Gloucester: Markets and fairs

Pages 259-262

A History of the County of Gloucester: Volume 4, the City of Gloucester. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1988.

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In this section


Gloucester's market and fair trade and the role it played in the economy of the city are discussed in the general chapters on the city's history. This section gives an account of the institutional history of the markets and fairs and of the sites and buildings connected with them. (fn. 1)


Gloucester's market rights derived from ancient custom and were not specifically mentioned in any of the town charters or other grants, though in a suit concluded in 1590 the grant of the liberties of London and Winchester made by the earliest charters was used to support a claim that Gloucester was an open market on every weekday; the expenses of the defendant who was successful in that claim were partly met by the corporation. (fn. 2) In practice, however, from the mid 13th century or earlier the town authorities had limited market activities to Wednesdays and Saturdays. (fn. 3) Those were the two usual days for the sale of corn in 1514 and for the country butchers to bring meat for sale in 1549, (fn. 4) and they were the only two market days claimed by the mayor and burgesses at a quo warranto enquiry in 1553. (fn. 5) The two days came to differ in the type of business transacted: Wednesday was said to be the main market day for corn, butter, and cheese in 1588, (fn. 6) and it was presumably the usual day for the livestock market in 1729 when 'great markets' for stock were instituted on three Wednesdays in the year. (fn. 7) Saturday had become the usual day for the country butchers to come by the early 18th century (fn. 8) and for the corn market by 1756, when it was announced that corn sales would in future also be held on Wednesday. (fn. 9) The old claim to a market on every weekday was presumably revived later to justify the daily opening of part of the new produce markets after 1786 and the holding of cattle sales on other days than Wednesdays and Saturdays in the 20th century.

Market trading was probably carried on in all four of the main streets and some of the lesser ones from medieval times, but the greatest concentration of activity was in the upper part of Westgate Street where it was lined by the shops of the mercers and butchers. St. Mary de Grace church which stood there was sometimes called St. Mary in the market from the late 12th century, (fn. 10) and the King's Board, Gloucester's earliest known market building, was put up between it and Holy Trinity church in the 14th century (fn. 11) and was used for the sale of cheese and butter (fn. 12) until removed under the improvement Act of 1750. (fn. 13) In the mid 13th century the corn market was being held in Westgate Street. (fn. 14) In the lower part of the street, by St. Nicholas's church, fish was sold from carts in 1213 when, however, the sellers secured permission to move to a place in Southgate Street which they claimed was their traditional pitch. (fn. 15)

Upper Westgate Street was still the scene of much market trade in the early 18th century when it had a market house for the sale of bacon and was the site of the stalls and standings of the fishmongers and market gardeners; (fn. 16) a new market bell was installed in Trinity tower there in 1706. (fn. 17) The produce sales then extended into the other three streets all of which had been the site of covered markets for many years. In the northern part of Southgate Street a building for the wheat market had been provided by 1509 (fn. 18) and was rebuilt in 1607 (fn. 19) and again in 1660. (fn. 20) At the beginning of the 18th century the stalls for the country butchers were located at its southern end. (fn. 21) The barley market house stood in Eastgate Street near the gate (fn. 22) until 1655 when it was replaced by a new building halfway up the street. The new building, a substantial structure supported on columns, was built with materials from the churches of St. Mary de Grace and St. Catherine and paid for with £50 given by Margery Price, widow of an alderman. (fn. 23) A market house for the sale of meal, built or rebuilt in the years 1569–70, (fn. 24) adjoined the east end of St. John's church in upper Northgate Street; it went out of use c. 1657 and was removed at the rebuilding of the church in 1732. (fn. 25) Fruit and poultry were sold in other parts of that street at the beginning of the 18th century. (fn. 26) Market trading also extended into the area of the Cross, at the meeting of the four streets, but that was not a site approved by the common council which barred hucksters and apple sellers from standings near the Tolsey in 1646. (fn. 27)

