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MARKETS

PLYMOUTH MARKET

Updated:  04 November 2012 

When the new Guildhall was being erected in 1800 there was a lack of provision for a Shambles and so it was decided to erect a separate market.  The site chosen was officially known as "Saunder's Meadow" but was unofficially called "Bloody Field" because a young boy had drowned in a pond there.  The field was owned by a Mr Peter Ilbert and was purchased from him for 4,000.  A tontine loan of 10,000 was raised for building the market and the foundation stone was laid in 1804.  [1]

Plymouth Market was opened on Tuesday September 29th 1807 by the Mayor, Mr Thomas Lockyer, and the Mayor-Elect, Mr Thomas Eales.  [2]

Although the Market was owned by Plymouth Corporation, the lessee in 1836 was a Mr Thomas Ham of Park Street, Plymouth.  [3]

Mr Ham's lease expired on Lady Day 1840 and the property then devolved back to the Corporation.  The Market Committee decided to make some changes to the conditions and nature of the lease so that they could maintain 'an effectual control over the occupants and ensure their observance of the general orders and regulations'.  They promptly reduced the period of tenancy from annually to monthly and made it terminable by 28 days' notice.  [4]

Various improvements followed, all carried out under the supervision of Mr Adams, the Borough Surveyor.  The total cost of these works and general repairs that year cost under 1,500.  [4]

The Cattle Market was removed from the back of the pork butchery to a field near the Cattle Pound in Tavistock Road.  It was only accessible from that Road but was to have a second entrance created from Rowe Street and the addition of a shed for the accommodation of the cattle dealers.  Twice as many cattle pens were provided as there were in the old Cattle Market.  [4a]

Part of the former Vegetable Market was used to provide a new Fish Market building 160 feet long and 13 feet wide, which was divided by two ranges of granite pillars leaving a space down the middle of some 6 feet in width.  The columns supported a cupola roof extending the whole length of the building, which with two shorter cupolas in the main roof, provided light and ventilation and shaded the Market from direct sunlight.  Forty-six slate slabs supported on iron pillars were provided for the fish merchants and each was directly supplied with fresh water.  It was intended to provide gas lighting.  [4a]

On part of the former Fish Market a new Corn Exchange was in the course of completion.  This was on the first floor and consisted of a lofty room, 77 feet long by 20 feet wide, lit by seven windows on the east side, two in each of the north and south ends, with skylights in the roof.  The room was approached by two flights of granite steps, one at each end of the room, and was supported on an arcade of wrought limestone.  A clock was to be fixed in the pediment of the building.  [4a]

The area beneath the Corn Exchange was to be fitted out for the sale of butter and poultry but the developments reportedly undertaken in the following year (see below) suggest this may not have happened.  [4a] 

This reorganisation 'enabled the Committee to remove from the centre of the Market Place the numerous carts which occupied very unprofitably that valuable extent of ground'.  [4]

Also in 1840 the Corporation adopted some new regulations for the conduct of the fairs that took place in the Borough, which were described as an 'admitted nuisance and fertile source of profligacy'.  Luckily the Corporation found that what they lost financially from the rents at the fairs was more than made up for by the increase in the rents from the Market.  [4]

During 1841 further improvements were undertaken.  The space beneath the Corn Chamber, previously occupied by Fish Stalls, was converted into a row of stalls for the sale of fruit, flowers, baskets and garden produce.  A roof was constructed over the former roadway to the north of the Poultry Market, an area formerly used for the sale of vegetables.  The numerous dealers in manufactured goods who had previously had stalls in that space were moved to new "standings" against the southern wall of the Fish Market.  In addition, four cook's shops were erected in the north-east corner of the market place.  Finally, the old Weighing House at the eastern end of the former Corn Market was demolished and a new one, accessible from all sides, was erected at the southern end of the row formerly occupied by the country butchers.  The butchers' stalls were moved to the area formerly occupied by the fruit and basket stalls.  All that work cost around 800.  [4]

The "standings" on the south side of the Fish Market were occupied by vendors of manufactured goods.  But the stalls were 'without any convenience for the deposit and security of their wares' and the Committee were of the opinion that if they allowed the stallholders 'to inclose (sic) their stalls according to their individual taste' would deface the appearance of the row.  However, the dealers did agree that the Market Committee could, by using old materials at their disposal, construct 24 "standings" for their use and that the tenants would be prepared to pay an extra six pence a week on top of their normal rent.  The cost of doing the work was 11 8s.  [4]

So popular was the Plymouth Market, however, that the Market Committee still had one accommodation problem to resolve.  The stalls had now been removed from every foot-way in the Market except one, beneath the wall adjoining the Drake Street Gate.  Here were the sellers of iron and tin-ware and other manufactured commodities but 'their stalls are unsightly in appearance as swell as encroachment on the public thoroughfare'.  Collectively they paid a weekly rent amounting to around 4 and several of them were among the oldest tenants of the Corporation.  But the Market Committee had no spare space to allocate to them so had to leave where they were for the present.  [4]

Plans were invited in 1853 for the rebuilding of the Market and the first contract was awarded to a Mr C Eales of London.  [1]

