Producing the Goods 2

Stockport market

 

Stockport market celebrates its 746th anniversary in 2006. Its charter originally gave permission for a market within the yard of the Norman castle, demolished in 1775. The Castle Yard market, as it became known, was famed for its fine cheeses (including Cheshire, no doubt) by the end of the 18th century (this reputation continues) and the prices at other local markets were based on those at Stockport. Its fame also reflects the protest in 1784 by farmer Jonathan Thatcher, who rode a cow to market to avoid paying the newly introduced tax on saddled horses. Popular local history lays claim to England's last wife sale at Stockport market.

A cattle market was established in the 1850s though this moved a short way to Portwood as the town burgeoned and cattle trading was not considered desirable in the town centre. The new Produce Hall, or Hen Market as it was colloquially known, was built in 1851 of Yorkshire stone and selling eggs, butter, cheese and meat. For a time the town's free library was accommodated in the upper floor but it moved because of the smells of the food from the Hen Market disturbed readers. The Hen Market sold no fruits or vegetables and Stockportians had to wait until 1861 for the construction of new the Covered Market over part of the market square, for the sale of greens. The covered market was originally an open-sided building with a glazed roof, hence its nickname 'the glass umbrella on stilts'. The notion of markets as a first step into retailing is reinforced in the Covered Market. In 1898 Ephraim Marks (of Marks & Spencer) closed the sides of his grocery stall to help shield customers from the cold and the whole market was enclosed within two years. A open-air street market operates in Market Place outside the Covered Market, keeping the connection with the original format in Castle Yard.

The Victorian Market Hall almost came a cropper when, at the beginning of the 1980s the Stockport Corporation planned to demolish it, along with other Market Place buildings. However, local people and market traders vigorously opposed the redevelopment scheme, claiming it would destroy the character of the ancient market. Thirty-thousand people in Stockport signed a successful petition to save the Market Hall which was then refurbished at a cost of £550,000. After works were completed, the Covered Market Hall re-opened in 1985.

Yet new versions of the old challenges lie ahead: in recent years market sales have fallen, apparently due to increasing superstore competition and major disruption to the area from extended periods of town centre regeneration building works. An alliance between the market traders, their national representatives - the National Federation of Market Traders, the Stockport Heritage Trust and the Council has drafted an application to the Heritage Lottery Fund to carry out sensitive renovation of the Covered Market, perhaps following the successes at Halifax and Bolton. However, consultants' reports commissioned by the Council, while supportive of keeping the market, and recognising locals' attachment to it, nevertheless advocate increasing pitch sizes to attract 'trendier' products (would those include Cheshire cheeses wrapped in vine leaves?) and even the possible relocation of the market for alternative (lucrative?) uses of the glass umbrella.

More details and regular updates are available from the Stockport Heritage Trust, who run a blog:
<www . stockporttrustblogspot . com>