Minter Collection: Markets, Fairs and Entertainments

Markets and Fairs

For a medieval lord of the manor a market or fair held on his patch was a desirable thing as the tolls he could demand from all the stall holders would substantially increase his income. For the people too, a weekly market was welcome as it made possible the exchange of goods produced in the neighbourhood. Fairs were larger events altogether than markets and were usually held on some particular religious festival when men would be freed from work to attend – holy days of course are the origin of our holidays. Up to and including the Middle Ages, the greater part of the internal trade of the country was carried on in fairs and markets, where traders from far and near had full freedom of trade.

Both fairs and markets could only be held by virtue of a charter granted by the King. Markets were mostly weekly affairs, attended by local people. Fairs were the more important event usually lasting at least two, and often more days, and sometimes being speciality fairs such as the Nottingham Goose Fair. Markets were held on a predetermined market day and were usually located in the small towns near to the church. Fairs were held annually (although there may have been more than one in a town) and often a space was set aside for them on the edge of the town. Strict rules governed the running of fairs and markets, and a special court was set up to advise the country people who converged on the fair from all directions of their rights. These people came mainly on foot and so the Market Courts came to be called the Court of Pie Powder from pieds poudrés, the court of dusty feet. Laws included strict governance of weights and measures, the forbidding of affrays, the right to inspect pies and other cooked goods to see that they were wholesome, and the power to behead anyone who was caught robbing a stall or booth.

As I’ve said, markets were held within the town and near to the church, sometimes even in the churchyard. Eventually in later markets an area of land would be set aside to be used for the market and this would be marked by a cross, similar to a churchyard cross having a long shaft on a stepped base. The cross or lantern usually to be found at the top of the shaft emphasised the Christian nature of just dealing and the steps provided seats for the market women. In rich and progressive boroughs these gradually developed through vaulted crosses to the covered market under a market house, some of which still survive in a few places.

When we come to the history of local fairs and markets we find that market charters were being granted to towns we regard today as Huddersfield’s outlying villages are somewhat limited by lack of precise evidence. We know that Almondbury had an early market, granted by charter from Edward I to Henry de Lacy dated 6th June 1294 allowing him to hold a weekly market on the Monday at Almondbury and in addition an annual fair on the eve and morrow of the Ascension of our Lord. In 1340 the market tolls were bringing in 18/- for the lord of the manor. By the time of the 1584 Inquisition of Almondbury there was still the weekly markets and in addition the jurors said “there be three little fairs” (commonly called Tide Days) held within the town of Almondbury – on the day of St. Martin the bishop, in winter, on Easter Monday and on Whit Monday. To none of these fairs or tydes did any stalls, standings, shops or booths belong as far as was known to the jurors. This would seem to an early decline in their importance.

It’s not now known where Almondbury’s market and fairs were held. The theory that the market was held in the area of Broken Cross – the cross being broken when Huddersfield received its market charter – is now discounted. Markets were important events and should leave some trace in the landscape in the form of street of field names yet a close study of the 1634 map of Almondbury has revealed no clues at all which makes me believe that by 1634 – before Huddersfield received its charter – the market at Almondbury had declined. There’s no obvious trace of a market place in the vicinity of the church, nor is there any suggestive name. It may be that the market was held here in the streets around the church as the last trace of any market in Almondbury was the Whit Monday pig market which was held here in Westgate alongside the Vicarage and the churchyard wall. This annual trade ended when, after incorporation into the borough in the 1868, new regulations stated that no pigs should be kept within so many yards of a dwelling house. John Turner the diarist certainly knew this fair as he records that in November 1756 he visited the Almondbury Fair and bought a pig. It would appear then that although Almondbury’s ancient market had declined, a specialised form certainly kept going for two centuries after Huddersfield was granted her market charter.

