Tring Market Charter granted in 1315
Click the charter to see the detail
Edward II
What was Tring like in 1315?
In June and July 2015 Tring celebrated the 700th anniversary of the grant of the Tring market charter by King Edward II in 1315. The celebration involved numerous events over a three week period, including a special civic service at the Church of St Peter and St Paul, Tring, and visits by the Town Mayor and Town Crier to schools on Monday 29th June 2015.
The Manor of Tring
Tring was the size of a small village. There are no contemporary maps of the town, but a map of 1799 shows that the built up area comprised Akeman Street, Frogmore Street and the High Street (from what is now the Forge car park to just beyond the central crossroads). In 1315 the town may have been even smaller. The Manor of Tring would have included what is now Tring Park and fields and woodland beyond. However, it did not include the whole of the present-day town (Miswell, Pendley and Dunsley were separate manors).

The lord of the manor (the Abbot of Faversham Abbey) owned all the fields and surrounding woodland. The farm workers (peasants) had to work on the land for the lord or pay rent or provide services to the lord for individual plots . They lived close to where they worked in cheaply built cottages made of wattle and daub on a timber frame. The reaping of corn is pictured on one of the famous Tring Tiles, which were made around 1350: the original tiles are in the British Museum and Victoria and Albert Museum in London, but copies of some of them are in the Tring Local History Museum. Life was very hard for the peasants, particularly if the harvest failed.

The Church
In 1315 the stone-built Church of St Peter and St Paul dominated the centre of the town, as it still does today. At that time it was a Roman Catholic church, like all other churches in the country. The present tower was built between 1360 and 1400, not long after the grant of the charter. However, the nave and chancel were rebuilt in the 15th century. The church and the lord of the manor together regulated every aspect of people’s lives. As most people other than clergy could not read or write, they learned about the Christian faith from teaching in church services (which they had to attend) and by looking at the colourful statues and pictures, which would have been in the church at that time. 10% of yearly earnings had to be paid to the church either in money or in goods called tithes. This could lead to hardship for poor people.

Trade and industry
Although the economy was overwhelmingly rural (arable and livestock), there was an increasing demand for goods and services and these could only be provided in the town. A market grew up, enabling peasants to sell surplus corn and other items. Shops and stalls sold food, shoes, clothing and other necessaries. There was also industry: blacksmiths to shoe horses and make other metalwork; spinners and weavers of cloth; straw plaiters; carpenters; millers and other trades. The town grew as country-dwellers moved in to take up these trades.
Lower class men normally wore simple tunics made of undyed wool with sleeves and a girdle. Their heads were covered by hoods, which were often pointed. Capes and gloves were worn in cold weather. Lower class women wore rough woollen skirts with a tunic and their heads were also covered. The women usually wove the wool and made the clothes themselves. Men and women also wore shoes made to order, but the poorest often went barefoot.

The higher classes wore clothing of much richer material, including silk and linen, often with quite elaborate designs. Laws prevented the lower and middle classes from wearing the rich clothes of the higher classes, even if they could afford them, in order to maintain class distinctions.

Look at the clothing styles pictured on the Tring Tiles.

Food and drink

The farm workers (peasants) made a dark bread from rye or barley grown themselves. They also ate a sort of stew called pottage made from vegetables, such as parsnips, turnips and leeks, grown themselves. Meat usually came from pigs or sheep kept by the peasants. Deer, boars, hares and rabbits were to be found in the surrounding woodlands, and there were fish in the local streams and fishponds, but these were all owned by the lord of the manor and peasants were not allowed to catch and eat them on pain of severe punishment. The peasants drank water and milk but the water was often contaminated and milk went off very quickly (no fridges in those days). It was safer to drink beer, which the peasants made from barley.

In contrast the lord of the manor and higher classes had a much better diet. They ate much fish, including trout and salmon, and a variety of meat from farmed and woodland animals, and birds, such as pigeons and woodcocks, but fewer vegetables. The food was highly spiced to make it more edible. They also ate a white bread made from wheat flour, which was not available to the peasants. On special occasions great feasts were held. Drinks included beer and much wine imported from France.
Why was a market charter needed?
By 1315 Tring had established itself as a centre for the buying and selling of produce and manufactured goods. In the bustling town money, not birth, came to determine the status of tradesmen and their families. The town needed to have a right to exist independently of the lord of the manor. This was achieved by the lord acknowledging the right to hold a market in return for cash or goods. The lord saw that he could profit from this opening up of trade and that the grant of a market charter by the king would be a major step in promoting the prosperity of the town, as it would give legal protection to the market (see section 6 below). Many such charters were granted in this period as towns became more established as centres of trade.

The grant of the market charter by King Edward II
Edward reigned from 1307 to 1327, when he was deposed in favour of his son, Edward III. He was not a successful monarch and is noted particularly for his decisive defeat by King Robert the Bruce of Scotland at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314, only a year before the grant of the Tring market charter (this defeat ensured Scotland’s independence from England until the Act of Union in 1707).

Before the king could grant the charter, he had to instruct the Sheriff of Hertfordshire by writ under seal to make diligent enquiries as to whether the proposed charter would cause any prejudice to the king or others or would harm any other markets or fairs within the county. This was known as an Inquisition ad quod dampnum. The writ was issued by the king to the Abbot of Faversham during the king’s stay at one of his favourite places, the former Royal Palace at King’s Langley, only a few miles from Tring. No remains of that palace exist above ground level and the site is now occupied by the Rudolf Steiner School. However, the royal connection is remembered in the name of that village.

The sheriff must have been satisfied that the proposal would not cause any such prejudice or harm, because later during his stay at Lincoln the king proceeded to grant the charter on payment of 100 shillings (£5).

The contents of the charter and its importance for Tring
The charter gave the Abbey the right to hold at Tring a weekly market each Tuesday and a fair for 10 days each year beginning on the eve of the patronal festival of St Peter and St Paul (29th June). It gave the market legal protection from attempts by nearby market towns to close it down. It also enabled the holder of the charter the right to prevent the creation of rival markets within a day’s travel from the town (about 6 miles).

The original document is in the National Archives.  The grant of the charter was a very important event for Tring and confirmed its status as a prosperous market town, thanks to the rights that came with it. The weekly charter market is still held, although the day has been changed to Friday by a later charter, in 1690.