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Medieval Period



Medieval communities like Dartford tended to be quite self-sufficient in that most crafts and trades were represented in the town and surrounding villages. A document dated 1450 illustrates some of the crafts and trades people based in the town. It mentions William Worthe (Innkeeper); Richard Holte (Sadler); John Page (Plumber); Thomas Revet (Cooper); William Herry (Barber) and Walter Wortle (Labourer). Other sources mention a cornwainer, smith, baker and tanner.

For certain commodities, especially foodstuffs, trade would be intensively local. Grain, livestock, fruit, vegetables, and dairy produce were all produced and sold locally. Dartford’s market cross was erected c.1442, when John Sherbourne bequeathed his son John, a parcel of land in Dartford, on the condition that he erected a cross in the market place at Dartford. The market cross was to be similar to the one which stood in the market place at Sevenoaks. This landmark provided a natural focus for traders.


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15th century German pot


It is highly likely that Dartford had a market in Saxon times. The town’s market is first mentioned in documents dating from the reign of Henry III (1216-72). Markets were integral to town development, and the granting of market rights was frequently the first stage in a town being granted borough status, though Dartford did not achieve this until 1933. Markets were generally licensed. In the thirteenth century it was argued that markets should be a minimum of six miles apart, which gave time for traders to walk there, transact their business, and get home before dark. Revenue from Dartford’s market traders would initially have gone to the king, but would later have gone to lords of the manor.

As with most small towns, Dartford’s weekly market was originally sited in the High Street. Traders set-up tables and stalls to advertise their produce and wares. Part of the market area in Dartford was known as the Shambles; this area of the High Street accommodated fishmongers, butchers and purveyors of other smelly foodstuffs. The Shambles was situated in the High Street between the end of Lowfield and the crossing-place over Dartford’s second river, the Cranpit (now contained in culverts under the streets of Dartford).

The weekly market brought people into Dartford from outlying villages and other towns. Soon, the High Street (sometimes called King’s Street) accommodated buildings that encouraged trade and economic activity. House frontages facing onto the market area were converted into shop units and became increasingly important. Shops and inns fronting onto the High Street provided Dartford’s merchants and traders with permanent premises. Town-dwellers shared out the most valuable frontages, and this encouraged traders to settle in a continuous line along the road. Thus developed the basic linear plan of Dartford’s High Street, broadening into a market area with Holy Trinity church at one end.


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