Skip to main content
Collection highlights /

A 16th-century market

This 1598 illustration shows Escheape Market, a meat market in London with butchers’ shops along both sides of the street.

A colored drawing of two men under the title Candelweeke Street Both men are wearing doublet and hose with an overcoat and hat and a pair of gloves in one hand and are standing with their left leg forward.
A drawing titled Escheape Market showing two men driving a heard of sheep and two cows between rows of shops. Two women stand in front of a pillar.

Hugh Alley. Caveatt for the Citty of London. Manuscript, 1598. Folger call number V.a.318.

This image of Escheape (or Eastcheap) Market is from an illustrated handwritten account of commercial abuses in the city of London, presented to the Lord Mayor in April 1598 by one Hugh Alley, a government informer who styled himself a “Citizen and Plaisterer of London”. Entitled A Caveatt for the Citty of London, the work has been seen by many researchers as a manuscript with a mission—and one that was apparently accomplished: a little more than a year later, Alley landed a newly created job as a market overseer.

Although Alley himself has been called “bumptious and meddlesome” by even sympathetic scholars, his self-righteous booklet offers a comprehensive look at 13 London markets, each of which specialized in certain goods. Escheape Market was a meat market with butchers’ shops along both sides of the street, and Alley’s depiction suggests that stock was driven there for slaughter. Within the image, a labeled pillar highlights the crime of “engrossing,” buying up all or most of a good in order to resell it at a higher price. 

With each market, Alley included respectful portraits of the officials in charge: in this case, Sir Hugh Billingsley, an alderman who as a former mayor was entitled to wear a gold chain, and, to the left of Sir Hugh, his deputy Robert Thomas.

See catalog record