Nostalgia: Looking back on 800 years of our historic Harborough Market

“Market Harborough has a proud history - and the market is absolutely integral to that"

By Red Williams
Friday, 16th April 2021, 10:08 am
Updated Friday, 16th April 2021, 10:10 am
Images of Market Harborough’s historic market.
Images of Market Harborough’s historic market.

Ecstatic general hall traders are celebrating returning to Harborough Market as the Covid lockdown’s eased – an incredible 800 years after a Tuesday mart was first held in Market Harborough

Business men and women went back to serving their loyal army of local customers and doing what they love at the town’s totemic medieval market on Tuesday April 13.

They were forced out of the famous bustling market before Christmas following a four-month closure due to tough Government coronavirus rules.

The Harborough Market.

But well-established traders, along with a few new ones, are now back and rolling up their sleeves for a hectic spring and summer – a staggering eight centuries after Market Harborough’s first Tuesday market was staged in 1221.

Sairah Butt, Harborough Market’s manager, said: “Market Harborough has a proud history - and the market is absolutely integral to that.

“We are extremely honoured to be the current custodians of a long history of markets in our town.”

Tracing back the indoor market’s epic history stretching back deep into the Middle Ages, King John granted a royal market charter to the town of Market Harborough in 1204.

Images of Market Harborough’s historic market.

The Tuesday market opened up to townspeople and prosperous peasants from the surrounding rich countryside 17 years later in 1221.

The market day was moved from Monday to Tuesday by King Henry III because a rival market was being held in the nearby village of Rothwell on the same day.

King Henry III acted after ordering the Sheriff of Northamptonshire to shut down Rothwell’s Monday Market - but he refused.

When medieval townsfolk first began buying and selling produce at Market Harborough’s new Tuesday market, few would have imagined that 800 years later the market would still be the beating heart of the town and essential to its very identity.

Images of Market Harborough’s historic market.

Eight centuries later the market is operated by Harborough District Council, which highlights and showcases the key role that the market continues to play in the town.

“From the market through the town’s streets in 1221, to the sheep market on the Square to the Butchers Shambles where the Town Hall stands.

“And to the cloth market, the Butter Market under the Grammar School, the 1938 indoor market and on to the current indoor market in St Mary’s Place,” said Sairah, sketching out the market’s emblematic timeline.

“The market through the ages has been such a great place to buy, to sell, a fantastic place for entrepreneurs and for business start-ups.

“But at its heart, it is still very much a place for the whole community to come together.”

Well into the 21st century, Market Harborough’s indoor market continues to thrive and prosper as it draws and attracts traders and shoppers from throughout South Leicestershire as well as right across the East Midlands.

There are between 100 to 150 businesses trading at the indoor market every week, including several eateries, and a much-loved weekly Antiques and Craft Market.

Over the last few years the market has staged the BIG Weekend comedy shows, seen dinosaurs roaming the halls, held Easter bonnet competitions, regularly hosted school visits.

And it’s carried off a whole string of much-coveted retailer awards – topped by being crowned Britain’s Best Small Indoor Market in 2016.

Over the last 12-13 months, the market has taken critical steps to continue to operate for customers during the Covid lockdown periods.

Strict social-distancing measures and a highly-effective one-way system were quickly introduced to keep shoppers, traders and market staff safe during the pandemic.

The market continues to attract new businesses to the town - and just this week saw the opening of a leading new 200-year-old bakery in the indoor hall.

Owner of Kings Cliffe Bakery, Tom Priestley, eloquently set out why Harborough Market is such a brilliant centre to trade.

“Kings Cliffe Bakery is absolutely delighted to be coming to Harborough Indoor Market.

“We are a traditionally-styled regional bakery that prides itself on producing exceptional hand-crafted breads and cakes,” said Tom.

“We have been trading for 200 years and we understand the importance that markets have played through that time as a place to connect with the community and our customers.”

Sairah said they are now planning to stage a series of high-profile celebrations to mark the market’s 800th anniversary later this year when it is safe to do so.

“Please look out for further details on the Market’s social media,” she said.

Harborough Market will welcome customers from 8am-4pm on a Tuesday to Saturday.

And don’t forget you can also stock up at a monthly Farmers Market on Market Harborough’s Square held on the first Thursday of every month.