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History of markets

Learn about the history of our markets in West Norfolk

King's Lynn markets

Records suggest that there was a market taking place in King's Lynn long before proper records were kept. The oldest recorded instance of a market is to a "Sand Market" held on the Saturday Market Place in 1104.

The first "Charter Market" is mentioned in a Charter from King John dated 6 September 1205. This Charter permitted the people of Lynn to tax some services and keep the revenue for themselves rather than paying it to the King. The taxes were levied in respect of the use of roads by strangers, shipping of merchandise along the river, use of bridges and, of course, a tax on the setting up of a stall at fairs and markets. It is not clear where the market would have been held, although it is likely that the Saturday Market Place would have been the obvious choice.

All would have been fine until, during the reign of Henry III, a group of men from Lynn joined rebellious Barons against Henry. There was a battle at Littleport, at which the King was victorious. By way of punishment the King took away the Charter rights granted by King John, and just for good measure, burnt 22 tenant farms on the outskirts of Lynn.

In 1268 King Henry gave the Charter back to Lynn. And in addition gave the town permission to elect its own Mayor, as well as permitting foreign merchants to attend Lynn Fair and sell their wares. As an added inducement, the new Charter guaranteed the foreign merchants' safety and further guaranteed that any goods lost due to fighting would be paid for by the Town.

Nothing much seemed to have happened to the markets until 1435. In 1435 a licence was granted to the Town to use the piece of land next to St. Margaret's Church for a market (the present day Saturday Market). The licence runs for 999 years! It is not clear whether this licence was merely a means to formalise an existing situation.

On 7 July 1529, Henry VIII granted a further Charter to the Town. So far as markets were concerned it permitted the Town to hold two markets each week. This is likely to be the origin of the Tuesday Market.

From the medieval period both market places were marked out with rails. They had semi-permanent stalls or shops which were leased out on a temporary basis to food retailers and other visiting traders.

In the Saturday Market Place there were butchers' shambles crowded against the north side of St. Margaret's Church until the 19th century. And in the 15th century the street front opposite was known as Butchers' Row because of the concentration of butchers' shops there.

As the Saturday Market Place is a relatively small area, the market gradually encroached on the adjacent street of Damgate (now High Street), until it was expelled in the late 18th century. A feature of the Tuesday Market Place towards its northern end was a market cross with shambles and shops around it.

The last successive structure on this site was an ornate cross designed by Henry Bell and built in 1710. In 1831 this was demolished and in 1832 a new Market House was built to serve the same functions, this is on the site of the present Corn Exchange which replaced it in 1854.

Downham Market markets

Our records show Downham Market has been in existence since September 1887. It was started by a market company, which went into liquidation in 1937.

Downham Urban Town Council then took over the running of it until 1974, at which time we looked after the market on their behalf. In 2001 the Town Council once again took over and continue to run the market now. The market operates on a Friday and Saturday and held on the Town Hall car park.