From satsumas to saris – markets continue to flourish in our towns and cities.
Formal markets probably began in the Middle Ages when traders and producers first gathered together in the centre of town to sell their wares. The central position of most markets reflects the importance of buying and selling food. In turn, the markets brought changes to the structure of the town. In places like York and Worcester, buildings called shambles were built to house butchers and fishmongers. As markets grew, streets were widened and more permanent structures were added like the market house.
The Market house provided a covered area for stalls on the ground floor, while the second floor often acted as town hall and a place to weigh goods. In the 19th century, more extravagant market halls were built, bringing the various outdoor stalls together under one roof.
The goods on offer might have changed, but there has been a market in Chesterfield on the same spot since the 1220s. Apart from the construction of the impressive Market Hall in 1857 and the addition of buildings around the square, the Chesterfield market place is the same size and shape as it was 800 years ago. In 1850, there was space for up to thirty stalls. After the sale of livestock was moved to the Cattle Market the number of market stalls at Chesterfield rose to 270. This made it the third largest open market in England.
Multi-cultural markets Markets continue to evolve to meet the changing demands of consumers. Built in 1970, the indoor market in Leicester is the biggest in Europe, while outside brightly coloured, fragrant stalls sell Asian and Caribbean Foods. Petticoat Lane in East London with its Jewish origins still trades every Sunday. The saris and jewellery of Whitechapel market brighten up the streets of Aldgate, and at Walthamstow market, the longest in Europe, you can jostle to buy okra and kohlrabi along with the more traditional turnips and spuds.
Farmers markets are now a staple of many small towns, the idea being to reconnect us with locally produced food and to enable small-scale farmers to sell directly to consumers.