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Day 483: The Morning Quickie

Monday, March 11, 2013

What constitutes a market town?

Say what you will about Wikipedia (and more than once I've taken issue with an entry), it's a convenient source for basic information. They have this to say about "market town":

The English monarchy created a system by which a new market town could not be established within a certain travelling distance of an existing one. This limit was usually a day's worth of travelling to and from the market... If the travel time exceeded this standard, a new market town could be established in that locale. ...These distances are still law in England today. Other markets can be held provided that they are licensed by the holder of the Royal Charter, which tends currently to be the local Town Council. Failing that, the Crown can grant a license. As traditional market towns developed, they had a wide main street or central market square. These provided room for people to set up stalls and booths on market days. Often the town erected a market cross in the centre of the town, to obtain God's blessing on the trade. The cross was also a reminder "not to defraud..."

I think the two chartered markets nearest us are Stockton Heath and Knutsford, each being a day's walk. From my knowledge, Wikipedia has got it right - the idea for locating a market was that it be no more than a half-day's walk for patrons or vendors. Thus you could pretty much count on there being market towns about seven miles apart.

Whichever king it was - and I have forgotten - who initially began chartering market towns must've made some money, as a town had to pay for its trading license. If a town applied for a charter but was found to be within seven miles of an existing market, the new application would be denied.

Many chartered towns no longer hold a weekly market - some have retained a vestigial market with an annual festival or fair. But market town has come to be a legal designation that carries a certain status and pride, and I suspect if any licensed town has allowed its market to lapse, and a neighboring town (less than seven miles distant) tries to apply for a crown charter, the people would swiftly rise and reaffirm their town's right, whilst ensuring the newcomers are soundly rebutted.

Well, conjecture on my part.

Lymm still has its weekly market, The Thursday Market (that's what they call it locally). Sadly, it's no longer held around the market cross. Instead, the stalls and booths have been shunted off to a parking lot on the fringe of the main thoroughfare.

But the village market cross has been retained - together with the stocks! - and has become a symbol, used on many of the public signs and even on websites. And so I present the Lymm village market cross:

I can't be sure just how clear this one is until I post the blog. It's from the late 1880s, from an old book. From this angle, the background - with trees, the wall, and the detached building - is very different from today.

Another Frith photo - surprising how different this angle is, considering the date (1890-ish) is about the same as that of the previous picture. Notice the buildings in the background: far left, with a projecting wing almost to the street, is a tavern; right side, with a distinct "curve" to the front of the building.

Now look at a photo taken within the last couple of years:

You can make out the steps of the cross, on the left side of the photo. Prominent just to the left of center is a white building - now painted rather than plain brick, the projecting wing stands out. The pub is still in business, though at the time of the late 19th century it was apparently a full-fledged inn, with accommodation as well as a taproom. The brick building on the right with its curve is unmistakable.

The stocks are clearly visible in this picture - they are locked, so no one can trap themselves! I'm not sure if the cobblestones will show up. The old market square around the cross, as well as a good-sized portion of the street, is cobbled. As paving, it holds up well (consider the number of years it's probably been in place) but rough to walk across, and not a smooth ride to drive over, either.

The market cross was erected in perhaps the 1200s or early 1300s. The sandstone steps are original to that time; part of the cross itself may (emphasis on "may") be original. By the 1600s it had been rebuilt or replaced, and it is that cross that forms the bulk of what remains today.

The little canopy (for lack of a better term) was put up in Victoria's reign, I think to mark one of her jubilees. The weathervane dates from the Victorian era; possibly some of the stonework that was added incorporated bits of the old, original stonework, although the sundials and ornamentation are from the late 19th century.

I have found several pictures taken of various groups on and around the steps of the cross - old photographs of fairs and holidays, of school classes and Morris dancers. I imagine the cross has always been a well-known landmark, and with the steps it lends itself to photographing any large group of people so each can be seen.

Off to go and do - the usual Monday list. Have a good'un, Sparklers - carpe diem!

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  • PATRICIA4472
    Love the history lesson and photos! Thanks so much!
    2915 days ago
    What a wonderful history lesson, and I loved the photographs! There is a shop to the left (below "Flavours Turkish Cuisine" ~ how global in such a small town!) where the signage reads Xross interiors. I wondered if that was actually Cross Interiors, a bow to its location...?

    Although it's been a number of years since I visited Richmond, VA, I used to go there every summer to live with my grandmother who lived downtown. There were still cobblestone streets there then, especially up and down Monument Avenue. You're right...it's rough driving!

    Enjoy your day!
    2916 days ago
    If I cannot live in a cathedral close, I'd like to live in a market town. You are so good for my life-long voyeuristic Anglophilia!

    (I did spend a summer in an authentic Georgian Crescent in Bath--my big claim to some anglo-fame).
    2917 days ago
    Awesome pics.....great to see the the one of what it is like today....
    2917 days ago
    Very interesting. emoticon
    2917 days ago
    I always love your photos !!!!!!
    2917 days ago
    Ant btw- thanks for the other information, interesting – I have read Ken...whatshisnamn about the building of a cathedral in "kingsbridge" and it was a lot of good research in that!
    2917 days ago
    Loved the blog and the pictures--and cobblestones are hard to walk on. Talking about market towns reminded me of "PIllars of the Earth"---love that book!
    2917 days ago
    A new word for me – cobblestones – I hope i remember it, in swedish it is "kullersten" and as "kuller" has no significant meaning so I guess maybe the vikings brougt tha name "cobble" back and turned it into "kuller".... in swedish also called "kattskallar" which is "catsculls" ...ooo, a little scary...
    2917 days ago
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