Two other local places which were granted medieval markets were Emley and Kirkburton, although not much is known about the latter except that in 1352 Burton market tolls were let at 26/8. The market cross still stands at Fan Dene near the entrance to the village of Highburton and, if it’s in its original position, it’s an unusually long distance away from the church. Could this, I wonder, mean that Burton was granted its charter before the church was built? It’s certainly thought that Highburton was the original settlement. Close to the cross once stood Burton Hall, the home of the de Burtons, lords of the manor in the 12th Century, and possibly earlier. So it may have been this family who were responsible for obtaining a market charter for Burton.

On a map of Burton township made circa 1750, the market cross is shown marked, as far as we can work out, in the same position is stands in today.

Close to the cross we can see Burton Hall, and space around would certainly have been sufficient for a small market to be held. Associated with Burton Hall was a small chapel – remembered in one or two field names near here. So we may, after all, have the juxtaposition of religious establishment and market.

At Emley, only the stump of the market cross remains to mark the probable site. The Lord of the Manor of Emley, Earl Fitzwilliam, received a charter in 1253 to hold one market on Thursdays and one Fair for five days on the even, the day, and three days after, the Feast of the Invention of the Holy Cross – the 2nd to 6th of May. Today, and for a long time, Emley has been an isolated and comparatively unimportant village situated away from the main stream of industrial and commercial life, so why was it granted a fair of five days, unusually long for the area? The answer must be because of the presence in this area of the monks of Byland Abbey. The Cistercian Abbeys played an important part in the commercial life of the country and in Byland’s case, the monks were prominent in the iron industry as well as the woollen industry. They had ironstone workings in the bell pits near Emley and forges close-by. The smelted ore had to be put on the market for buyers from all parts of the country. There was no point in carting it over difficult highways to Bylands, so it was marketed in the obvious place – hence the five day fair at Emley, the work and business being administered from the nearby Bentley Grande, an outpost of the abbey.

In addition to the serious purpose of commerce, fairs attracted the light-hearted in holiday mood and, from an early date, entertainment and merrymaking were part of a fair. Besides dancing and games there’d be side shows, minstrels, jugglers, acrobats, freaks certainly, and no doubt a primitive sort of merry-go-round. Thus we can see in the medieval fair the ancestor of our modern pleasure fairs which come on certain traditional dates to provide us as they’ve always done with “all the fun of the fair”. Sometimes the traditional day of the fairs arrival is still the same as the day designated in medieval times. Emley’s fair was held at the Feast of Invention (finding) of the Holy Cross – May 3rd. The fact that Emley Feast is now held later in May is because of the dropping of 11 days out of the year following the Act of 1751 to regulate the calendar.

It’s thought that the cross at Emley, which a local historian has suggested once looked like this, was thrown down and smashed by Parliamentary soldiers – who had been taught to regard all crosses, whatever their purpose, as idolatrous and papist – when they raided the village on 21st January 1643.

Huddersfield, being an unimportant little town in its early days, didn’t receive its market charter until the late 17th Century, but before that there seem to have been two fairs held annually in the town. They’re mentioned in the 1584 Inquisition into the Manor of Almondbury immediately after Almondbury’s fairs, being referred to as two other little fairs kept in the town of Huddersfield on St. Helen’s and St. Peter’s days respectively. We can, I think, assume that the two fairs were considerably older than 1584 and they seem to have lasted on their traditional dates at least until the 18th Century. John Turner, for instance, records in his day book that he attended Huddersfield Fair on 29th June 1733 – 29th June is the Feast of St. Peter the Apostle. On 29th June 1748 he actually calls it Peter’s Fair. The May fair was originally on the 4th May and following the revision of the calendar in 1752 it was translated to 14th May, which date is still marked as Huddersfield Fair in an almanac of 1892. The revision of the calendar may have brought about the abandonment of Peter’s Fair for, in 1760, Turner refers to the Huddersfield New Fair on 31st March. More than 100 years later, the 1892 almanac marks this day as Huddersfield Fair. These fairs, which were originally horse, cattle and pig fairs, must be the ancestors of our modern fair but, as to when it became the Easter Fair, we have so far been unable to find out.

