A morning of Wem History

held on Sunday 18th June 2017
by Victoria County History - Shropshire

The meeting was open to everyone interested in Wem, in local history generally
and the work of VCH in Shropshire.

Four short talks on VCH's research into the history of Wem were given.

Programme:

  • 'The missing market charter: rewriting the history of Wem', Judith Everard, see below.
  • 'Understanding the urban landscape of Wem', James Bowen
  • "The thing was done which the parishioners since wished undone":
    'The Developmental History of Wem Parish Church', Wendy Horton
  • 'Two centuries of Wem farming', Richard Hoyle

The Mystery of Wem's Disappearing Market Charter

Historians have searched high and low for Wem's missing market charter. It was believed to have been granted by King John
in 1202 (or 1205) to the Warin FitzGerald on behalf of his ward, William Pantulf, permitting Wem to hold a market on a
Sunday and on the Feast of St Peter until Sunday markets were forbidden in 1351 and market day was changed to Thursday.
Now, thanks to Dr Judith Everard's work on Wem for the Victoria County History, it appears that it never existed.
The detective work has been meticulous - confusion with another town, Highworth in Wiltshire, where FitzGerald also had
manorial rights has led many a person on a merry and fruitless dance. Highworth was known as 'Worth'. The relevant entry
in King John's abbreviated it to W~ followed by a space, as if the writer intended to insert the full spelling later.
This was interpreted by Lloyd as "Wem" and used as a source by Garbutt. In addition, William Pantulf was not FitzGerald's
ward and there is doubt as to whether this particular 'William' existed.

Wem's castle was built around the 1140s, and in line with many Norman plantation towns, a market would have been established
fairly quickly near the castle gates. By the time that King John embarked on granting market charters, another of his very
many money-raising ventures, Wem's market would have been long up and running. It is likely that along with other market towns
where the existence of the market was not contested, Wem did not bother to apply for a market charter. Additionally market
charters cost a lot of money and so why encourage a king known for his avarice?

Does this affect the status of Wem as a market town? The short answer must be 'No!'
If Wem had squatter's rights (or grandfather's rights) to hold a market in the 11th and 12th centuries,
then that must hold true for the 21st century.

For the full background, we will have to await the publication of the Wem Short (VCH) later this year.

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