Some reorganization of the produce markets was carried out during 1737, partly in an attempt to ease the congestion of the streets on market days: new standings for the country butchers were assigned on the east side of Southgate Street; the bacon market was moved into Southgate Street; an order was made to confine the standings of the city market gardeners to the vicinity of the King's Board and those of the country gardeners to the upper part of Eastgate Street; and there was a further prohibition on standings adjoining the Tolsey. (fn. 28)

The Boothall in the lower part of Westgate Street played an important role in the town's market trade from at least 1192 when the Crown gave the burgesses permission to use it for buying and selling. (fn. 29) It was being used for the sale of leather by 1273 (fn. 30) and for the sale of wool by 1396 when the weighing beams and the tolls collected there were on lease. (fn. 31) The building continued as the official market for wool, leather, cloth, and other commodities brought by visiting merchants until at least the 1750s, the profits being included in the lease of the Boothall inn. Sales made outside the market in inns and private houses were, however, a constant problem for the authorities over the centuries. (fn. 32)

Although the pig market was held in upper Northgate Street until at least 1741, (fn. 33) the other livestock markets were presumably kept out of the congested central area of the town from an early date. Sheep Lane near the south gate, so called by the mid 13th century, (fn. 34) may have been used for the sale of sheep, while Bearland, where cattle were sold at the midsummer fair in 1500, (fn. 35) may have been the usual site for the cattle market. By the beginning of the 18th century, however, the sheep market was held in Three Cocks Lane, Half Street, and the adjoining part of St. Mary's Square, (fn. 36) and in 1779 the cattle market was held in the street behind the College walls (later Pitt Street). (fn. 37) The cattle market tended to spread beyond its restricted site: in 1798 an order was made to confine it to the College walls and Water Street, (fn. 38) and in 1807 local residents complained of cattle penned in St. Mary's Square and the surrounding streets. (fn. 39) In the early 19th century horse sales were held at the south end of Parker's Row (later Brunswick Road). (fn. 40) In 1823 all livestock sales were moved to a new cattle market. (fn. 41)

In the mid 1780s a major reorganization of the city's market facilities took the produce markets out of the streets. The old market houses were demolished, (fn. 42) and two new markets were built at the cost of £4,000, which the corporation raised from shareholders under a tontine agreement. (fn. 43) The new markets, opened in 1786, (fn. 44) were designed and built by William Price. (fn. 45) The Eastgate market extended from the south-west side of Eastgate Street, on which there was a Doric portico with iron gates, to Travel Lane (later Bell Lane) and comprised an open area for stalls and sittings and a covered building for the sale of corn; (fn. 46) the market was open on Wednesdays and Saturdays for corn, meat, pigs, poultry, fruit, vegetables brought by country market gardeners, and tradesmen's wares. (fn. 47) The new Southgate market on the north-west side of Southgate Street not far from the Cross (fn. 48) had a hall for dairy produce and space for the stalls of the fishmongers, the town market gardeners, and earthenware sellers; it was open daily. (fn. 49)

At another reorganization in the 1850s the Eastgate market was rebuilt to house a daily produce market. The new market, designed by James Medland and A. W. Maberly and opened in 1856, comprised one large hall with a massive pedimented portico with Corinthian columns and carvings of produce in the spandrels of the arches. (fn. 50) The end of the hall on Bell Lane was rebuilt in brick with a bell turret c. 1890. (fn. 51) The market came increasingly to be occupied by regular stallholders and by 1933 country people with baskets of produce had ceased to come. (fn. 52) The Eastgate market hall was taken down in the late 1960s during the redevelopment of that area of the city as a modern shopping centre, and a new market hall, opened in 1968, (fn. 53) was provided as part of the development. The old portico was re-erected (further down Eastgate Street than its original site) as the main entrance to the new shopping centre.

