The Elsdon Market ‘Affray’
On 24th May 1283, Alexander de Kyrketon and John de Lythegreynes received a commission from Edward I (who at that stage was on campaign in north Wales) to enquire into an affray which had occurred at Elsdon, in response to the complaint of William de Umfraville.
William stated that by the king’s charter he had a weekly market on Thursdays at his manor of Elsdon, and a three day fair there every year, on the eve, day and morrow of St Bartholomew, with all liberties and free customs appurtenant.
Having made proclamation of the same, and set up pillory and tumbrel and other things appurtenant, these were knocked down and carried away and his men illtreated, by Hugh de Monkerigg, Thomas de Herle, Nicholas de Herle, John Ruter, Gilbert le Fevre of la More, William Tulle, Thomas Leyping, Thomas de Red, John de Red William de Red, Adam de Walmton, Richard Char, John le Fitzforester, John son of Humphrey, William Pestur the younger of Elesden, Thomas le Ponder, Richard le Seynur, William le Nywebakere, Robert de Herle, clerk, William Belle, Adam le Forester, William Petite, John Atteyate, Gilbert le Sutere, Robert le Copre, and Alan Belle (Cal Pat R 28/5/1283)
Nor was this the end of the disturbances. On 16th May 1285 another commission was issued from Westminster, to John de Kyrkely and Guichard de Charrun on a complaint by William in the same matter as before. Men coming to the market with wares were prevented from selling and were assaulted and wounded by Gilbert de Umfraville and most of the others already named (Cal Pat R 16/5/1285).
The involvement of Gilbert de Umfraville, lord of Redesdale between 1245-1307, provides a clue as to what was going on. Gilbert, the second lord of Redesdale to bear that name, figures prominently in legal documents during the later 13th century, using the courts to avert supposed threats to his rights and privileges and defending himself against claims brought in respect of alleged abuses he or his men had committed. As a result he has acquired a historical reputation as an overbearing and oppressive lord, ever ready to seize the property of others and inflict summary punishments (Hodgson 1827, 23-8).
It is difficult to judge how fair this is, since abundant documentary information does not become available until the mid 13th century, so we have no way of judging whether Gilbert was any more covetous than his predecessors, but certainly none of the later Umfravilles figures in legal disputes with such frequency. In this case, however, Gilbert may have some cause for his action. As we have seen he probably already had a long established market at Elsdon in 1281 when William de Umfraville was given royal permission to establish a Thursday market and fair on his manor there (Northumb Assize R, 373).
Although William’s charter contained the stipulation that his market and fair would not be granted if they were found injurious to any neighbouring market and fair, this may simply have been a standard clause carrying little actual weight, and it is likely that Gilbert viewed the award as an infringement of his own seigneurial rights as lord of Redesdale, and in particular a threat to the viability of his own market. He therefore sought to block the award, using his followers to disrupt the new market.
Furthermore Edward I may not have been quite the neutral arbiter he first appears. His grant to William de Umfraville perhaps forms part of the wider Edwardian programme designed to assert his royal prerogatives - such as the authority to establish markets and fairs - over the long-established customary rights of his barons, particularly in the liberties or franchises, such as Redesdale, where the lord had traditionally held much more extensive powers.
How the dispute was resolved is not recorded, but developments early in the following decade may be relevant. At the Newcastle assizes, in 1293-94, Gilbert claimed and ultimately established his right to hold his own Sunday market and Assumption Day fair at Elsdon. William de Umfraville’s Thursday market is not mentioned thereafter, but Hodgson does refer to the existence of the St Bartholomew’s fair in his day and it is therefore quite possible that both the markets and the two fairs continued to exist alongside one another. Such an arrangement may have represented a compromise which all parties could eventually agree upon, however grudgingly.