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Markets and Merchandise

Where Housewives Purchased Their Supplies

Hugh Alley. A Caveatt for the Citty of London. Manuscript, 1598

In 1600 approximately 800 markets in England gave rural and urban inhabitants access to a variety of foods. Country residents regularly purchased food at small markets and fairs. City residents, on the other hand, usually shopped for food at markets held once a week. Account books kept for a London household in 1612 record weekly purchases of meats, poultry, wines, cooking fats, and flour and spices. In London, as in other cities, each market sold particular goods such as herbs, cheese, or freshwater fish. Other items were bought from large regional fairs where vendors sold dry goods, livestock, and grains.

Provisioning London's residents required a network of sixteen markets. Billingsgate sold grain transported from Thames Valley river ports and from the Baltic, salt from France, onions and roots, imported oranges and fruit, and fresh- and saltwater fish and shellfish. By 1546, Leaden Hall vendors included crops from Essex, Middlesex (corn, cattle), and Kent (fruit, vegetables, hops) although most sellers also displayed boars' heads and other cuts of meat and live poultry.

  Additional Information

This image of Leaden Hall Market is from an manuscript describing commercial abuses in London, entitled A Caveatt for the Citty of London. It was presented to the Lord Mayor in April 1598 by one Hugh Alley, a government informer.


Thirteen London food markets are depicted in pen and wash in this manuscript. On the page facing these are watercolor illustrations of the aldermen and deputies for the ward in which the market was located. Learn more about Hugh Alley and his manuscript.

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