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The Gwent Local History Council was set up in 1954 to encourage public interest in local history, to bring together societies and persons interested in the study of local history, to arrange lectures and publish the results of historical research. Their twice yearly magazine "Gwent Local History" has made a valuable contribution to the store of historical knowledge. Here Caerleon Net, with the full agreement of the Gwent Local History Council, is making available many of the articles from this magazine relating to Caerleon.
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Gwent Local History No. 37, Spring 1974

Caerleon Market Hall

by Eija Kennerley, Phil. Mag. (Helsinki), B.A. (London)

Maurice Beresford in his work called New Towns of the Middle Ages, points out that the main factor in making a town a market centre was actually the lord in whose interest it was to collect the tolls and other dues from the trade of the area in his possession, e.g. 'the rents from the booths and stalls that were set up in the market place itself'. (1) With a 'new' medieval town Beresford means a town founded or 'planted' by the lord with an economic benefit in view. His treatment of Caerleon seems to indicate that he considers it an 'organically' developed town, not 'planted'. This is understandable. Although there was a long break between the Roman period and the period immediately before the Norman conquest, Caerleon still existed, even during those dark centuries, as a ruin at least. In the time of Giraldus Cambrensis, when he visited Caerleon about 1187-88, there was still plenty to see, although we must remember Giraldus's tendency to exaggerate. The period between that time and the year 1296, when Caerleon is described as having a market and a fair, is only just over one hundred years. (2)

Of course, Caerleon's Welsh lords who were still in charge nearly two hundred years, after the Norman Conquest were as keen on getting their dues from the land and settlement around the castle as the Norman lords. Beresford says '… on occasions the Welsh princes in opposition to the English kings were not ashamed to imitate them by encouraging towns on their own demesnes". (3)

The dates of the markets and fairs in Caerleon are mentioned in a document of the year 1370. (4) The castle and town had a market every Thursday, and two fairs yearly on Alt Saints day and the Tuesday after Holy Trinity, which was fixed to the first Sunday after Whit-Sunday, by Pope John, in 1334. The same document mentions a foreign court and a hundred court which were held monthly. This information is confirmed in the Inquisitio Post Mortem of Edmund Mortimer, Earl of March, who died in 1381. (5)

The different kinds of produce collected and sold at a market centre like Caerleon, came from several sources. The area on the lowlands produced some kind of corn, possibly oats or barley. (6) William Rees in his South Wales and the March, 1285-1415, mentions a document which tells of making a 'ditch round the corn in the meadow to save it from animals', and several other documents where ploughmen's wages etc. are given, all in Caerleon manor. (7) According to Rees, dairy farming on a greater scale was introduced by the early 14th century and e.g. Caerleon manor had a herd of milking cows. In 1327 milk only was sold in Caerleon, 'the lactagium of the herd of 38 cows amounting to nearly £8 for a year'. (8) However, in the year 1294 'the food render on milk' was already 14s. 10d. (9)

At the end of the 16th century quite a lot of butter was carried from Caerleon to Bristol and from there to Ireland, for provisions for the troops there. (10)

In addition to the corn and dairy produce, there were eggs and meat for sale, as well as great amounts of skins, leather and wool, which were produced by the herds of sheep and cattle around Caerleon and on the slopes of the hills and worked in the skinyards and tan-houses in the town, even many centuries later. Although the main drovers' routes did not go through Caerleon, (11) many cattle were brought there for the purposes of the local market, again for centuries.

Beresford refers to a P.R.O. document where the revenue received by the de Clares in the years 1338-39 from Caerleon town was £55 3s. 9d., (12) which at that time was an enormous sum. This was indeed the largest revenue from any of the towns the de Clares had in their area in South Wales.

What the precise difference between the manor and the town and their incomes was, is too involved a task for the writer of this article, at present. The town often developed from the immediate area around a castle which in many cases was the stronghold of the manor. Because of lack of actual documentation, one has to conjecture how the development of Caerleon into a 'burgh' may have happened, but this particular puzzle does not belong to the subject here discussed.

