Thus livestock, cereals, leather, salt (the essential Medieval preservative) cloth and metal work were all sold on the market along with foreign imports . Areas around the open market would have been allotted to specific crafts and trades. Of particular interest is the huge amount of space given over leather working which reflects its relative dominance in this period.(see Market Wares for details)
An area below the market rows (the "Lower Market") was kept clear of permanent buildings for the use of country smallholders. Any peasant could take food to sell at the market, though he had to pay a tax to spread his goods out on the ground. Pedlars, merchants, drovers of cattle, sheep & geese all came & sold a vast range of goods including : cheese, eggs, pots, pans, candles, knives, shoes & cloth. The name Pudding Lane (leading down from Market Place) derives from the “peds” or baskets used by traders who did not have stalls.
Following the appearance of The Black Death in Norwich in 1349, the city lost at least two fifths of its population. In all areas of the city the effect was devastating. A record of 1357 lists shops and market stalls that had had been left empty and fallen into ruin whilst after the plague and famine of 1369, the overcrowded churchyard at St Peter Mancroft was extended southwards by taking in part of what was the cloth market.
The presence of plague meant a more careful regulation in the price of corn. The Mayor, as clerk of the market, regulated the price of corn and beer and other commodities to ensure that prices were kept at a reasonable level. Tradesmen accused of selling bad or underweight food were brought before a special jury and, if found guilty, severely fined.
However, the city was resilient and within a decade there were signs of recovery.The rich prosperous merchant classes were a powerful influence on government. Probably at their instigation by 1397 the city had not only acquired many more shops and stalls but also the staithes on King Street. At the same time they issued a decree that all goods coming into Norwich by market must be landed on these staithes. Such measures served to tighten the monopoly of local merchants and increase their wealth.
As in later times the market place was a perfect site for administering public punishments such as being placed in the stocks. Being a central open space it was also an entertainment venue were medieval mystery plays & bear baiting could be viewed.
The chequerboard design at the east end of the Guildhall is a pun on the sign of tax collectors – simple and clear for the majority of people who couldn’t read. Tolls would be calculated on a chequered cloth – from where we get the term “Exchequer”. Scribes would sit in lean-to booths against the walls, writing and reading letters and documents for those who couldn’t. Stocks, pillories and a “cage” were situated at the eastern end of the Guildhall. It was a “Community Project”, built with pressed labour, working from 5am to 8pm each day. Only the master mason and skilled workers were paid. Building costs are estimated at £400/500 in medieval money (when the income of the city was only £120 per year.) It is built of flint, but the corners are of stone because flint can’t be “squared off”. Over the centuries the Guildhall has also housed courts, prisons, a cloth hall, the Chief Constable and also the city’s fire engine (horse-drawn).
Less than 30 years after the building of The Guildhall a second distinctive building which still survives today was built adjacent to the market place : St Peter Mancroft Church.
It was largely financed by the merchants who had amassed great wealth. Unlike the Guildhall, that was built from local flint and to a budget, this was a building designed to flout the wealth of its benefactors. Dedicated to St Peter & St Paul it replaced the Norman church built by Ralph de Guader. Despite its size & grandeur it was built in 25 years from 1430 - 55.
The church continues to have links with the market. Even today all stallholders have the right to be both married & buried in the church.