The Southgate market was rebuilt in 1856 (and opened in 1857) as a corn exchange. Designed by Medland and Maberly, (fn. 54) it had a tall Corinthian portico forming a semicircular bay and surmounted by a statue of Ceres. (fn. 55) In 1893, when it apparently ceased to be used as a corn exchange, (fn. 56) the front was rebuilt flush with the street frontage and part of the building was adapted as the post office. (fn. 57) From that time corn dealing was presumably carried on at the cattle market off lower Northgate Street and in 1923 an exchange was opened in George Street adjoining the cattle market; the new exchange was, however, soon largely abandoned by the dealers in favour of sheds in the open market. (fn. 58)

Cheese was sold at the cattle market from 1851 in a market (fn. 59) established by a committee of subscribers and taken over by the corporation in 1866. (fn. 60) Another committee started a wool market, held on three days of the year, at the cattle market in 1852, (fn. 61) and a hide and skin market was started there in 1857. (fn. 62) Sales of cheese and wool were being held on one day a month in 1870. (fn. 63) In 1894 a privately-owned market for hides, skins, fat, and wool was being held daily at premises on the quay. (fn. 64) From 1900 a wholesale fruit market was held at the cattle market on one day a week; by 1928, when the corporation provided a new building, it was being held on three days a week and attracted business from a wide area. (fn. 65)

The new cattle market south of lower Northgate Street was built under an Act of 1821 (fn. 66) and opened in 1823. (fn. 67) The leading promoter of the scheme was John Phillpotts. The new market, an open walled area, (fn. 68) was extensively remodelled in 1862–3, (fn. 69) and improvements were made several times in the late 19th century and the earlier 20th as the volume of business showed a steady increase, encouraged by the easy access from the railway. In 1933 the market had accommodation for 5,000 sheep, 2,000 pigs, and 1,000 cattle. (fn. 70) The first cattle auctions were begun there in 1862 by the two founders of the firm of Bruton, Knowles, & Co. and came gradually to replace dealing by private treaty. General stock sales were being held twice a week by 1910, on Mondays and Saturdays, and on Saturdays there was also a horse market and private dealing in Irish cattle. (fn. 71) Between 1955 and 1958 (fn. 72) the cattle market was gradually moved to a 35–acre site adjoining St. Oswald's Road on the north-west outskirts of the city. The large new complex of buildings included traders' display units, shops, banks, a public house, and a restaurant, besides sale halls, covered accommodation for stock, an abattoir and meat market, and a large lorry park. (fn. 73) Gloucester market had by then become one of the leading stock markets in the country, known particularly for its pig and sheep sales, the latter attracting buyers from all over southern England. (fn. 74) In 1980, when the firm of J. Pearce Pope & Sons shared the conduct of the market business with Bruton, Knowles, & Co., the stock sales were held on Mondays and Thursdays.


In 1302 the Crown granted the burgesses a seven-day fair around the Nativity of St. John the Baptist (24 June). (fn. 75) James I's charter of 1605 granted the city two additional fairs, to be held on the Annunciation (25 March) and the two days following and on 17–19 November. (fn. 76) The three fairs, which came to be held for only one day each and, after the calendar change, took place on 5 April, 5 July, and 28 November, (fn. 77) appear to have been principally for cattle in the 18th century. (fn. 78) The November fair was also the main horse fair; the horse fair on that date was held in New Street (possibly the later Queen Street) near the east gate in the middle of the century. (fn. 79) After the opening of the new cattle market in 1823 special sales of cattle and horses took place there on the three days, and by 1910 the days of holding them had been fixed as the first Saturdays in April and in July and the last in November. The April fair had by then come to specialize in the sale of shorthorn bulls. (fn. 80)