As there indeed was a market since 1296, there must have been some kind of place where it was held, a place known to all the inhabitants of the town and manor and also to the outsiders who came to deal there. At first there perhaps was just an open space with booths. However, a building in the centre of a town, offering shelter for more uses than just a once-weekly market, probably was an economic necessity. It is possible that the de Clares had used the castle in Caerleon for their court sessions, (13) although it seems improbable that Caerleon Castle ever was anything more grandiose than a keep. A building which could serve as a market halt and at the same time be a meeting place for the different guilds, as well as a court for the lord's justice, was a very good proposition. A building like this existed in Cardiff, at least. W. Rees describes it as follows: "A stairway from the street led to the upper floor where the hall served the dual purpose of a court room and a place of general assembly. Below was the town lock-up but the main part on the ground floor was let as the Shambles, or meat-market, the remainder being reserved for the corn-market'. (14) This type of building is still to be seen e.g. in Grosmont and Llantwit Major.

In 1587 (29 Eliz.) there were proceedings in the Star Chamber against 'Win. Thos. Morgan, Thos. Win. Thomas et al.' who had assaulted Thomas Prichard, gentleman of Llanmarthen, outside the Session house at Caerleon, when the sessions were in progress. (15) It is possible that the Session house was just the kind of building Professor Rees describes.

However, there is no means of knowing for certain whether Caerleon had such a market hall in the 14th, 15th or 16th century. In fact, the first indication of a definite market hall is from the year 1622. In the survey of Caerleon manor in that year, there is a paragraph 'Philip Hughes of Carlion, merchant, holdeth by lease all that slip or landing place in Carlion adjoining to his house between high and low water mark and from the garden wall of the alms house along the back directly south west, and all profits, pitchings, landings and toll of corn and cattle at fairs and markets, customs, of merchandizes packs, oyes and wines, killadge, achorage, craunge, sealing of leather, &c., within the said town, and land near the Cross of Caerleon for building a hansume and convenient market house where the said Philip Hughes shall think fit, and one tower upon part of the wall of the castle of Carlion adjoining to the house of the said Philip Hughes, for the lives of himself, Mary his wife and Grace their daughter'. (16) Philip Hughes indeed had the means for building such a 'hansume' market house, And it is most probable that he did build it near the Cross of Caerleon, in the old market place, now called the Square.

Handsome and convenient the building perhaps was at first, but only thirty years later it was in bad condition, as is mentioned in the Survey of the manor in 1653, and fifty five years later, in 1677 there is an Order from the Commissioners of the revenue of the Right Hon. Philip, Earl of Pembroke, to the bailiffs of Caerleon who are told to get on with the repair of the Town Hall, 'to the satisfaction of Sir Herbert Evans'. (17)

In Monmouthshire Record Office is a Lease from Philip, Earl of Pembroke to William Rosser of Caerlyon carpenter, dated 26th Oct. 1677, and another lease for 21 years, with the same parties, for 20/-per annum: 'Town hall of Caerlyon and all profits etc. except the holding of the General Quarter sessions of the Peace for the county of Monmouth and also all Courts of the said Earl for the manor and lordship of Caerlylon'. (18)

That is about all we know from the 17th century documents about the fortunes or misfortunes of the Market House or Town Hall which must have meant the same building. Of the 18th century we know even less. That was the century - at least the first half of it - when life in Caerleon probably was in a state of stagnation. (19)

From the beginning of the nineteenth century we suddenly find some information. In the Monmouthshire Collection of Newport Borough Library is a photostat copy of a sale notice of the Honor, Manor or Lordship of Caerleon cum Netherwent, and one of the freehold properties included is the Market House. The notice is dated 21st May 1814. Here we have a description which proves that the building indeed resembled the kind of building Professor Rees talks about: '… with the Chamber or Loft over the same'. In handwriting, next to this paragraph, we read: 'In very bad repair'. At this point in history the Market House probably was owned by Mr. Berrow, as 'a freehold close of land, called Bearhouse Field, formerly part of Bearhouse or Berrow's Farm' is also offered for sale in the same auction.

The position of the Market House is proven by a document (indenture) from the year 1817 of the house No. 30 High Street, now called Bank House. The situation of this house is defined as follows: '… being in a certain street called High Street in the said town of Caerleon in the said county of Monmouth, having a market house in front, nearing and adjoining to a dwelling house and Garden of' etc. To clinch the facts, there is a plan of No. 30 High Street in the same document, showing the Market House - straight in front. This becomes fairly clear also by studying the plan of Caerleon in Coxe's 'Tour'.

In spite of having been in very bad repair in 1814, the Market House continued to stand in the middle of the main thoroughfare of Caerleon for quite some time. In the deeds of the Kings House (Kings Head Inn) of 1821, 1825 and 1840 it is still mentioned, when the position of Kings House is defined as being in the street 'leading from the Bridge towards the Market House'.

