How Great Yarmouth's market has been at heart of town life

Great Yarmouth Market Place in 1915

Great Yarmouth market place in 1915 - Credit: Colin Tooke

As Great Yarmouth's £4.7m new market project place gathers pace with traders moving in, local historian Colin Tooke looks at the site's history.

The market place was the centre of the medieval town.

It was the focal point where the town's population met to trade, buy and sell fresh produce on market days, assemble for celebrations and to hear proclamations of national events such as wars or coronations.

The Market Place has always been a bustling hive of activity in Great Yarmouth

The market place has always been a bustling hive of activity in Great Yarmouth - Credit: Colin Tooke

It was also the place where people were punished in public for minor offences and where the town crier disseminated the latest local news

The medieval market place was part of a much larger open space which, until the mid-seventeenth century, extended almost the length of the town from the parish church to Friars Lane.

On the west side of the market there was a range of shops.

The east side was, for many years, occupied by butcher’s shops, an area known as the flesh shambles first recorded in 1551.

Covered market stalls fill the centre of Great Yarmouth

Covered market stalls fill the centre of Great Yarmouth - Credit: Colin Tooke

All the town’s butchers were required to sell their meat from there and nowhere else in the town. 

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A large fish market existed in the south-east corner, separated from the main market by iron railings.

The fish market was rebuilt in 1844 and fish were not allowed to be sold anywhere else on the market, a rule that still applied even after the fish market was closed in 1869. 

The market was fully paved by the middle of the seventeenth century.

The stalls have proved to a a historical draw with shoppers

The stalls have proved to a a historical draw with shoppers - Credit: Colin Tooke

A market cross had existed from at least the fourteenth century.

At the cross, the town crier rang his bell to summon the inhabitants to hear the latest news.

People were punished in the market place and near the cross were the stocks and the pillory.

Here bakers, brewers and butchers were among the traders who could be punished for supplying inferior goods as were residents who had committed minor crimes such as slander.

A few hours in the stocks allowed the public to express their opinions to the unfortunate person in them.

The pillory was removed in 1729 and the stocks were last used in 1816. 

At times of public celebrations the market place became the scene of great rejoicing, the celebrations often including roasting bullocks followed by fireworks displays.

The last time a bullock was roasted in the market was in 1821 to celebrate the coronation of King George IV.

In June 1953, the coronation service of Queen Elizabeth II was broadcast from a public address system installed in the market place.

Great Yarmouth market shot at night shot in 1988

Great Yarmouth market shot at night shot in 1988 - Credit: Archant

In 1985 large crowds gathered in the market place to see Queen Elizabeth II walk through during her official visit to the town.

Wednesdays and Saturdays have always been the traditional market days.

At one time an ancient privilege allowed any freeman of the town and any inhabitant of the village of Ormesby to trade on the market without payment but these privileges were discontinued early in the nineteenth century. 

The two market days continued to be popular and sell a diverse range of goods with up to one hundred stalls, in three ranks, filling the market place from one end to the other.

This continued until the 1990s after which there was a great reduction in the number of stalls.

A visualisation of the Great Yarmouth Market Place redevelopment.

A visualisation of the Great Yarmouth Market Place redevelopment. - Credit: Great Yarmouth Borough Council

The first chip stalls appeared in 1902 and were soon joined by tripe, shellfish, jellied eel and tea stalls.

Until the 1970s nothing permanent was allowed on the market, all stalls having to be removed each Saturday night.

People queuing, chatting and talking outside Barrie's.

People were gathered outside Barrie's Tea Stall for the last time on Friday. - Credit: James Weeds

Fairs were originally held to showcase goods not usually available locally, traders coming from afar to sell to local merchants.

These fairs were always held in the market place. Annual fairs have been held in the town since a charter was granted by Charles II in 1684.

A tram weaves itself around the market

A tram weaves itself around the market - Credit: Colin Tooke

In 1902 tram lines were laid in the roadway on the west and south sides of the market for a public transport system that lasted until 1933.

As vehicular traffic increased it became necessary to introduce a one way system in 1950.

In 1982 the size of the market was reduced when a new road, called the Market Relief Road, was built to join Fullers Hill with a new Temple Road.

In 1988 the whole area was pedestrianised. 

A covered section, to accommodate 36 six-day stalls under a double-cross shaped canopy, was built towards the southern end of the market.

The market in Great YarmouhByline: Sonya Duncan

The market in Great Yarmouth on January 27, 2022. - Credit: Sonya Duncan

The new look market was officially opened in September 1995.

What's happening now?

In April 2021 work started on a new £4.7m market place a stone's throw from the current market area.

Last month the first trader moved in and in a 'soft opening' other traders will be opening their stalls in the next few days and weeks.

People inside a developing market stall.

The cladding seen on this new market stall - which will be home to Sean and Lucy Dearn's pie, pea and chips stall - will be on all the new premises inside Great Yarmouth's £4.7m market revamp. - Credit: James Weeds

The move has caused some controversy with some stall holders not relocating to the new structure – including Barrie’s Tea Stall and Brewer’s Chips – ending years of tradition in the town centre.

The new covered market will have 26 main stalls, alongside two kiosks and spaces for pop-up traders.

The borough council says the new market is "lighter, brighter, more spacious, more accessible and more environmentally friendly" than the current market area.

To help promote the market traders a Facebook page has been launched with an eye on what individual stalls offer - search for Great Yarmouth Market Place.