Another fair of a different kind was held in Huddersfield certainly until the 18th Century in the third week of October. This was the Huddersfield Statutes. Statue fairs were held all over the country and go back to the statutes of Elizabeth I which ordained meetings in wapentakes, hundreds and towns for settling wages and disputes about employment, and acted as a hiring fair where domestic and farm servants held themselves out for employment during the ensuing year.

Where these fairs were held is difficult to say. Fairs were often held on the outskirts of a town because they needed more space than a market place would allow. Certainly, by the beginning of this century, the Easter Fair was being held on just such a site near Great Northern Street, but I think it’s doubtful that this site dates from earlier than 1881. There are several reasons for believing this, the main one being that diligent searching of old maps from 1778 to 1854 reveals nothing to indicate a fair site in that area.

In fact, on the 1797 map for instance, Great Northern Street, Beaumont Street and Ray Street are still in the future. This is the site of the Great Northern Street fairground located nicely by the point where the turnpike and canal cross. As you can see, the whole area is just a series of agricultural closes that have been enclosed from the Kirk Moor open fields.

There is an account in the Leeds Intelligencer in 1859 that at Huddersfield May Fair, King Street and Ramsden Street were literally crammed with stalls, booths and caravans, and the usual attendants at a fair ground. From this I think we can assume that Huddersfield’s fairs were held for centuries in this part of the town and the custom continues even after King Street and Ramsden Street were laid out and it was not until a cattle market was opened in Great Northern Street, a newly developing part of the town, that a permanent fairground was provided.

This map shows its position behind the refreshment rooms of the cattle market and no doubt some of you will remember visiting the fair and remember also some of the rides, stalls and sideshows.

The fairground remained an open site until November 1996 although the fair had moved on many years previously [12 fairground] to Carr Pitt, then Red Doles, and then Bradley Mills.

The new cattle market was opened in Great Northern Street on 14 May 1881 and a public slaughter house opened soon afterwards.

As you can see, the gate way was provided with appropriate stone carvings and, as these have now disappeared, I think it worth showing them in close up – a sheep and a pig.

Fairs and feasts were held on traditional days in almost every village.

Some of these developed into pleasure fairs as at Kirkheaton where the Rant is still held every Spring Bank holiday – it used to be Whitsuntide of course, on a field immediately in front of the church. Kirkburton Feast was on Trinity Sunday and this, I think, was the day of the Burton Song. Holmfirth, Honley, Skelmanthorpe and Clayton West all had their feasts. Marsden, Meltham and New Mill had fairs. Almondbury had a rush, Kirkheaton a rant, Longwood had a thump, and other places had their wakes. All must have been great days in the otherwise humdrum village life, vastly anticipated and greatly enjoyed.

Huddersfield received its market charter, granted by Charles II to Sir John Ramsden, in 1671. The site of the market it still marked by the Old Market Cross. Until this time, there would have been no market in Huddersfield and any produce for sale would have had to be taken by foot or pack animal to Almondbury – apart this is, from the two yearly fairs when commerce was allowed. Huddersfield in the 18th Century was becoming the more important township of the two mainly because it was easier to access than the hillside village, and the granting of its market charter secured its position as the leading centre of commerce for the area.

The market seems to have been a general one, the charter granting Sir John Ramsden the right to have and to hold one market in the town, on Tuesday in every week, forever, for the buying and selling of all manner of goods and merchandise. Sometime shortly after 1671, the Ramsdens erected the market cross on empty land at the top of Church Street (Kirkgate). The shields on the cap of the cross illustrate the various marriages of the Ramdens into the Pilkington, Frecheville, Palmes and Butler families. At some time the cross was removed from the town and taken to Longley Hall, probably for safekeeping between 1800 and 1825 when there were frequent riots in the town. It was returned to the market place in 1852. The cross was moved slightly in 1906 when the public lavatories were built, and it was again moved in 1927 by which time its condition had deteriorated badly. The central piece of the column had to be replaced and, in an attempt to disguise the new section, the new stone was soaked in beer for a fortnight. We can see that this wasn’t very successful. The shields were restored in 1968 as part of the borough centenary celebrations, and restored again for the millennium.

