Frome has always benefitted from its geographical location – steep hills around its river, and a place where many trade routes converged. It was thus a market town before the Norman invasion of 1066 when ‘sales’ were done primarily by exchange.
By the mid eleventh century the population of Frome may have been almost 600 (the average town at that time probably had a population of between 100 and 150), which made it a busy and important centre. The Domesday Survey of 1086 recorded Frome as having three mills (for grinding grain) and a weekly market worth £2 6s 8d. Although the function of the town changed through the ages (a wool centre, a railway junction, a milk collecting centre), the market remained an important feature.
Frome market stalls were always piled high with products manufactured in the town as well as countryside products. But a big draw to the market was the wandering pedlars who were selling trinkets from distant and exotic places.
In the early 1700s, the population of Frome was almost 10,000, which was four times the population of nearby Bath. It became a valuable employer for the surrounding towns and villages in all areas including the market.
Market Place was for centuries owned by the King as lord of the manor. Later the manor was granted to a succession of families and market rights went with it. But each transfer of ownership had to be authorised by the king and a Royal Charter had to be obtained to hold the market from 1239 when Henry III granted William Braunche rights to hold a market in Frome every Saturday. By 1494 the market day had changed to Wednesdays.
Today, the markets still draw people from all over Somerset to spend their money in the market town of Frome.
This Frome story was published in the Frome Times on 11th October 2012 – www.frometimes.co.uk