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Fair and honest trade was the goal of London’s markets, though it could remain elusive, despite multiple layers of regulation. Cheapside was London’s largest market, and it was also one of London’s busiest thoroughfares. The street was lined with the stores of citizen-shopkeepers, including the deluxe Goldsmiths’ Row. In temporary stalls, traders from surrounding counties sold their goods. Street hawkers plied their wares among the throngs. The conduits, or water fountains, were popular gathering spots and important public works. The Cheapside Cross was a central symbol of faith, and the Standard an occasional place of execution.

Alley. A caveatt for the citty of London. Manuscript, 1598

One of the most vivid images of Cheapside Market appears in Hugh Alley's Caveat for the City of London, shown above. Alley was a freeman of the city of London. He was also a whistle-blower, a task that was encouraged by laws that rewarded informers with a portion of whatever fines were collected. Writing to the Lord Mayor, Alley warned against the three main abuses of the food markets: forestalling (setting oneself up as a middle man), engrossing (monopolizing enough of the supply of a product to sell at an inflated price), and regrating (buying goods in one market for resale in another).


Along with abuses in the markets came opportunities. Most young men in London were trained in trades through apprenticeships — and many came from around the country for the opportunity, like John Turke (son of John Turke, fishmonger of London). Turke was bound apprentice to Edward Fisher (merchant adventurer and skinner) for nine years. The minimum term was seven years, and with successful completion of an apprenticeship, one would be freed into a trade company. For better or for worse, companies were a stabilizing force in society. They had certain responsibilities for regulating their trade — and vested interests in maintaining their privileges. Beyond that, only freemen could become citizens and their privileges extended to the governance of the city. Freemen signed an oath of loyalty to the monarch, the city, and its customs.


Companies held status as incorporated bodies only as a privilege granted by the king. A petition to the king from the Vintners Company (right) seeks a restatement of their traditional rights. They object to encroachments on their trade from two directions: by importers and by coopers (who made the barrels in which wine was sold).


Anxieties about a changing London are revealed in plays like Thomas Middleton's A Chast Mayd in Cheapside. Moll is the daughter of a goldsmith who owns one of the luxury shops in Cheapside. Moll’s father seems willing to sell his daughter to the wealthiest suitor, even after he is informed that the suitor’s last name, Whorehound, is a good indicator of his character. Most of the action of Middleton’s play appears to confirm moral anxieties about an increasingly wealthy London: everything has its price.


Middleton. A chast mayd in Cheape-Side. London, 1630

John Turke. Apprenticeship indenture to Edward Fisher. Manuscript, 24 April 1594

The othe of evrye free man. London, ca. 1575

The assize of bread. London, 1632

Vintners' Company. The petition of the retailing vintners of London. London, 1641

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