There was another fair, Barton Fair, which did not belong to the corporation and was held outside the city boundary, factors which may have contributed to its growth into the most notable of the Gloucester fairs. In 1465 the abbot of Gloucester as fee farmer of King's Barton manor was granted the right to a fair on the eve, day, and morrow of St. Lambert (17 September). (fn. 81) In 1586 the Crown granted the rights in the fair to Edward Reed and William Hulbert (fn. 82) who sold them later that year to Thomas Evans. Evans sold the fair in 1599 to John Madock (fn. 83) (d. 1606), (fn. 84) whose grandson John Madock of Hartpury sold it in 1683 to Francis Wheeler of Bridgnorth (Salop.). Wheeler was succeeded by his nephew Robert Carpenter, whose widow Audrey settled the fair in 1725 on their daughter Susannah and her husband Strickland Lodge. Lodge and his wife both died in 1764 and their devisee Strickland Holden in 1765, and Holden's two sons sold the fair in 1765 or soon afterwards to Samuel Hayward, (fn. 85) later of Wallsworth Hall, Sandhurst. Hayward (d. 1790) was succeeded by his son-in-law Walter Wilkins, who sold his rights to the corporation in 1823. (fn. 86)

Barton Fair was described as a pig fair in 1586 (fn. 87) but it later became widely known as a cheese fair, serving the rich dairying region of the Vale of Gloucester. (fn. 88) The volume of cheese brought to the fair declined towards the end of the 18th century as the practice of buying it directly from the farms became more common, (fn. 89) but the fair still attracted enough of that commodity for it to be described as 'our great cheese fair' in 1792, (fn. 90) and it was also fairly important as a livestock fair. (fn. 91) It also became the city's principal pleasure fair, attracting pedlars, gypsies, and travelling showmen in large numbers. (fn. 92) By the 18th century the fair had apparently become restricted to a single day (28 September after 1752), but by 1756 it had become the custom to hold two mops, or hiring fairs, in connexion with it, on the two Mondays following (fn. 93) and by 1808 mops were held on three Mondays. (fn. 94) The ancient site of the fair was in Barton Street. (fn. 95) In the 18th century and the early 19th the mops were held in a part of the street a short way beyond the city boundary. (fn. 96) The livestock fair was held on a field called Barton Hill, some way south of the street, in the early 19th century, and in 1823 the corporation moved it to the new cattle market. (fn. 97) In 1910 it dealt mainly in sheep and horses, with Irish hunters and unbroken Welsh ponies among the animals sold, (fn. 98) and by the 1950s it had become a major sheep fair attracting stock and buyers from a wide area and in some years dealing in as many as 10,000 animals. (fn. 99) Pleasure fairs continued in Barton Street on the days of Barton Fair and the three mops, (fn. 100) whose hiring function dwindled in the late 19th century. (fn. 101) In 1880 an attempt by the magistrates to move the fairs was resisted by local shopkeepers and others. (fn. 102) In 1904, however, the installation of equipment for the tramways caused the removal of the fairs to Oxlease by Over causeway. (fn. 103)