Once the cross was erected, marking the site of the permanent market, buildings began to go up around the market space, thus determining the shape of the market place which has remained to this day. The buildings here were considered to be in such a prime position that their rents were many times more than those of buildings in the other parts of the town.

We can get a glimpse of the original buildings from this plan drawn from documentary evidence of the 18th Century. Probably the first thing we notice is the George Inn on the north side of the market place where, in the future, John William Street was to commence. There are five more inns with a good amount of stabling – necessary accommodation for the farmers, clothiers, traders, merchants and their animals visiting the market from the surrounding areas. It’s interesting to see that Marmaduke Hebden had a shop and stable, probably on the site where Byram Arcade was to stand in the future. Duke Hebden was quite a character in the town, being fond of private horse racing, and gambling on his own prowess (and horses). He was the only Huddersfield man to contribute towards the Huddersfield to Woodhead Turnpike which crossed the Colne at Engine Bridge, near to which he employed Blind Jack Metcalf to erect a three storey building. This became known as Folly Hall because it was build out amongst the fields, some distance away from the commercial centre of the town. I think Duke Hebden quietly foresaw the development that the new road was to bring and that, therefore, Folly Hall wasn’t so foolish after all.

But, back to the map – we can see that by this time the space where the market was held was recognised and defined by the buildings and, apart from the removal of the George, the shape and area have remained, as I’ve said, pretty constant for the last two centuries.

This drawing gives a clearer idea of what the market place looked like about 1800.

On market day, the central square would be thronged with stalls, booths, carts, wagons, and of course people and animals. The lessees of the stalls had to agree to well and sufficiently repair, uphold, maintain and keep all the stalls and trustles belonging to the Market Place. Some of these stalls must date from around 1800.

Although the market place housed the general market, it would seem that speciality markets were held elsewhere.

The Beastmarket, in the days before Lord Street, was also a scene of bustling activity with the name being self-explanatory. However, this area was also the corn market 200 years ago where farmers were obliged to sell their corn. If they sold it elsewhere, they had to forfeit 2/- to the lord of the manor for every bushel sold.

Here too there were inns and stabling, barns and haylofts used by those living there as well as by the clientele of the inns. This complex of buildings, a budding textile factory with warehouse, workshops and dyehouse, was owned by the Horsfall family who had lived in this part of Huddersfield, at the house called Well, since circa 1600. Here, in 1771, a youngster called William was born who, in April 1812, was to became the Luddites best known victim.

As time goes by, it becomes quite difficult to decide which commodity was sold where. A map of 1826 shows King Street, which had developed since 1797, and at the side of King Street a new market is marked with buildings described as “shambles” – implying butchers and slaughter houses where fish and flesh was sold. At the same time, the Beastmarket area is described as a cow market and it’s difficult to say now whether this was a function or already a place name relic as Beastmarket is today. The 1854 Ordnance Survey map describes the shambles area merely as a swine market, so it may be that until the new market was built in Great Northern Street, cattle and pigs were sold at separate markets.

An old photograph of what was described as the “New Market” shows us what it was like when it was a shambles. Then, as we have already seen, the Corporation in 1880 began to rationalise its market interests and provided a new cattle market and abattoir in Great Northern Street.

At this point a brief digression to look at the cloth market in Huddersfield won’t be inappropriate. Until 1766, cloth was sold at a market held in or near the churchyard. As the textile industry grew and prospered, this state of affairs became quite unsatisfactory and Sir John Ramsden in that year began building a Cloth Hall on land near to Top oth ‘Town formerly under cultivation.

It was opened not as we see it here but as a one storey building in 1768. Business flourished, that area of the town developed as yet more inns were build, along with shops and warehouses and, by the late 1770s, the building was already inadequate for the amount of business that went on in there.