In the Directories of 1830, (20) the weekly market of Caerleon is said to be on Thursdays still, and another, a cattle market, every alternate Monday. This latter market may not have been held in the market place, however, because the cattle certainly require more space than the area would have offered. (21)

Archdeacon Coxe in his 'Tour', published in 1801, describes a detail of the Market House: 'The four columns of freestone which support the market house, probably belonged to some Roman structure. They are of the Tuscan order, low and massive'. These same columns are now in the basement of the Legionary Museum, supporting the floor of the main exhibition hall.

The Museum is indeed a kind of 'blood relation' to the old Market House. The idea of establishing a museum in Caerleon was formulated in the first meeting of the Caerleon Antiquarians Association - the name was later changed to Monmouthshire and Caerleon Antiquarian Association - which consisted of many dignitaries and local inhabitants of Caerleon with the district, and a few antiquarians. The interesting point is that in 1848 Sir Digby Mackworth put forward a proposal that the lower room of the old Town Hall should be used as a museum. The building belonged to him, so he offered a lease for it to the museum committee for 99 years. The owners of the houses around the Town Hall, however, soon put a spoke in the wheel. It may be the building was in such bad repair that they saw here a chance of getting rid of it altogether. They offered to subscribe £80 for the ground where the Town Hall stood. They expressed a wish that the Market Place should 'remain an open space forever' - so tired were they with the narrowness of the passage. Sir Digby Mackworth then 'donated' the building material of the Town Halt to the Association and offered a lease of ground 'in the most eligible situation of Caerleon'. (22) In that way everyone was made happy. The Town Hall was pulled down and at least some of the material was used for the new museum, built in front of the church and opened in 1850.

When one now, in the 1970's, stands in the Square or the old market place, one wonders at the size of the area in which the Market House was squeezed. The width of the Square at that point is less than ten metres and so it certainly has been for centuries. Having a building there meant that the passages on either side were very narrow indeed. This was the main road through Caerleon, whether towards Usk via Cross Street and Mill Street, or towards Newport across the bridge. Castle Street, which now curves from Mill Street towards the bridge and offers another way out of the town, is mentioned in the deeds of Kings House in 1840, but I have found no mention of it before that. Judging by Coxe's map, Castle Street did not exist in 1800. But in 1840 the days of the old Market House were nearly over.


1. Maurice Beresford, New Towns of the Middle Ages (1972), p. 63.

2. Calendar of Inquisitions, Vol. III, Edw. I, 371.

3. M. Beresford, op. cit., p. 528.

4. Cal. of Inq., Vol. XII, Edw. III, 332.

5. Cal. of Inq , Vol. XV, Rich. II, 558.

6. 25 acres of oats in 1332-3, See G. A. Holmes, 'The Estates of the Higher Nobility in XIV century England' (Cambridge Studies in Econ. History), p. 148.

7. W. Rees, South Wales and the March 1285-1415, p. 138. Refers to Min. Acc. 921/7, etc.

8. Rees, op. cit., p. 186.

9. Photostat copy and summary transl. of the reeve's account for Caerleon manor 1294, in M.R.O.

10. E. A. Lewis, Welsh Port Books, 1550-1603 (Cymrodorion Record Series, XII, 1927)

11. K. J. Bonser, The Drovers. Who they were and how they went (Macmillan, 1970), pp. 186-7.

12. M. Beresford, op. cit., p. 67. Refers to S.C. 11/810. See also: Holmes, op. cit., Appendix 3

13. See Glamorgan County History III. pp. 64-68.

14. W. Rees, Cardiff, The History of the City, p. 37.

15. Star Chamber Proceedings Concerning Wales, ed. I, Edwards, p. 108.

16. The original survey in Monmouthshire Record Office.

17. M.R.O. 260/4710.

18. M.R.O., W. & T. 1109, 1110.

19. See Dawson, Commerce and Custom in Newport and Caerleon, p. 39.

20. Directory for Monmouthshire, 1830.
Directory for Monmouthshire, 1835, by Pigot.

21. The cattle market probably was on the Goldcroft Common. There is an old inn called The Drovers Arms at the corner of the common where the old road comes down to Caerleon from Malpas.

22. The Collection of Proceedings of the Mon. and Caerleon Antiquarian Association, years 1924-26, in the Mon. Collection.

The deeds mentioned were seen by the writer by courtesy of Mr. Howells and Mr. Ian Burge.


See also the drawing of the Market Hall, 1814. How Eija Kennerley would have loved to have seen this picture!

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