  • 1. This article was written in 1980.
  • 2. G.B.R., B 3/1, ff. 117, 124 and v.; I 1/32.
  • 3. Ag.H.R. ii. 13.
  • 4. G.B.R., B 2/1, ff. 21v., 48.
  • 5. Glouc. Corp. Rec. pp. 30–2.
  • 6. G.B.R., I 1/32.
  • 7. Glouc. Jnl. 8 July 1729.
  • 8. Bodl. MS. Top. Glouc. c. 3, f. 44.
  • 9. Glouc. Jnl. 7 Dec. 1756.
  • 10. P.R.O., C 115/K 1/6681, f. 82; Glouc. Cath. Libr., deeds and seals, viii, f. 6.
  • 11. Above, Public Buildings.
  • 12. Bodl. MS. Top. Glouc. c. 3, f. 44; G.B.R., B 3/10, f. 19; F 4/3, f. 238.
  • 13. Glouc. Improvement Act, 23 Geo. II, c. 15.
  • 14. Ag.H.R. ii. 13. 'Ebridge Street', there identified as lower Westgate Street, was a name used for the whole course of the street: below, Street Names.
  • 15. Abbrev. Plac. (Rec. Com.), 92; the move was to 'the cross' in Southgate Street, perhaps meaning the end of the street near the high cross.
  • 16. Bodl. MS. Top. Glouc. c. 3, f. 44.
  • 17. G.B.R., B 3/8, p. 224.
  • 18. Ibid. J 5/3.
  • 19. Ibid. B 3/1, f. 220v.
  • 20. Ibid. 3, p. 162; Rudder, Glos. 89.
  • 21. Bodl. MS. Top. Glouc. c. 3, f. 44.
  • 22. Rudder, Glos. 89.
  • 23. G.B.R., B 3/2, pp. 775, 815, 818, 855, 857, 859; J 3/3, ff. 156–7; Atkyns, Glos. plate at pp. 82–3, detail reproduced above, Fig. 5.
  • 24. G.B.R., F 4/3, f. 130v.
  • 25. Rudder, Glos. 90; G.B.R., B 3/1, f. 467v.
  • 26. Bodl. MS. Top. Glouc. c. 3, f. 44.
  • 27. G.B.R., B 3/2, p. 389.
  • 28. Ibid. 9, ff. 394, 397v., 411.
  • 29. Pipe R. 1191 & 92 (P.R.S. N.S. ii), 285.
  • 30. G.B.R., G 8/1.
  • 31. Ibid. C 9/2.
  • 32. Ibid. B 2/1, f. 22; 2, ff. 114–115v.; B 3/1, f. 449; J 3/3, ff. 113–17; 9, ff. 75v.–77v.; Glouc. Jnl. 19 June 1750; 24 Oct. 1752.
  • 33. Bodl. MS. Top. Glouc. c. 3, f. 44; Glouc. Jnl. 6 Jan. 1741.
  • 34. Below, Street Names.
  • 35. G.B.R., B 2/1, f. 17v.
  • 36. Bodl. MS. Top. Glouc. c. 3, f. 44v.; Glos. R.O., D 936/E 12/10, f. 8v.; L 7, plan.
  • 37. G.B.R., B 4/1/1, p. 87; Hall and Pinnell, Map of Glouc. (1780).
  • 38. Glouc. Jnl. 23 Apr. 1798.
  • 39. G.B.R., B 3/13, f. 43; cf. Glouc. Jnl. 12 July 1813.
  • 40. Glouc. Jnl. 27 Apr. 1807.
  • 41. Below.
  • 42. Rudge, Glouc. 114–15.
  • 43. G.B.R., B 8/23.
  • 44. Glouc. Jnl. 27 Feb., 13 Mar. 1786.
  • 45. G.B.R., B 3/11, f. 367 and v.; B 4/1/1, p. 198; F 4/13, pp. 208–10.
  • 46. Ibid. B 8/25; Glos. Colln. prints GL 57.20; above, Fig. 10.
  • 47. G.B.R., B 4/1/1, pp. 230–4.
  • 48. Cole, Map of Glouc. (1805).
  • 49. G.B.R., B 4/1/1, pp. 230–4.
  • 50. Ibid. 7, ff. 122, 124–7; Glos. Colln. prints GL 57.8, reproduced above, Plate 30.
  • 51. Glos. Colln. prints GL 57.19; cf. ibid. GL 57.10.
  • 52. Glos. Colln. NZ 12.5.
  • 53. Plaque in bldg.
  • 54. G.B.R., B 4/1/7, ff. 49, 101, 151.
