Local produce and its markets
Being so close to Norwich it is understandable that much trade was conducted both with and within the city although this was not exclusively the case. To understand what was produced and where it finally ended up it is necessary to look at two distinct groups, the large farmer and smallholder which by definition must include market gardeners. Both the changes brought about by the agricultural revolution and transport available would play an integral part in shaping both the produce and the available markets. To simplify things it would be a true statement. "To begin with food was produced to live, later it became a product for sale becoming a business in its own right." In early farming everything including cattle had a season, livestock being reduced to a minimum in the autumn to save providing winter fodder.
Until the Norman Conquest the Norwich market had been on Tombland adjacent to the cathedral but this was moved to the present site in the 11th century. Despite paintings depicting stalls all jumbled together this was far from the truth, segregated into particular areas traders would be allotted pitches but there was an area set aside for visiting traders. William Marshall in his Rural Economy of Norfolk describes this thus. "In the Norwich market wives, daughters and servants of farmers brought veal, pork, lamb, and mutton in panniers known colloquially as “peds”. These loaded panniers were carried either on horseback or in a market cart and arranged in the “ped” market." One should note by this time the livestock market had moved adjacent to the castle mound a site that it would remain at until the 1960s. This form of trading would persist well into the 19th century although enclosures, conflict and changes in transport would all have their effect.
The act of enclosure resulted in the two different types of farm, the smallholder/market gardener providing both general and specialist fruits and vegetables for the market as businesses in their own right. Added to this smallholder category should be the dairyman who would sell much of the produce door-to-door with excess butter sold at local markets. However the large farmer producing acres of grain and breeding livestock had a totally different market set up. Whilst some grain could be sold locally to both millers and brewers, grain could be transported by water and much of Norfolk's grain was exported from the county. Using drovers, cattle could be taken to London to their ever growing market, these men would take the cattle, transact the sale and bring the money back to the farmer and were normally very trustworthy. Whilst Sprowston had its own fair it paled into insignificance compared with the one at St Faith's; here thousands of cattle driven down from Scotland would be sold to the Norfolk farmers. These cattle would be fattened over the next few months before being sent to London. The influx of Scottish animals gradually waned during the 18th century, agriculture had changed, many farms in the west of the county had gone over to dairy farming and the farmers in the east bought the unwanted bullocks to be fattened and sold on. There is some confusion about sheep, whilst Norfolk mutton was good for eating what happened to the wool? Norwich and the surrounding area being famous for worsted cloth requiring wool with a long staple, which the Norfolk breed of sheep lacked being of very short and fine staple.
Whilst the improvement of many roads by making them into turnpikes had an effect on the population at large it did little for the people of Sprowston since the only road to be turnpiked was the North Walsham Road. It was the birth of the railways that was to usher in a totally new way of looking at markets. The line from Norwich to Great Yarmouth opened in 1844, a line linking Norwich with Ely opened in 1845. This gave access to London via Cambridge and soon a link with Peterborough gave access to the whole country. In 1849 another link to London via Ipswich was opened giving traders in Norwich and the surrounding district speedy access to a wider market and cheaper access to materials. In a matter of 20 years both stagecoaches and carriers had gone out of business. As with every coin there are two sides, on the one hand local producers could transport fresh perishable goods anywhere in East Anglia. The downside was they had to compete with producers from miles away making it a regional rather than local pricing structure. It seemed rather strange for those who liked a tipple of Scotch that there was now every likelihood it was being made from barley grown in Norfolk. The same could be said of the brewers of Burton on Trent who would also buy large quantities of barley for malting, not only buying the product but frequently hiring the labour to go and work in the maltings for the season. Somewhere in this heady mix in Sprowston we had a person trading as a “Higler” research suggests that this was a person who bought and sold things. It seems probable that with the widening market people would not go and do their own selling and the “Higler” would buy produce or goods and sell to other traders rather like a middleman. Sprowston having changed in the last century from an industrial and agricultural to residential community is now an importer rather than exporter of agricultural produce.