Consequently, in 1780, it was enlarged by the addition of another storey. The building, it’s said, hadn’t much to recommend it architecturally – in fact it was described more than once as downright ugly.

As we can see from this plan, two so-called streets crossed in the middle of the interior area. All around the circumference [of the] building as well as in the central streets, benches and stalls were filled with rolls of cloth. The doors opened early every Tuesday morning and an immense amount of business was done in a few hours, for the doors were closed again at half past twelve, the clock chiming the beginning and end of the day’s business.

As the fancy industry developed, the cloth hall became under used as the fancy weavers preferred to guard their designs and display their wares in their own small shops. Consequently by 1876, when the demand for a covered market hall was at its height, it was possible to alter the ground floor of the Cloth Hall to act as a market until the new Market Hall in the Shambles was completed.

A contemporary description of the general market held in the Cloth Hall says that “within had been erected 50 neat looking shops each 10 ½ feet wide by 9 feet deep, 48 round the egg-shaped interior contour and four in the central avenue. The Cloth Hall at that time gave a range of 204 feet from east to west and 240 feet from north to south. The area was divided into one principle nave running direct east to west with north and south transepts, and here there were open stalls for she makers, tent dealers and others, whilst the four quadrants were devoted to earthenware dealers, oyster stalls, cheap Jacks and others. The lowest biddings when the lettings were sold by auction on 1st January 1877 were £9 and the highest £69 – this for the chief shop area of 32 square yards from John Hudson the Lepton butcher who four years later went on to secure the prime shop site in the Market Hall. Among other bidders were Roland Wood, fishmonger, and Seth and Betsy Berry, drapers.

The Cloth Hall lasted as an exchange until 1930, when it was deemed to have outlived its usefulness. It was also built on what had become a valuable site which the council originally determined should be used for the building of a new public library and art gallery. By March 1931, however, the council was holding up the scheme declaring that the financial stress in the town was such that for the present there would be no new building on the site. Meanwhile, after much disagreement about whether the Cloth Hall was worth preserving, it was decided to save parts of it.

The doorway which formed the main entrance into the Cloth Hall from Sergeanston Street was removed to form an entrance into Ravensknowle Park from Ravensknowle Road whilst, within the park, a shelter was built using material from the Cloth Hall.

The flagstones and stone pillars are from the main hall ; the double arched windows once, in the days when such things were not vandalised, contained panes of the old flint glass, one of which was inscribed with the date 1816. And on the roof of the shelter is the clock which, for 1½ centuries, regulated the start and finish of business at the Huddersfield Cloth Market. Two stone tablets are also preserved in the shelter, one from the initial building and enlargement, and one from a still later restoration in 1848.

In the general open-air market the terms made between the Ramsden family and the stall holders during the first half on the 19th Century were subject to frequent complaints by the latter and many disputes occurred which finally developed into open rebellion in 1857.

Dissatisfaction continued through the 60s and the early 70s as may be deduced from a piece of dialogue form the pantomime Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves presented at the Theatre Royal in December 1872 and which goes as follows:

Who talks of markets? Where will they be found
Not here in Huddersfield, I dare be bound
Have they a covered market? Oh, dear no
The Huddersfielders no such blessings know
The working man whose daily task is ended
Towards the Market Place his weary way has wended
The rain and cold his buoyant spirits crush
As he toils onwards through the mire and slush
His dinner’s not yet bought. Wet to the skin
The public house invites – he tumbles in
His money spends ; gets drunk, oh grief, oh sorrow
His children get no dinner on the morrow!
His case is bad but those share his disgrace
Who should and don’t build him a market place
But they’ve a cattle market, is that not neat?
Yes a cattle market held too in the street
Midst cows and horses, squeaking pigs and sheep
They plough their way through mire quite ankle deep
The roaming cattle and the driver’s cuss
Make it like Pandemonium, only wuss

The dispute was settled by the Improvement Commissioner, then the local authority, who took the market tolls on lease. Subsequently in 1876, eight years after the Incorporation of the Borough, the Council bought all Sir John Ramsden’s rights of markets, slaughterhouses, fairs, tolls and profits, and lands attached to these, for £37,500 and plans were immediately drawn up for a covered market in King Street and a wholesale market in Brook Street.

