How Towns Changed Under the Normans

How did towns change in Norman England?
There were not many towns in Saxon England. Under the Normans, the number and size of towns changed, and the towns themselves developed.
How many towns were there in Norman England?
The number and size of towns increased because the Normans had greater trade links with mainland Europe.
  • In 1086, there were 18 towns with populations over 2,000 people. There were 112 smaller towns.
  • London had more than 10,000 people. Winchester had more than 6,000. Norwich, York and Lincoln had populations of 4-5,000.
What did Norman towns look like?
Norman towns shared a number of basic features. Some of these were features that developed specifically under the Normans. They included the following:
  • A market square, where most commercial business took place.
  • A high street, which led from the gates to the market square. This was wider than the other streets. Often, Saxon houses were demolished to make space.
  • Merchants operated their business from buildings on the high street. They used painted signs to show what goods and services they offered.
  • Towns had churches - often more than one. Some also had monasteries or abbeys.
  • Many towns now had castles. Saxon houses were often destroyed to make room to build the castle.
  • Towns were cramped and overcrowded. This led to a greater risk of disease, fires, and theft.
Who were the citizens of a Norman town?
Burgesses were the citizens of a town. They had to serve as watchmen, and help the town militia in times of trouble. They also had to pay taxes.
What privileges did Norman towns have?
Towns enjoyed certain privileges and legal rights, that made them very different from the villages in the countryside.
  • Burgesses (town citizens) could only be tried in the town courts.
  • They also enjoyed freedom of movement, unlike the villeins who served on the land.
  • If a villein escaped from the land and managed to live in a town for a year and a day without getting caught, then he became a freeman.
What was a charter in Norman town?
If a town was granted a charter from the local lord or the king, it gained independence.
  • The town could govern itself through a town council, and elect a mayor.
  • The town could hold a fair or market regularly. This helped to stimulate trade and the town's economy.
  • A charter town could set its own taxes. It still had to pay taxes to the local lord or the king, though!
What was the hierarchy in Norman towns?
Towns had a social hierarchy, just as villages did. There were people at the top, and also at the bottom of town society.
  • At the top were merchants, lawyers, doctors, and other property owners. These men became rich during the Norman period.
  • In the middle were craftsmen, who were skilled workers (such as smiths, barbers, apothecaries, carpenters). One they were masters they could become rich.
  • At the bottom were unskilled workers and labourers, and the servants of the town's wealthier citizens.
What were guilds in Norman towns?
A guild was a society of merchants and craftsmen. They controlled prices and the quality of goods. They could decide who was allowed to carry out business in the town.
What was an apprentice in a Norman town?
Apprentices were boys who signed up to learn a craft or trade, so that they could eventually become a master craftsman.
  • An apprentice had to work hard and for long hours. But in return he was fed, clothed and housed by his master.
Who were craftsmen in Norman towns?
Once an apprentice had served his master for seven years, he was considered to have learned his trade. He could then become a craftsman.
  • At this point he became a journeyman. He could work for anyone, and he was paid daily wages for his work.
  • Eventually, a craftsman could become a master. He proved his skill by producing a perfect piece of work (his 'masterpiece'). He could then set up his own business.
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