Our Heritage: Market tradition back to 1190s

William Westall's print of Market Square circa 1829.
William Westall's print of Market Square circa 1829.

Lancaster no longer has a Market Hall, but anyone visiting the town on a Wednesday or Saturday will know that it once again has a busy street market.

The city’s right to hold markets on these days can be traced back to its charters in the 1190s.

Initially their purpose was to provide an opportunity for the towns’s residents to purchase provisions on a regular basis.

The corporation levied tolls on traders who brought in produce to sell and those who took provisions out of town.

Toll houses were situated at the top of Penny Street, the end of St Leonardgate and on Bridge Lane until it was replaced by the new toll house at the end of Skerton Bridge which still stands.

Produce was inspected by market lookers and there were strict rules to stop speculators (or hucksters and higglers) from buying everything up in order to push up prices.

Not all the market was in the square.

wSpeed’s map of 1610 shows the fish market near the mill race on what is now Damside Street.

It was later moved to the Market Square, with fish sold from flat stones around the cross. A covered shed was erected in the 1850s but was not popular.

The landlord of the Royal Oak on Market Street complained about the smell but also that in the evening the shed provided a ‘meeting place for the idle and dissolute in town’.

It mysteriously burnt down.

Animals were slaughtered and sold in Cheapside which used to be called ‘Butchers Street’ or Pudding Lane, ‘pudding’ being used in its original meaning of bowels, entrails or guts of an animal.

During the 1770s the corporation erected purpose-built slaughterhouses and stalls in a new Shambles along a passageway from Market Street to Common Garden Street.

Most of this was later incorporated into the covered market hall but part of the passage still remains by the side of BHS.

Sheep, lambs and calves were killed in front of the shops and cows in the interior so the shambles were still unsavoury and unhygienic and some butchers preferred to slaughter elsewhere in town.

As the town increased in size from the 18th century, the scale and range of produce sold in the market expanded and stalls spread over much of the town.

A potato market was established, initially outside the Assembly Rooms and later in Church Street.

Butter and grain sellers jostled for space in the open space under the Town Hall on Market Square. The streets became overcrowded and by the 1840s there were increasing demands for Lancaster to follow other towns and erect a purpose-built market hall....

To be continued next week.