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CHURCH STRETTON MARKET

Church Stretton has had the right to hold a weekly market since June 1214 when King John, then the Lord of the Manor of Stretton-en-le-Dale, ordered the Sheriff of Shropshire to advertise the holding of a new weekly market to be held in Church Stretton on Wednesdays. The King also ordered the holding of a one day annual fair in Stretton on the day of the Feast of the Assumption (August 15th).

About 1252, during the reign of Henry III, the day of the weekly market was changed to a Tuesday and an additional, four day fair (the May Fair) was authorised. The fair was to be held on the eve and day of the Feast of the Holy Cross and the following two days (2-5 May).

In 1336 Edward III gave the manor to Richard FitzAlan, 3rd Earl of Arundel. As the manor had passed from the Crown to private hands and the market and fair days had altered, the Earl needed a Market Charter. So in June 1337 Edward III granted such a Charter to the Earl. This gave him the right to hold a weekly market and a further yearly, three day, fair on the eve, day and morrow of the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, that is September 13, 14 and 15. The day on which the market was held was changed to Thursday, which it still is.

It is likely that the weekly market eventually fell into disuse for in June 1609 the Sheriff of Shropshire (possibly following a request from the townsfolk) held an enquiry into whether a market at Church Stretton would cause loss to the King or to other local towns. Despite furious opposition from the people of Bishop’s Castle, who felt that it would be to the detriment of their market, he concluded that it would not and that the market in Stretton could be restarted. Subsequently the then Lord of the Manor, Sir Thomas Thynne of Longleat, allowed the market rights to be transferred to a major property and land owner in the town, a man called Bonham Norton.

Bonham Norton was a stationer (then combining the functions of printer, publisher and bookseller) in London from 1594-1635. He published a great number of books. He was a freeman of the Stationers’ Company from 1593 and Master of the Stationers’ Company in 1613, 1626 and 1629. He was also an Alderman of London. He provided a great deal of the finance needed for printing the King James’ Bible of 1611 and probably much of the printing itself was done by him. In 1611 Norton was appointed High Sheriff of Shropshire and was given a coat of arms. According to Morris (Armorial bearings of Shropshire families p. 176-7), he was assigned by Camden the arms, ‘Or, two bars gules, a chief azure charged with an inescutcheon ermine.’

From the date, it could be that these honours were in recognition of his part in the production of the King James’ Bible.

Having obtained the market rights from the Earl, Norton was granted a Charter by King James 1, dated 6 January 1616. Bonham Norton then paid for the building of a timber framed market hall in The Square. This was built in 1617. Bonham Norton died on 5 April 1635 and was buried at St. Faith’s Church, London.

Norton’s market hall was demolished in 1839 and replaced by a brick and stone building in 1840. Designed by Edward Haycock, a local architect, this cost £1,000, raised by public subscription. The Rector of Church Stretton, Revd Robert Norgrave Pemberton, a very wealthy individual, was one of the three leading subscribers, giving £100.

This Town Hall was of red brick with stone facings on stone pillars. It had an open ground floor which was used for market stalls. The upper floor was used for events such as petty sessions, concerts and public meetings. The hall was later described by George Windsor, a local author, in 1885 as “a building neither beautiful to the eye nor with any pretensions to architectural excellence.”

By 1890 it was recorded that the market was well established. Foodstuffs such as meat, fish and poultry were sold from stalls standing beneath the town hall and other items such as haberdashery, clothing and earthenware from stalls in the open air area immediately around.

From 1899 the market hall was owned by the Church Stretton Urban District Council. In poor structural condition, and with no money available for its repair, the hall was demolished in 1963. If there were ever any plans to replace it, they came to naught and the market has been held in the open air (but still on a Thursday) since then.

Phillips’ Illustrated guide to Church Stretton, 1869,
p.15 lists the original trustees as The Earl of Powis; Lord Darlington; Lord Clive; Hon. R W Clive; Rev. R N Pemberton; E W Smythe Owen; G R Benson; Panton Corbett (of Longnor); Thomas S Acton; E B Coleman (grandson of Rev T B Coleman, Rector 1807-18); W  Pinches; John Broome; John Robinson.

V.C.H. vol. 10, p101 says that by the end of the 19th century the market had well established itself:

‘About 1890 foodstuffs (including butcher’s meat, fish and poultry), haberdashery, clothing, and earthenware were sold from boards and trestles beneath the town hall and open-air standings around it; stallage produced about £30 a year but the town hall trustees charged no tolls. The Town Hall became unsafe and was demolished in 1963...’

Usually farm produce was sold inside the ground floor arches whilst outside manufactured goods (e.g. baskets) were sold from a number of ‘pitches’.

Bagshawe’s Directory (1851) says that the market tolls had been purchased by the town for £200 (raised by subscriptions) so the market became toll free, though there were charges for stalls. The upper storey (which could accommodate up to 250 people) was used for petty sessions, concerts and public meetings.

The Town Hall was demolished in July 1963, being in an unsafe condition. No funding being available, a replacement market hall has not been built. The open space where the building once stood is now used mainly for car parking, but the weekly open air market is still held there on Thursdays.

Tony Crowe

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