The similarity of the sub-Roman fabrics to earlier Romano-British types manufactured at places outside Baldock suggest that the demise of the major manufactories of 4th-century Britain did not instantly destroy either their productive capabilities or their ability to distribute their products. Networks of trade evidently existed, at least during the earlier 5th century, albeit operating on a much reduced scale and with socially embedded forms of exchange eventually superseding a coin-based economy. Instead of providing markets at a regional or even provincial level, the early 5th-century producers seem to have operated at a more local level. Some items, such as the Oxfordshire vessels from the grave at the California cemetery, may have travelled farther afield, but they stand out as rarities in the assemblage at Baldock.
It is widely believed that the ending of the military supply economy that had characterised the Romano-British economy for some 360 years in the first decade of the 5th century led to the collapse of the entire economy (e.g. Fulford 1979, 128). Certainly, the smelting of iron, a mainstay of the economy, seems to have entered a phase of much-reduced production after c. 370, with an increasing reliance on the recycling of old goods (Fleming 2012, 11). Other heavy industries, including construction, vanish after 400, to be replaced with folksier, artisanal alternatives; presumably service industries such as banking suffered in similar ways.
This therefore raises the question of the nature of exchange and its purpose. It is tempting to regard the development of regionally distributed pottery types that are so characteristic of the 4th century in capitalist terms as successful producers gradually squeezed the smaller industries out of the market, but this is to ignore the role of the state as the principal driving force of the economy. Near monopolies such as those enjoyed by, for instance, the Oxfordshire potters, must at the very least have been sanctioned by the diocesan government, if Laycock (2008, 118) is right about the effective closure of civitas borders in the 4th century; there is evidence from 4th-century Cheshire that is suggestive of church involvement in the production of salt (Penney and Shotter 2001, 58).
Recent work indicates that coins circulated into the 430s, especially in south-eastern Britain (Moorhead and Walton 2014, 113), while high-value coinage continued to arrive. The presence of small numbers of low-value nummi up to and including issues of Valentinian III suggests that in some places, at least, a money-using economy still operated for the first four decades of the 5th century. However, there is increasing evidence for the increasing use of bullion, in the form of hacksilber and silver ingots, after 400 (Guest 2014, 122-3). This is suggestive of a slow transformation from a coin-based economy to one in which socially embedded forms of exchange dominated in the south-east of the former Diocese. Further north and west, such socially embedded forms may already have been dominant (for Cheshire, see Matthews 1999, 33-4).
It must therefore be assumed that the consumers of this 5th-century Roman pottery in the Baldock area were able to exchange something in return. Coins may have been used for everyday transactions as late as the 430s, but after this, it must be assumed that goods were exchanged directly, that the receipt of the pots was in payment for services or that their acquisition created a bond of obligation between the recipient and the giver. If the first alternative be accepted, then the 'purchasers' of the pottery must have been able to exchange something: agricultural produce or finished goods from craft production, such as brooches, perhaps. In the second instance, military service for a local warlord is a possibility as is the possibility that the people of Baldock were able to offer some sort of protection to the producers of the pottery. In the case of ties of obligation, it might be suggested that new social networks, involving peer polity interaction or gift exchange, were replacing the old imperial networks of patronage and reward. All three mechanisms could have operated alongside each other or at different times (Matthews 1997, 129-30).