The Mayor used to be the Clerk of the Market and had the revenue from the Shambles to help put food in his kitchen.  He carried out regular inspections.  On a visit to the butter market on Saturday May 7th 1853, 'for the purpose of testing the weight of the apparent pounds and half-pounds of butter exposed for sale', he and his assistants confiscated 50lbs of butter from one merchant alone.  [5]

The prices of merchandise in the Plymouth Market on October 13th 1855 were  [6]:

  • beef, 6d to 7d per lb;
  • mutton, 6d to 7d per lb;
  • veal, 6d to 6d per lb;
  • lamb, 6d to 7d per lb;
  • pork, 7d to 8d per lb;
  • geese, 3s 6d to 5s 6d each;
  • ducks, 4s 6d to 6s 6d per couple;
  • fowls, 3s to 4s per pair;
  • hares, 2s 6d to 3s each;
  • rabbits, 1s 8d to 2s per pair;
  • butter, 1s 4d to 1s 5d per lb;
  • eggs, 12 to 16 for a shilling;
  • potatoes, 6s 6d to 7s 6d per bag;
  • apples, 6d to 2s 6d per 100;
  • kidney beans, 1d per 100;
  • cucumbers, 1 to 3d each.
  • Fish was very scarce.

New iron gates, with granite piers, were erected at each of the entrances to the Market early in 1858.  Other improvements were made within the Market itself, of which the local press considered the new frontage to the butcher's stall of Mr James Ford to be the most significant.  It was designed by Mr O C Arthur, the local architect, and 'so far outshines its humbler neighbours that we do not doubt other tradesmen will follow the example of Mr Ford.....'  [7]

Mr Skardon, the auctioneer, held an auction in the Council Chamber of the Guildhall on Tuesday May 7th 1872 for the letting of the Market, Cattle Market and Abattoirs.  The bidding for the Market was opened by Mr Temple with an offer of 4,000.  Mr Sergeant immediately increased that to 4,100.  Vigorous bidding then ensued, in sums of tens and twenty pounds, from Messrs Box, Edwards, Percy, Temple and Willcocks until the sum of 4,309 was reached.  All but Mr Percy and Mr Willcocks relinquished the fight and the two men continued until Mr Willcocks, who had previously held the lease for 4,250, won it at 4.450.  He also acquired the lease of the slaughter-house in Glanville Street for 161 and the abattoir on North Quay for 30.  [7a]

In 1882 other plans were obtained from a Mr C King and a Mr H Alty, the main result of which was the construction of Market Avenue in 1891  [1].  The Avenue was formally "opened" as a public highway by the Mayor, Mr J T Bond, with the members and friends of the Corporation, driving through the Market on the way to open the reconstructed Drake's Place Reservoir on Wednesday July 22nd 1891  [8].

Once the rebuilding and alterations were finished, the most northerly building was the Fish Market.  This was accessible from Cornwall Street and from Radford Place.  South of that was the Fruit and Poultry Market, also accessible from both ends.  Through the centre of the Market, from Cornwall Street to Old Town Avenue, ran Market Avenue, with shops on either side.  At the rear of the southern range of shops were numbers 31 to 43 of the Meat Market, which was triangular in shape.  The Weighing House was in the centre with shops on each of the three sides and an entrance in the south-eastern corner facing the main entrance beneath the Corn Exchange.  Ranged around the outside wall were numbers 1 to 14 in the south-west and numbers 17 to 30 in the south-east.  [8a]

The shops on the outside of the southerly wall of the Market were in East Street but were known as Market Buildings.  Those outside the eastern wall, after the entrance to the Corn Exchange, were in Market Place.  There were also seven shops between the entrance gates from Old Town Avenue and Drake Street, known as Radford Place.  [8a]

In the 1890s the horse-trams from Compton terminated in a loop in Old Town Avenue, just outside the Market Gate.  [8a]   

It was reported in 1893 that the Meat Market had the capacity for hanging 88 carcasses of beef or 430 carcasses of sheep but although it covered an area of 2,515 square feet it was inadequate for meeting the existing requirements.  [9]

The Superintendent of the Market was also the Keeper of the City Pound and the Caretaker of the Corn Exchange.  This post was held for ten years by Mr William Henry Abrams of 12 Ashery Drive, Hooe, Plymstock.  [10]

During the Second World War many of the shops fronting East Street were damaged when Bedford Street and Old Town Street went up in flames.  But most of the Market managed to survive the onslaught and proved of great benefit after the worst raids of March and April 1941 were over.  Major retailers like Woolworth's and Marks & Spencer, whose premises were totally destroyed, were given stalls in the Market building, while the smaller ex-Market traders opened stalls in the adjoining Drake Street in October 1941.  This gave rise to "Tin Pan Alley", a line of corrugated iron temporary stalls.  [11]

Messrs F W Woolworth re-opened for business in the market hall at 10am on Friday October 10th 1941.  [12]

What became known as "the back of the market".

The back of the Market circa late 1940s,
where Marks & Spencer's and Boot's are today.
  Western Morning News Co Ltd.
Buy a Copy.

