What’s this about?
The street markets. When they’re not there I miss them.
Ah bless. Tell us more?
I was with some guests from Scandinavia the other day showing them the city and I walked into St Ann’s Square. There was no market. It looked bleak. Before markets started to appear here, I never thought St Ann’s Square looked bleak, I thought it looked neat - in both senses of the latter word. It was what was expected in a sturdy northern mercantile centre: a respectable square with statues of Victorian worthies and the odd busker about to be moved on. Not any more.
You like the market then?
Yes, when it’s not there I yearn for it. I expect to see shacks selling knick-knacks. Or cheese. Or glass baubles with oddly shaped Santas descending into chimneys. I want the Savin Hill Farm stall to be showering the city with quality rare-breed burgers. I want to describe North Western foods to visitors by showing them examples.
St Ann's Square, about 100 years ago, better shops
That's sweet, impress Johnny Foreigner eh?
Not just that; the markets are for the locals more than the tourists. But I love how they animate dead space. I want Manchester’s street markets to be the rule not the exception. The simple truth is that markets in the right place breathe life into a location and make it more interesting. Ten times more interesting, especially when established retail in King Street and St Ann’s Square doesn’t seem able to pay the rent and the shop units lie empty. And there’s something else, sniff the air?
Sounds spooky. What are on about?
Markets in St Ann’s Square aren’t a new idea. Get sniffing and you might catch the whiff of historical and geographical predestination. Markets start in Manchester right here in the early 1200s for three days around St Matthew’s Day, September 21. This was an annual market mainly trading livestock. The area was then Acresfield, outside the small town which clumped around the parish church, now the Cathedral. One tradition states that the first animal that entered into the market area was pelted to death with acorns or stones. As to why this happened is another thing: the sources don’t say. And guess what?
The annual market was granted by Henry III to Robert de Gresley, third baron of Manchester, for a fee. St Matthew was a tax collector before being an apostle, the choice of date for the market seems somehow appropriate.
What was the fee?
Five marks annually, together with a palfrey.
What was a mark worth?
To quote a book on medieval currency: ‘A mark is eight ounces, two thirds of a pound; the mark of silver is 13 shillings and four pence; the mark of gold, £6 sterling.’ Presumably these would have been gold marks.
I don’t think I’m any the wiser. What’s a palfrey?
It’s a gee-gee. A posh one, fit for a king. Or nobles, ladies and knights for hunting, riding and showing off. Bob de Gresley, by the way, wanted the market or fair as it made his manor of Manchester more valuable, gave it status, gave him dosh. Getting a market was a necessary step to growing up as a town in medieval England.
So was this the only market?
I’ve not finished with Robert yet.
Sorry, go on then.
In 1253-4, Gresley's lands in Mamcestre (Manchester) and Horwich forest were escheated (they reverted to the King’s ownership, from which all ownership derived, for a year and a day, and he took the revenues). This was probably on account of Gresley’s resistance to aid sought by Henry III for war in Gascony, and for a projected expedition to the Holy Land. Palestine in the news again.
So was this the only market?
Nope. Eventually there were lots of them. The main weekly markets settled in, understandably, the market place, roughly New Cathedral Street between Marks and Spencer and Ted Baker, and along the disappeared street of Smithy Door. Fruit, grain and veg were sold along Fennel Street, which is why the Corn Exchange (now the Triangle) developed close to the site.
Where did they all go?
They got in the way. By the middle of the nineteenth century the city was a teeming metropolis of around 400,000 with Salford, packed into not much more than the area we consider to be the city centre. It would have been like Calcutta. The annual St Ann’s Fair/Market, in particular, had got messy, spoiling the posh nature of the redeveloped area, be becoming a big piss-up. The markets were shifted.
Out of town
Sort of. St Ann’s Market went down to Knott Mill, the area on Liverpool Road where the Air and Space Gallery of the Museum of Science and Industry sits. It then got even more riotous affair, so the city killed it. The other markets were transferred to the Shude Hill/Smithfields area of town: the Manchester Craft and Design Centre, a former fish market, is one of the original buildings. In 1973 these markets were exiled to Openshaw. The city, apart from a few traders on Church Street, thus lost a 750 year tradition.
But now they are back
Thankfully yes. Look at the market here, it makes something of St Ann’s Square. Without it the Square has been much reduced in status by incoming mobile phone shops and banks instead of the bookselling and high-fashion it boasted fifteen years ago. Fortunately the shops in the adjacent Barton and St Ann’s Arcades carry the former prestige.
Should we make more of street markets then?
I think so. There’s definitely a case for bringing back year round outdoor markets, not just the specialist ones. Maybe we could have what's left of The Arndale’s food market set up here as a base for both farmers and local traders. Other elements of the markets – clothes, bric-a-brac – and so forth could colonise Piccadilly. We could bring back the second-hand book (and music) market up Shude Hill. There’d still be more than enough room for the excellent specialist markets the city brings us. They could enliven Exchange Square, Albert Square, King Street, even down Cross Street.
Click here to find out more about the current Spring Market.
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