Transport and Trade in South Wales c.1100 - c.1400
: A Study in Historical Geography

  • Robert Weeks

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    Enquiries into the medieval history of south Wales have in the past tended to focus on the 'soap opera' history of the elite. This thesis differs in that it examines two aspects that are occasionally touched upon, and which are inextricably linked, but rarely considered in detail: namely the system of transport and trade. Due to the paucity of surviving evidence the study covers a time span of some three hundred years from the reign of Henry I (1100) to the Glyndwr rebellion (1400). It charts the development of trade in an age that saw great political changes leading to the construction of planned towns and, in some places, villages, as well as complex fortifications and the introduction of Latin monasticism. The thesis examines the respective roles of the key influences on transport and trading activity, namely: (i) the players, be they the marcher lords and the Crown, the monasteries, and the merchants and traders themselves; (ii) the places such as towns and villages, ports and landing places; and (iii) the processes that influenced trade including the linkages between settlements - with particular attention to the medieval road system - and markets and fairs. A model is advanced which describes how initially autonomous open country settlements and farmsteads were integrated into a regional network, within and between lordships, as rural commodity producers and consumers grew increasingly dependent on the retail goods and services found in the market towns. These developments are charted as the population grew and rural settlement intensified, so much so that by 1300 South Wales had achieved a level of prosperity unprecedented in its history. It was not to last. Population pressure had driven families to the margins of cultivable land. The imbalance between livestock husbandry and arable risked the danger of soil exhaustion. Disease such as the sheep scab epidemic of the 1280s and the agricultural crises which affected much of Britain between 1315 and 1322 led to famine. Political and social unrest, notably the revolts of Llewelyn ap Gruffudd in 1214, Rhys ap Maredudd in 1295 and Llewelyn Bren in 1316, allied to the decline in seigneurial influence caused the South Wales economy to repeatedly falter. Outbreaks of the plague in the middle of the fourteenth century added to the woe. The Glyndwr rebellion dealt the final fatal blow when many commercial settlements were attacked, including some that were not directly touched by earlier upsets. Prior to the Norman Conquest trade in South Wales had taken place in the open country. By 1400 the dependency that had been built in the preceding three hundred years on the transport and trading network of market towns and rural producers and consumers was shattered sending the economy into long term decline.
    Date of Award2003
    Original languageEnglish


    • Medieval History
    • Trade
    • Transport
    • South Wales

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