How Did Medieval Towns Develop?

Medieval towns and cities began as religious centers that attracted people to them. The largest and most successful towns were located near crossways or rivers where people could easily meet and have ready access to water. Once large enough, towns were protected by large fences that kept out undesirables.

During the Medieval era, towns were small and scarce. The largest and most famous were Lincoln, Canterbury, Chichester, York, Bath and Hereford, all of which were cathedral cities that drew in pilgrims and religious figures in addition to merchants and traders.

Medieval towns were owned and controlled by a lord who collected taxes from merchants through the use of a sheriff. Many townspeople sought charters to circumvent the easy corruption of sheriffs by removing their authority to collect taxes and pass it onto the town itself. Charters also sometimes provided towns with the authority to establish their own legal court.

While towns attracted large numbers of people and provided some safety and protection, they also were dirty and unhygienic, with high levels of disease and low life expectancies among the poor. Buildings were made of wood and easily burned down, but no Medieval town could offer streetlights aside from candles. Towns also lacked a true police force to deal with criminals and only employed curfews to restrict people's movements after dark.