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Here is an extract from one of the McCowan Society publications, When the Ground Fails -- An Economic Watershed...


The merchants and craftsmen of the Royal Burgh of Lanark enjoyed certain privileges in the regional economy of the upper ward of Lanarkshire. Trade in the region was legally required to be conducted in Lanark. In 1650 and 1653, Burgh council empowered their agents to apprehend and take action against pedlars and packmen ("chapmen" or "unfree trafiquers") operating in the town. By 1684, "unfree traders" seriously threatened the Lanark merchants' monopoly of some five centuries:

It is further to be representit that tradeing and merchandizing is altogither evanished and decayed throw [through] severall paroches [parishes] adjacent to the brugh [burgh], within thrie or four mylis [miles], ther keiping of merchand chops [shops], and therin selling all goods and merchand wair that allone the royall burrowis [burghs, ie Lanark] have priviledge to sell.

In 1692 a report on the condition of the trade of the Royal Burgh of Lanark concluded that thirteen "unfree" burghs in the region, including Lesmahagow, had weekly markets and fairs of great value "and the house rents and trade of most of them are better then ther owne". In 1715, the merchants of Lanark were still chasing the unfree traders in the neighbouring parishes for infringing on their legal monopoly. Meanwhile, the Justices of the Peace were attempting to encourage wider regional trade and, through an Act in 1725, gave official status and protection to "chapmen travellers" and "merchant traffickers". With their longstanding monopoly finished and, under competition from 37 new trade rivals, at least one Lanark historian has concluded that some of the Lanark merchants "survived and even prospered".

By virtue of its special status in the region, the Royal Burgh of Lanark had an economic experience -- particularly before the mid seventeenth century -- quite different from that of neighbouring Lesmahagow Parish. But this is not to say that activity in Lanark did not have an effect on life in Lesmahagow. Four centuries ago, the protectionist attitude of the Lanark merchants and craftsmen probably tended to retard improvements in social and economic conditions in the more remote parts of Lesmahagow. Any goods that could not be obtained -- through barter usually -- very close to the estate had to be purchased in Lanark eight miles away, probably at somewhat fixed prices. The subsistence level cooperative economy of the fermtoun generated little cash and little capacity to pay later. With little or no cash or credit with which to make a purchase, purchases were likely seldom made by the upper Nethan cottar and sub-tenant. Thus, the adoption of the concept of "spending money (on articles that might improve their economic performance) to make money" was actually hindered in the fermtoun on two fronts: the protectionist attitude of the Lanark merchants and the subsistence-level fermtoun economy.

It would remain for enterprising and daring Lesmahagow pedlars -- perhaps the fathers and uncles of John Brown, William Lean, James Miller and Robert Thomson -- to defy the Lanark merchants' monopoly and bring the outside world to the upper Nethan fermtoun. This important, albeit small, bit of new individualism and entrepreneurship coincided with the erection, in 1661, of Lesmahagow into a Burgh of Barony with the privileges of weekly markets and yearly fairs. The scope of trade was somewhat lesser than that enjoyed by the merchants in the Royal Burgh of Lanark -- for example, Lesmahagow could not participate in foreign trade.

Principle source for this page: Royal Burgh of Lanark, Records and Charters, 1150-1722


From When the Ground Fails -- An Economic Watershed (SHR V9#8)