Bridport, Dorset (market towns and Von Thunen)


Thanks to Aviva for this postcard, which is one of her own drawings. Aviva lives near to Bridport, in Dorset, and sends her apologies to Geography Cat for Dorset being “full of sheep dogs”. No apology needed!

Bridport is an example of a market town. This means that one of its main original functions was as a meeting place for traders to bring their produce to market.


bridport food fest
Bridport Food Festival (Photo:Diamond Images)


How far would a trader travel to sell their products? And how far would a customer travel to buy a product?

Well, it all depends on several things:

  1. Is your product perishable? Because, if it is then it would be much better to make it close to where you’re going to sell it. For example, a cream cake or a doughnut has to be sold on the same day that it’s made, whereas a brick or some tiles can stay in the stockyard for months, or even years, without the quality deteriorating.
  2. What method of transport are you using? In the days when Bridport became a market town the traders would have to carry their products themselves and make their own way by foot, or use a horse and cart. So, one day’s travel each way would probably be the limit for a lot of people. Today transport can take more stuff, much further, in less time.
  3. How easy is it to move your product? If it’s fragile, or dangerous, or extremely heavy, or dirty then you might have to consider different options, and you might not be able to travel so far. Or maybe your product was in such great demand that someone else was prepared to pay enough to make it worth your while to build a railway, or dig a canal!

So, let’s imagine being a farmer in Devon, taking your produce to a market town to sell. Somewhere like Bridport for example. Now, this would be before cars, lorries, refridgerators, cans and so on. If you have a field full of ripe tomatoes you’d better get to market quickly, maybe a market that you could walk to within the day.


Photo: Royal Horticultural Society


If you’ve been growing wheat then you’re not in such a rush to sell it because it’ll keep a while, so you could go to a market town a little bit further away.


Photo: Ohio Country Journal


Or, if you were a sheep farmer and you wanted to sell some sheep, you wouldn’t need to worry about the travelling time because you could actually walk along with the sheep and as long as there’s grass and water for them along the route you could even be coming from a week’s journey away. You would probably have at least one gorgeous sheepdog helping you all the way, just like the one in Aviva’s postcard.


sheep and dog
Photo credit on picture


What Geography Cat has just described is the basis of a theory by someone called Johann Heinrich von Th√ľnen who lived in Germany at the beginning of the nineteenth century.


You can look up his theory and all about him. Some of the websites make it look super complicated but the basic principle is just that tomatoes will go rotten before sheep will. Tomatoes need to be carried, and sheep can walk. Imagine how different the geography of market towns would be if tomatoes had legs!



Graphic credit link

How does this affect the cost of land? Should it increase nearer the market, or further away?