Chesterfield Market

Chesterfield Market

Chesterfield Market is one of the largest open air markets in England with over 200 stalls. Open mon, fri and Sat. Flea market on Thurs.

Chesterfield’s Famous Market

It’s the longest established business in town and has been trading and successfully in the Peak District attracting visitors for at least eight hundred years!

Chesterfield’s famous open air market which began with the granting of a Charter by King John in 1204, celebrated the 800th anniversary of its official foundation in 2004.
This ancient charter also granted the Lord of the Manor the right to hold Tuesday and Saturday markets, and an annual fair, which lasted for eight days each September, marking the town’s status as one of the major market towns of England.

Chesterfield – Ancient Historic Market Town.
The road signs erected at the Borough boundaries on the approaches to the town have changed appropriately in recent years to read, Chesterfield – Ancient Historic Market Town – and there has been a market here since
Saxon times.

Chesterfield has always owed it’s importance to its position as the marketing centre of a large rural area, and extensive historical research shows that there has possibly been a market in the town since Saxon times, although there is no documentary evidence for a market in Chesterfield until 1165. The laying out of the present Market Place (including the Shambles) was referred to in early thirteenth century Rufford Abbey Charters as `the new market’ and could be as early as 1169.

Apart from the construction of the Market Hall in 1857 and a whole range of building down the centuries around the perimeter – along Low Pavement to the south and High Street to the north – todays Market Place is the same size and shape as it was when it was laid out eight hundred years ago!

The `old market’ of Saxon origin occupied an area directly north of the church, and indeed, as historian Philip Riden notes;
“At the heart of early medieval Chesterfield lay the parish church and an adjacent market place, acting as a focus for main roads leading from all four points of the compass. The origin of both institutions is obscure but may date from well before the Norman Conquest. The earlier market was cramped, hemmed in by main roads and the church, and offered little scope for expansion. It seems likely that the area west of St. Mary’s Gate between Beetwell Street in the south and Knifesmithgate or Saltergate in the north was already so densely occupied as to make the clearance of a large area for a market difficult. There is also evidence that from the end of the eleventh century the dean of Lincoln, who became rector of Chesterfield in 1093, acquired a substantial part of this area as glebe, enough for him to later claim a rectory manor. It would thus have been desirable to choose a completely fresh site for the market, for which the area to the west of the town was by far the most suitable”?.

Two Market Places!
Further, writing in the Derbyshire Archaeological Journal, Philip Riden suggests that the Shambles and the `new’ Market Place are contemporary, and adds, “Returning to the charter of 1204-26, we may conclude that by 1199 not merely had the new market been laid out but the area at its eastern end (Shambles) had begun to be built upon”?.
Thus it appears that Chesterfield had two market places from the late twelfth century right up until the early 1600’s, when the old market was finally discontinued. The `new’ Market Place remained virtually unchanged until the early nineteenth century.

The Nineteenth Century Market Place
By the mid nineteenth century this had been replaced by a block of buildings known as the `Cross Daggers’, which, according to contemporary reports, had a “cosmopolitan population..besides the public house of that name it had a bakehouse, a confectioner, and certain public rooms. In the same block there was also a well known cheese depot and it was the venue of market carts and farmers with their produce. Markets and fair days presented an animated appearance; the whole of the sales, including cattle, sheep and pigs was concentrated in the square. Sheep and pigs were concentrated on the west side of the Market Place in the place known as `Swine’s Green’ (now New Square). On important fair days the horses and cattle overflowed into the neighbouring streets, and accommodation was found for them in Soresby Street, Gluman Gate and Salter Gate”?.

The report, from a newpaper of around 1848 continues, “Carriers’ carts gather in great numbers; all roads for carriers’ carts lead to Chesterfield Market, and the produce is sold either from stalls erected in the square or from the carts themselves. Carts line up alongside the Cross Daggers and the stalls are set to form a `street’ running from thence across the square towards the Shambles. Fair days attract the usual number of followers and side shows are erected containing all the curiosities and wonders of the world. Anything calculated to excite the imagination of the crowd and extort their pence is always in evidence”?!

The Modern Market.

The building of the Market Hall in 1857 presaged major changes in the town. Livestock had for centuries taken up much of the space available for stalls in the market, but in 1901 the Cattle Market was opened and the sale of cattle and livestock removed completely from the streets. This led to a dramatic increase in the space available for market stalls, which in 1850 averaged between twenty-five and thirty. By 1920 this had risen to over 270, and had made Chesterfield market the third largest open market in the entire country, surpassed only by those at Nottingham and Yarmouth.

Over 800 years after it’s foundation, the market trading tradition continues and Chesterfield Market, now with around 250 regular stalls, is the largest – and best – in the country – and remains one of Derbyshire’s greatest tourist attractions – on the fringes of the Peak District!

Tom Bates