It was very busy in the old Market in the 1940s, where many local businesses had stalls.

It was very busy in the old Market in the 1940s,
where many local businesses had stalls.
  Western Morning News Co Ltd.
Buy a Copy.

Market Buildings, in East Street, were demolished in January 1952 to make way for the eastwards extension of New George Street and the new premises for Messrs John Yeo & Company.  The shop on the corner with the Meat Market had been the home of Messrs Fernley Wallis (Chemists) Ltd for the previous 38 years and the other premises had recently been occupied by Battershill's the newsagents and Swiss's toy shop.  [13]

Work on demolishing "Tin Pan Alley" started on February 11th 1952.   The Wholesale Meat Market, along with the Corn Exchange, closed early in 1952 and was being demolished in April of that year.  [14]

The Pannier Market itself, which had long seen the end of 'Panniers' anyway, closed on Saturday September 5th 1959.  At closing there were 122 permanent weekly stalls occupied by 95 tenants, one wholesaler with six stalls and another 52 shops.  There were also what were known as "daily benches".  [15]

One of the oldest tenants, Mrs Mabel Martin, rang the closing bell, which also started a firework display and a party.  [16]

Sunday September 6th 1959 was moving day, when the every available motor vehicle was commandeered to transfer the tenants and their wares from the old building into the new Market.  The fruir-sellersm usually early starters, were first to start packing their vehicles at 6am.  The new premises opened at 7am and soon cars packed with fruit and vegetables, and even a weighing machine, were making the short journey between the two sites.  [16]

The present Plymouth Market

Work had started on the new Market in Market Avenue in October 1952.

As stated above it was opened at 7am on Sunday September 6th 1959 for the traders to install themselves ready for opening to the public the following day.  It was quickly a scene of chaos as cars, vans and lorries arrive loaded with goods and the workmen helped erect stalls and lay wiring to them as required.  Tempers flared occasionally.  One man hit his head on the corner of the stair-case, which was only 5 feet 8 inches from the ground.  The work on the stalls ceased at 5.30pm, while further up Cornwall Street the debris was being cleared from the old building amidst small groups of sightseers.  [16]

Mr Percy N Washbourne, Lord Mayor of Plymouth, declared the new Plymouth Market open shortly after 10am on Monday September 7th 1959.  [17]

The new building reportedly cost 269,548 to construct  [18] and had 51 shops, six tea stalls and room for 144 general stalls. There was also a Fish Hall for the fishmongers who had previously lined Market Place.  [15]

One shop was not able to open that morning.  Messrs Snell's, the tobacconists, because they had not received the bronze fitments that were a feature of their shops.  It was expected to open in two weeks time.  [17]


Sources (incomplete):

[1]  Worth, R N, "History of Plymouth from the Earliest Period to the Present Time",  William Brendon & Son, Plymouth, 1890 (second edition).

[2]  Harris, John, "Essay Toward the History of Plymouth", two volume typescript, Plymouth Local Studies Library; and original volumes held by the Plymouth & West Devon Record Office, Plymouth, accession numbers 219/1 and 219/2.

[3]  "Thomas's Plymouth Director 1836", Plymouth Local Studies Library, Plymouth.

[4]  Borough of Plymouth: Report of the Market Committee presented to the Borough Council on October 13th 1841, held by the Plymouth Local Studies Library, Plymouth.

[4a]  "Plymouth Market", Plymouth & Devonport Weekly Journal, Plymouth, September 10th 1840.

[5]  Source not recorded.

[6]  "Plymouth Markets", Plymouth Mail, Plymouth, October 10th 1855.

[7]  "Local Intelligence: Plymouth Market", Plymouth, Devonport & Stonehouse Herald, Plymouth, March 20th 1858.

[7a]  "Letting of Plymouth Market", Western Daily Mercury, Plymouth, May 9th 1872.

[8]  "Plymouth Fishing Feast: Drake's-Place Reservoir", Western Morning News, Plymouth, July 22nd 1891.

[8a]  Ordnance Survey, 1:500 First Edition plan, sheet CXXIII.8.23, 1894  

[9]  Plymouth Borough Council minute number 224 dated December 18th 1893.

[10]  Source not recorded.

[11]  "Drake-street Traders Say Why they Object to Market 'Refugees'",  Western Evening Herald, Plymouth, October 8th 1941.

[12]  Western Evening Herald, Plymouth, October 9th 1941.

[13]  "Another of Old Plymouth Links is Broken", Western Evening Herald, Plymouth, January 5th 1952.

[14]  "Demolishing the Mat Market", Western Evening Herald, Plymouth, April 9th 1952.

[15]  "Pannier Market Closes Today: Traders moving to new building", Western Morning News, Plymouth, September 5th 1959.

[16]  "Stallholders move into new Plymouth market: All Completed in a Day", Western Morning News, Plymouth, September 7th 1959.

[17]  "Shoppers 'Invade' New Plymouth Market: Civic opening of 269,000 building", Western Morning News, Plymouth, September 8th 1959.

[18]  Source not recorded.

  Brian Moseley, Plymouth, UK

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