Norwich, London, and the regional integration of Norfolk’s economy in the first half of the fourteenth century
By Pamela Nightingale
Trade, Urban Hinterlands and Market Integration c.1300-1600, edited by James A. Galloway (Centre for Metropolitan History, 2000)
Introduction: The central-place theories used by geographers to explain the integration of markets are increasingly popular with medievalists, and the growth of Norwich in the first half of the fourteenth century, coupled with its connexions with London, raises the possibility that this period did indeed see the integration of markets into regional economies which matured into what James Masschaele has called ‘a rudimentary national economy’. He concluded that regional economies had already evolved in outline in England by about 1250 through the creation of a hierarchical constellation of markets round a leading town which became the specialised hub of the network and its chief link with other regions.
As the most commercially progressive of English counties, Norfolk should offer the most convincing evidence of these developments. By 1349 at least 121 weekly markets had been founded in the county, over 80 per cent of them before 1300. There were also many rural fairs, such as those held three times a year at Hanworth in North Erpingham Hundred, at Horsham St Faith in Taverham Hundred, and four times a year at North Creake in Gallow Hundred. But how far by the midfourteenth century had Norfolk’s markets become part of an integrated regional economy of the kind described by central-place theories? How much did they revolve hierarchically round Norwich, and did Norwich effectively link the county’s economy with London? Most importantly, does the growth of Norwich in this period reflect greater commercialisation of the county’s economy as a whole, or does it, even before the Black Death, reflect economic decline through rural impoverishment?