Market Place

Seasonal No
Fixture Permanent
Rate of Change very slow
Physical Scale Medium
Experiential Scale Medium
Geographical Scale Local

Fairs frequently were positioned in a town’s market place.

In the introduction to his English Fairs and Markets, William Addison notes how ‘[a]part from their inherent interest, fairs and markets concern everyone because they have conditioned—we might say controlled—the development of the English town.’[i] Although the economic, legal, social and cultural aspects behind fairs have been mentioned, the physical impact of this ‘conditioning’ is only indirectly legible; the historical ‘object’ of the fair is missing. Frequently, rights for fairs and markets were granted in the same Charter, and frequently, they took place on the same physical site—the market place.[ii]

Girouard remarks on the importance of these spaces in the development of towns throughout England (and beyond): ‘The only centres of resort to rival [the market place] in age and importance are the churches; and the surviving markets are still full, while the churches are empty.’[iii] While he overstates the current distinction, and overlooks the extent to which churchyards were used for fairs and carnivals, it is undeniable that the history of religious architecture is not short of architectural objects on which to base its study.

Although its historical objects are missing, the fair and market have together been written into the built fabric of these settlements as a gap. At Loughborough or Ilkeston, for example, the town has formed around the fair and market, manifest in the ‘missing object’ of the market places, and legible at the larger scale of their relationships with neighbouring market towns, where they take up position in a network of similar towns all roughly one day’s walk apart.[iv]

At a smaller scale, in ‘The Market Place: Form, Location and Antecedents’, G. Jones discusses four typologies of English market place: the linear, the square, the triangular, and the semicircular, and the relationship between typology and the particular kinds of goods and frequency of exchanges that took place in each. This appears in Sylvia Pinches, Maggie Whalley and David Postles (Eds.), The Market Place and the Place of the Market (Friends of the Centre for English Local History/ Marc Fitch Research Institute, Leicester 2004).

[i] William Addison, English Fairs and Markets (Batsford, London, 1953),

[ii] Braithwaite speculates that the market cross probably had its antecedent in the boundary marker. ‘Hermes, a god of boundaries, became god of the market too, and his image was usually set up in Greek market places.’ David Braithwaite, Fairground Architecture (Hugh Evelyn, London, 1976), p.15.

[iii] Mark Girouard, The English Town (Yale University Press, New Haven & London, 1990), p.10. Things are not quite as black and white as Girouard claims: many markets look pretty sad and struggling (although he’s more right about the churches). He’s also a bit fast and loose with the illustrations of ‘markets’, or at least market places, as many of these actually show fairs.

[iv] Paul M. Hohenberg, and Lynn Hollen Lees discuss this larger scale of development, and distinguish a hierarchy between what they term ‘Central Places’ and ‘Network Systems’. See The Making of Urban Europe, 1000-1994 (Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1995).

Ilkeston, Loughborough, Oxford