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Logo: Tom Bates, Derbyshire Local Histrory writer  
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The History of Chesterfield Market

Posted Saturday, June 23, 2007

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More than just a Common Market!

Chesterfield Market Celebrates 800 Years of Trading!

`It's the longest established business in town, and has been trading successfully for at least 800 years!'

In September 2004 the town of Chesterfield celebrated the 800th anniversary of its official foundation as a Borough, which began with the granting of a Charter by King John in 1204.

This ancient charter also granted the Lord of the Manor the right to hold Tuesday and Saturday markets, and an annual fair each September, which lasted for eight days from the feast of the exaltation of the Holy Cross on September 14th, to the autumnal equinox on 22nd.

Chesterfield – Ancient Historic Market Town:

`The Centre of Industrial England'

The road signs erected at the Borough boundaries on the approaches to the town used to read `Chesterfield – The Centre of Industrial England’ , which for the nineteenth and larger part of the twentieth century it was. But since the decline of heavy industry in the town, it has once again become a major centre of business and commerce, and the signs at the boundaries have changed appropriately to read, `Chesterfield - Ancient Historic Market Town’.

Saxon Market:

Chesterfield has always owed it’s importance to its position as the marketing centre of a large rural area, and despite the granting of its Market Charter in 1204, extensive historical research shows that there has possibly been a market in the town since Saxon times.

There is no documentary evidence for a market in Chesterfield until 1165, but the laying out of the present Market Place (including the Shambles) was referred to in early thirteenth century Rufford Abbey Charters as `the new market’ and could be as early as 1169.

Apart from the construction of the Market Hall in 1857 and a whole range of building down the centuries around the perimeter - along Low Pavement to the south and High Street to the north – todays Market Place is the same size and shape as it was when it was laid out eight hundred years ago!

The `old market’ occupied an area directly north of the church, as a glance at the map of the projected street plan of medieval Chesterfield shows, and indeed, as historian Philip Riden notes; "At the heart of early medieval Chesterfield lay the parish church and an adjacent market place, acting as a focus for main roads leading from all four points of the compass. The origin of both institutions is obscure but may date from well before the Norman Conquest. The earlier market was cramped, hemmed in by main roads and the church, and offered little scope for expansion. It seems likely that the area west of St. Mary’s Gate between Beetwell Street in the south and Knifesmithgate or Saltergate in the north was already so densely occupied as to make the clearance of a large area for a market difficult. There is also evidence that from the end of the eleventh century the dean of Lincoln, who became rector of Chesterfield in 1093, acquired a substantial part of this area as glebe, enough for him to later claim a rectory manor. It would thus have been desirable to choose a completely fresh site for the market, for which the area to the west of the town was by far the most suitable. To the north and east growth was constrained by a steep hillside; to the south, although the gradient was less, the flood plain of the Hipper may have been damp and unsuitable for development. To the west, however, lay relatively flat, slightly south facing land which could be enclosed with less disturbance of existing settlement. This is clearly what happened and the results are still to be seen”.

Two Market Places!

Further, writing in the Derbyshire Archaeological Journal, Philip Riden suggests that the Shambles and the `new’ Market Place are contemporary, and adds; “Returning to the charter of 1204-26, we may conclude that by 1199 not merely had the new market been laid out but the area at its eastern end (Shambles) had begun to be built upon”.

With reference to the `old’ market he writes; “We may note that the earlier market place did not go out of use at once; in the thirteenth century it was called the Weekday Market, presumably because it accommodated the Tuesday market, while the no doubt larger Saturday market was held in the new market place. Later in the middle ages it first partly and then wholly becomes the `Old Marketstead’, presumably as it was gradually overbuilt, a process more or less complete by the early seventeenth century. In the 1820’s part of the area was cleared once more to provide an extension to the churchyard”.

Thus it appears that Chesterfield had two market places from the late twelfth century right up until the early 1600’s, when the old market was finally discontinued. The `new’ Market Place remained virtually unchanged until the early nineteenth century.

The map of the town in the Late Middle Ages (C1450) shows an ancient Moot Hall about fifty yards east of West Bars in the centre of the Market Place, just westward of the current Market Hall.

The Nineteenth Century Market Place:

By the mid nineteenth century this had been replaced by a block of buildings known as the `Cross Daggers’, which, according to contemporary reports, had a “cosmopolitan population……besides the public house of that name, there is a bakehouse, a confectioner, and certain public rooms. In the same block there is also a well known cheese depot and it is the venue of market carts and farmers with their produce. Markets and fair days present an animated appearance; the whole of the sales, including cattle, sheep and pigs is concentrated in the square. Sheep and pigs are concentrated on the west side of the Market Place in the place known as `Swine’s Green’ (now New Square). On important fair days the horses and cattle overflow into the neighbouring streets, and accommodation is found for them in Soresby Street, Gluman Gate and Salter Gate”.

The report, from a newpaper of around 1848 continues; “Carriers’ carts gather in great numbers; all roads for carriers’ carts lead to Chesterfield Market, and the produce is sold either from stalls erected in the square or from the carts themselves. Carts line up alongside the Cross Daggers and the stalls are set to form a `street’ running from thence across the square towards the Shambles. Fair days attract the usual number of followers and side shows are erected containing all the curiosities and wonders of the world. Anything calculated to excite the imagination of the crowd and extort their pence is always in evidence. Song vendors, quacks, boxing shows, death hunters (?) are generally present”.

The Modern Market:

The building of the Market Hall in 1857 presaged major changes in the town. Livestock had for centuries taken up much of the space available for stalls in the market, but in 1901 the Cattle Market was opened and the sale of cattle and livestock removed completely from the streets. This led to a dramatic increase in the space available for market stalls, which in 1850 averaged between twenty-five and thirty. By 1920 this had risen to over 270, and had made Chesterfield market the third largest open market in the entire country, surpassed only by those at Nottingham and Yarmouth.

Today as we celebrate over 800 years of both town and market, the market trading tradition continues and Chesterfield Market, with over 240 regular stalls, is still one of the largest – and best – in the country - and remains far more than just a common market!

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