The latter, a handsome airy building, was opened in 1881 and as you will know was carefully renovated in 1980 after its use as a whole market ceased. Around the same time a general open air market was held on the The Lump in Ray Street near the new covered market.

The covered market hall in King Street, built on the site of the old Shambles, was opened in 1880 having been built for just over £30,000. After having instigated a competition for designs for the new market and awarded prizes for the three adjudged the best, the council rejected them all and consulted with Mr. Edward Hughes FRIBA of Lord Street who had served for 12 years in the offices of Sir George Gilbert Scott, the eminent Victorian architect whose Gothic designs are well known. Edward Hughes submitted a design which was accepted and the resulting building was decorated Gothic throughout. There were two floors, basement and upper floor. Up to 1923 two-thirds of the basement was devoted to casual tenancies and the remaining space was occupied by permanent stalls. The main entrance to this level was in Victoria Street. Incidentally, the gates of this entrance have been preserved.

The whole of the upper floor was occupied by a general market with entrance by steps from King Street, Victoria Lane and Shambles Lane. The shops on each side of the Victoria Street entrance were reserved for fishmongers, whilst the shops on Shambles Lane were originally and appropriately occupied by butchers

The letting of shops and stalls was put up for auction on 23rd March 1880 in the presence of the Mayor and members of the Town Council. During the sale, there was frequent uproar owing to the successful bidding of traders who were considered to be outsiders.

Most of you I’m sure will have fond memories of this market hall with its stalls inside and shops outside. Easy to remember are Winns and Woods fishmongers in Victoria Street – both still present until recently in today’s market hall – and a few slides will bring back memories.

Shambles Lane. Fruit and vegetable shops and stalls: Lindon Smith's, Cowlings, and Fowlers wool, soap and hardware sandwiched between the entrances to the upper and lower floors.

Victoria Lane. The Dolls Hospital, Hinchliffe the jewellers and Guy Gothard's the tripe dresser.

And inside I bet you all remember the smell – especially the Christmas smell compounded as it was of Chrysanthemums, celery, herbs, dried fruit and apples. The roof, clearly to be seen in this photograph, was a wonder in its time. It consisted of girder and wrought iron work divided into V-shaped bays of slate and glass, the latter facing north allowing in maximum light whilst keeping out the direct sunlight.

[42 old interior]

This older interior perhaps predates most of us but allows us to see the unchanging pattern of the stalls.

What stalls to people most remember? All those I’ve asked mention the same. Upstairs – Berrys, Lodges, Redmonds, Caledonian Biscuits, Hansons second-hand books, Wimpenny’s the Tailors, and Woods Sweet Shop.

And, downstairs – D’agostinos ice cream, Lewis books and magazines, Braystraws umbrellas, Snowdens biscuits, Masons haberdashers, Norths carpets, linoleums and oilcloths, Woods again – with their much larger sweet shop – and of course Doctor Dan’s herbal drinks.

This old painting I think gives an excellent impression of the atmosphere of the place.

I suppose progress is necessary, but often towns have retained their Victorian market halls and I can’t help feeling that Huddersfield would have been better to do the same. Although the old hall was nor perhaps architecturally distinguished, I’m sure I’m not along in thinking it was more in keeping with the town than its modernistically awful replacement.

Fortunately, by the time the future of the wholesale market was under consideration, conservation was the order of the day and the four weekly markets that are now held there with their stalls and booths, their excitement and bustle, are the true descendants of the first market held in Huddersfield 315 years ago.

Minter Collection: Markets, Fairs and Entertainments

This page was last modified on 23 March 2017 and has been edited by Dave Pattern.

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