Friday, February 21, 2014

Market Hall

Today in the East End of London a group of dedicated people are trying to save the Smithfield General Market Hall - 'Behold the winged lion on the Holborn Viaduct looking down protectively upon the Smithfield General Market,' writes the Gentle Author on 'as - over at the Guildhall the Public Enquiry that will decide the fate of this magnificent building designed by Horace Jones, the architect of Tower Bridge, reaches the end of its second week.'

Read more about this threatened building by clicking the link - now read about Swindon's former market buildings, which sadly have also been lost.

In the 1840s Old Swindon had a thriving shopping centre.  Blacksmiths, butchers and brewers rubbed shoulders alongside the Strange family's drapers store in the High Street and Sadler Bristow's ironmongers in Wood Street.

But in the developing settlement at the bottom of the hill facilities for the early settlers in New Swindon were decidedly lacking.  Apart from the factory and the company houses there was very little else in the new railway village - that was until the formation of the New Swindon Mechanics' Institution in 1843 when things began to look up.

First there was a circulating library, then concerts, lectures and evening classes, and eventually a magnificent building in which to house it all.

Plans for the new Mechanics Institute included a reading room public baths and at the southern end of the site the market hall, ending the housewives long trek up through Prospect to the shops in Old Town.

Built in an octagonal shape with a fountain at the centre, the market hall contained 34 stalls.  But Old Swindon traders were slow to recognise the new business potential and the original opening date scheduled for October 25, 1864 was postponed.

The market eventually opened on Friday evening, November 3 with just eleven pitches occupied.  Bargains to be had that first evening were ha'penny herrings.  Early traders included John Blackford who had a butcher's shop in Wood Street and the Ready Made Clothes Depot & General Drapery Warehouse.

On Bonfire Night 1859 the market hall was the site of an horrific accident.  A group of  youngsters let off 'a cannon loaded with fireworks' to give the stall holders a fright. Their prank was to have devastating consequences when a nine year old girl was hit in the leg.  Her injuries were so severe that the GWR Company doctor, Dr. Swinhoe, had to amputate the limb at the scene of the accident.

Despite the obvious need for such provision, the market was surprisingly never a great success.  The 1870s saw the building neglected and by the 1880s it had become a public nuisance, the chief complaint being the smell caused by the fishmongers.  The market was eventually demolished in 1892 to make way for a new extension to the Mechanics Institution.

A new market hall on the corner of Commercial Road opened on October 15, 1892.  It was covered over in 1903 at a cost of £5,000 when it was described as containing '17 shops and 80 stalls for the use of country dealers etc.'

The distinctive Market Hall was demolished in 1977 when Swindon town centre was redeveloped with stall holders transferring to accommodation in the new Brunel Centre.

For 17 years the plot of land served as a car park until the market made a comeback.  Known locally as 'the tented market' the new market place was completed in six months at a cost of £1.1 million.  The five 'tent' peaks were to represent the fairground, once a feature of country town markets.

Never as popular as its predecessor, the market closed in October 2007.  The evicted stall holders were told the structure was due for immediate demolition.  After standing empty for more than two years the market reopened in October 2009.

Read more about the Mechanics Institution on
Images - Mechanics Institution; Market; Commercial Road Market Hall courtesy of Swindon Local Studies visit their website on


  1. Is there anywhere that might have a list of names of stall holders in the market? I ask because my Great grandmother is said to have had a stall in Swindon Market around 1907 - 1914.

  2. Hi - thank you for contacting me. I'm guessing you have already checked the 1911 census to see if your great grandmother lists her occupation as market stall holder.
    You could also try where you can access Kelly's Directory of Wiltshire for the dates 1907, 1911 and 1915.
    The other suggestion I would make is that you contact the Swindon Local Studies Collection at Swindon Central Library on 01793 463238 or email them on They have a team of extremely knowledgeable enquiry officers who would be able to point you in the right direction.
    I hope all this is of some help. Thank you for reading my posts - I hope you enjoy them.

  3. Thank you for your prompt reply. Great Grandma didn't put her name to anything if she could avoid it so she isn't in the directories. I have her in 1911 under her "other" name I will contact the library as you suggest although I won't hold my breath..

  4. Another shining example of what the idiots at SBC have let slip through their fingers over the years..buffoons the lot of em

  5. tried to save the lettering.

  6. The Adver had a letter from me to save the Market lettering, heard no more. I wonder what happened to it?