Weekly markets and fairs were the main way in which mediaeval people bought and sold goods. Farmers and craftsmen from the countryside would take their goods to sell there. Once or twice a year larger fairs were held. The range of goods available was much larger. The right to establish a market or a fair was considered to be a royal franchise and from 1199 onwards royal grants were recorded on Charter Rolls. These royal grants are specific and detailed, naming the grantee, the day of the week for the market, or the feast day. The location of the market or fair was noted, usually at a manor belonging to the grantee. A typical charter granted a market or fair at the same place.
From the Calendar of Charter Rolls we can find out about Culworth’s market and fair. The first charter for a market and fair was granted in 1264. Therefore the market cross steps probably date from 1264. The charter of 12 September 1264 was granted by Henry 111 to Richard de Colewd for the market to be held at the manor on a Saturday. The fair granted at the same time was to be held on the 8th September (the feast of the Nativity of Mary) The second charter was granted on 9th August 1374 by Edward 111 to ‘John de Bernes, citizen of London, William Mulsho, clerk , Edward de Cherdestock clerk, John de Freton, clerk, Robert Brom of Warwick and their heirs and assigns’. The market was to be held on Saturdays and the fair was to be held on 1st August (feast of Saint Petri ad Vincula –Peter’s Chains.)Both markets and fair have long since been discontinued and I can find no evidence when this happened.
Apart from Chipping Warden, which has a much larger one, there are no local villages with the remains of a market cross. The market cross would have been the centre of the market from where produce would be auctioned. Since Culworth was at the junction of two of the ancient tracks and great Drovers’ route it is likely there was a large market and fair and consequently a significant market cross. It looks as if the actual market cross was removed in the sixteenth century. In the churchwarden’s book for 1586 is the following entry. ’Receyts by Richard Trafford ffirst of John Harrys for d the cros stone.’ The parish sold the head or shaft or both at this time.
In 1901, in a book called ‘Stone Crosses of Northamptonshire’ the cross which ‘now consists only of 4 plain square steps’ still had the remains of a socket ‘one side of which has been completely destroyed. The socket is in 2 pieces, the lower 7 inches high is of white stone, the upper 2ft 2 in high is of local red stone.
Could this be the stone which now stands on The Green which some people call the auctioneers seat?
‘This cross must, when perfect, have formed a picturesque and imposing object’. Even then the steps had been ‘secured by iron cramps.
’The Green is now an irregular shape but there is evidence that it was once rectangular and much larger. According to ‘The Inventory of Archaeological sites in South West Northamptonshire’ it could have been the site of the original village of Culworth or it could have been a deliberately planned infill to provide a market place between the two existing settlements of Brime (which included the area around the church) and Culworth of the Domesday Book (Coten in later documents.)
The war memorial was placed on the top of the market steps in 1924 and presumably this was when the remnants of the stone shaft was removed to The Green.