was recorded in Domesday Book. The right to hold it was granted to the Lord of the Manor, who farmed out (leased) the rights to collect dues. Leighton Buzzard was a Royal Manor until granted to the Abbey of Fontevrault in 1164 after which time it was held by the Abbey but reverted to the Crown when the country was at war with France. It was finally removed from Fontevrault around 1414 and passed to Sir John Phelip. The markets were held every Tuesday and there were also fairs, these are little mentioned in surviving documents, but by the 19th century they were held six times a year 

The evidence for the market in the Middle Ages was collected for a dispute over tolls in 1835 by Thomas Hill Mortimer, a solicitor for the plaintiffs, the trustees of the tenant of the Manor, Chandos Leigh. The latter part of the document discusses the descent of the Manor of Leighton Alias Grovebury; the full text of the first part of the document, more closely relating to the market, is as follows [KK918/7]

"At the time of the Norman Survey (called Domesday Book) which was commenced in 1080 and in the same reign completed about 1086 it appears in the survey of Bedfordshire that Leighton was then called Leston. It is the 1st Manor and Township described in that county under the head Terre Regis ["Land of the King"]. It is then called a Royal Manor of the King and after particularizing the quantity of Land in the Manor and by whom they were held or occupied, it states "That the Tolls of the Market yielded £7" [Theolomin de Mercato redd VII lib]. This was a very high estimate at that time and shows that it was a Market even then much resorted to as it continued to be and is at the present time".

Cattle at the market about 1900
Cattle at the market about 1900 [Z1130/72]

"As a proof of which Luton in the same survey called Loiton immediately following Leighton, and also described as the Land of the King had at that time a Market the tolls of which are therein stated to produce only £5. Bedford in the same survey (the Capital of the County) is not stated to have had a market at that time. The only other Town therein described in Bedfordshire to have had a Market is Arlesey - The Tolls of which are stated to produce 10/- only".

"It is evident therefore that Leighton was then a place of more extensive Business as to agricultural produce and sale of cattle than the other Market Towns which was probably owing to its being contiguous to the Great West Chester Road [Watling Street] along which the cattle no doubt travelled from more distant counties as they do now for the supply of the Metropolis. The Manor of Leighton appears to have continued in the hands of the crown til some years after Henry the 2nd succeeded to the Throne".