Our home city of Norwich just last week won the award for Best Large Outdoor Market! NABMA (National Association of British Market Authorities) described it as “a phoenix that has risen from the ashes."
The market has utilised the power of social media with a drive since 2016 seeing significant improvements, a marked increase in footfall and encouraged a younger generation of traders. Situated in the heart of Norwich city centre alongside Gentleman’s Walk and the centuries old Guildhall, steeped in history, is Norwich Market. Traders have grown with the market whilst upholding their traditional values, many continuing family businesses. If you take a trip to Norwich Market in 2019 you will find food stalls serving dishes from around the world, contemporary clothing stores, stationary, jewellery, watches and repair, haberdashery, audio and visual, fresh and pre-packed food, flowers and plants, hair and beauty and so much more! Norwich Market has adapted its traditional roots and has an incredible amount to offer its customers.
Here is a video to give you an idea of how the market place has changed over the last 300 years!
But, the history of Norwich Market spans back much further than just 300 years. Try casting your mind back to almost 1000 years ago. Prior to the Norman Conquest, Saxon Norwich Market was located in Tombland. Archaeological evidence suggests that items sold on the early market were imported on medieval ships, unloading on the south side of the river, near St Martins Church. They brought with them goods such as; pottery, millstones, swords, Russian furs, Scandinavian walrus ivory and woollen cloth from Flanders. Traders would also have been selling pottery and iron tools made locally.
The Norwich Market we know today is a legacy of the Norman Conquest in 1066. During the century that followed, the Normans moved the market to the area between St Giles Street and Bethel Street called ‘Mancroft’ (or ‘Magna Crofta’ – in other words, big field), the ideal location, after the Normans had built the Cathedral and the Castle. The new market brought trade and prosperity to Norwich, which was thriving, handling the trades of its hinterland.
By 1300, the market spanned a huge area – from what is now the line of Guildhall and London Street, almost as far as St Stephen’s Church. This was due to Norwich being one of the most populous and richest towns in the country with an abundance of skilled workers, becoming a central trading point and centre for foreign imports. At this point livestock, cereals, leather, salt, cloth and metal work were being sold on the market. Interestingly, there was also an area for small holders, where any peasant could come to market to sell their wares, be it cheese, eggs or pots and pans, but they did have to pay tax in order to spread their goods on the ground. In medieval times it is believed that market days were held on Wednesday and Saturday, although for a brief spell they were held daily.
In the 1400s the Guildhall and St Peter Mancroft Church were both built around the market place. Building of the Guildhall commenced in 1407, ideally located next to the market as the centre of commerce and administration right at the hub of city life. It remained with this use until 1938 when City Hall was built. Over the centuries the Guildhall has also housed courts, prisons, a cloth hall, the Chief Constable and the city’s horse drawn fire engine. Less than 30 years later, St Peter Mancroft Church was constructed, largely financed by the now wealthy merchants of Norwich and designed to flaunt the wealth of its financers (compared to the Guildhall which was built on a budget). Built adjacent to the market, the Church still holds strong links to the tradesmen, as even today stallholders still have the right to be both married and buried in the Church.
As time went on, during the Tudor period, the market place became more than just an area for trade. True to form for the Tudor era, the large public space became the perfect location for a public spectacle. The market place hosted hangings (thanks to its ideal location next to the Guildhall), pageantry (events such as Royal occasions and national triumphs) and celebration announcements. Also during this period there was a growth in butchers found on the market, being an important source of revenue for Norwich. A variety of new goods were imported too, such as sugar, molasses, figs and prunes. In 1581 a cargo of 20,000 oranges and 1000 lemons were brought to Norwich for the St Bartholomew’s Fair.
In 1682, Thomas Baskerville described the Norwich market: “As to Norwich, it is a great city, full of people the chief-market place of this city… vastly full of provisions… where I saw the greatest samples for butcher’s meat I have ever yet seen, and the like also for poultry and dairy meats, which dairy people also bring many quarters of veal with their butter and cheese, and I believe also in their seasons port and hog-meats… And such kings of people sell fish… crabs, mackerel, flounders, very cheap, but lobster for sea fish and pile or jack for river fish were dear enough. They asked me for one pike under 2 foot, 2s and 6d and for a pot of pickled oysters they would have a shilling. Here I saw excellent oatmeal which being curiously hulled looked like French barley with great store of gingerbread and other edible things…” This passage sums up wonderfully how Norwich market had grown!
In 1930 the market place had its first great rebuild (to coincide with City Hall which was constructed in 1938). It was clear by this point that the market place was in need of a revamp! Health and safety would need to factor, with running water, drainage channels, electricity and a canvas cover. It was the perfect time to make the market place uniform, and in 1938 the market stalls were given their iconic striped tilts that help make the market place such a picturesque location. By 2005 the market place further still needed modernisation, and another revamp took place. This time the ground beneath the market stalls was taken into account, the slight gradient meant that each individual stall had to be raised to ensure the stall was serviceable for both traders and customers.
We look forward to seeing how the market place develops in the coming years, hopefully in 100 years it will stand the test of time and its traditions will be upheld!
Images courtesy of Michael Button.