  • 55. Glos. Colln. prints GL 7.25; cf. Glos. R.O., D 4335/199.
  • 56. Cf. Kelly's Dir. Glos. (1889), 783; (1894), 167.
  • 57. Glouc. Jnl. 29 Apr., 10 June 1893; Glos. R.O., D 4335/199. The bldg. was demolished in 1938: Glouc. Municipal Year Bk. (1964–5), 78.
  • 58. Glos. Colln. NZ 12.5.
  • 59. G.B.R., B 4/1/7, f. 18.
  • 60. Ibid. 8, pp. 251, 261.
  • 61. Glouc. Jnl. 19, 26 June 1852.
  • 62. Ibid. 7 Feb. 1857. A plan for such a market in 1854 was presumably not implemented: ibid. 15 Apr. 1854.
  • 63. Kelly's Dir. Glos. (1870), 552.
  • 64. Glouc. Jnl. 26 May 1894.
  • 65. Ibid. 3 Nov. 1928.
  • 66. Glouc. Market and Improvement Act, 1 & 2 Geo. IV, c. 22.
  • 67. G.B.R., B 4/1/3, f. 19; F 4/15, pp. 596–7.
  • 68. Glos. Colln. prints GL 57.1.
  • 69. G.B.R., B 4/1/8, pp. 15, 55, 109.
  • 70. Glos. Colln. NF 12.249–51; NZ 12.5.
  • 71. Ibid. NR 12.42.
  • 72. Glouc. Municipal Year Bk. (1964–5), 76.
  • 73. Handbk. of Glouc. Corp. Markets [c. 1957], 14–20: copy in Glos. Colln. NF 12.246 (1).
  • 74. Ibid. 27, 29.
  • 75. Cal. Chart. R. 1300–26, 29.
  • 76. Glouc. Corp. Rec. p. 39.
  • 77. Gell and Bradshaw, Glos. Dir. (1820), 115.
  • 78. Glouc. Jnl. 8 Apr. 1765; Glos. Colln. R 22.1, entries for 5 Apr., 5 July 1763.
  • 79. Glouc. Jnl. 4 Nov. 1746.
  • 80. Kelly's Dir. Glos. (1863), 271; Glos. Colln. NR 12.42.
  • 81. Cal. Chart. R. 1427–1516, 206.
  • 82. G.B.R., J 1/1909.
  • 83. Glos. R.O., D 626, abs. of title to est. in Twigworth and Down Hatherley.
  • 84. P.R.O., C 142/297, no. 143.
  • 85. Glos. R.O., D 626, abs. of title to est. in Twigworth and Down Hatherley.
  • 86. G.B.R., F 4/15, p. 531; cf. V.C.H. Glos. vii. 204; Rudder, Glos. 638.
  • 87. G.B.R., J 1/1909.
  • 88. Atkyns, Glos. 255.
  • 89. Rudder, Glos. 207.
  • 90. Glouc. Jnl. 1 Oct. 1792.
  • 91. Ibid. 3 Oct. 1808; 30 Sept. 1816.
  • 92. e.g. ibid. 3 Oct. 1785; 29 Sept. 1794.
  • 93. Ibid. 21 Sept. 1756.
  • 94. Ibid. 10 Oct. 1808; cf. Bretherton's Dir. Glouc. (1867), 4.
  • 95. G.B.R., J 1/1909.
  • 96. Glouc. Jnl. 21 Sept. 1756; 10 Oct. 1808; cf. Glouc. and Stroud Road Act, 18 Geo. III, c. 98 (the turnpike referred to was then on or near the city boundary). Several lanes much further out, meeting S. of World's End, were known as Mop Lane in the late 18th cent. and early 19th but no connexion with the mop is known: Glos. R.O., Q/RI 70 (map R); D 3117/1101; D 9363/3; G.B.R., J 4/9, no. 15.
  • 97. Glouc. Market and Improvement Act, 1 & 2 Geo. IV, c. 22; cf. Hall and Pinnell, Map of Glouc. (1780).
  • 98. Glos. Colln. NR 12.42.
  • 99. Handbk. of Markets, 27.
  • 100. Bretherton's Dir. Glouc. (1867), 4; Glouc. Jnl. 3 July 1880.
  • 101. Above, Glouc. 1835–1985, econ. development 1835–1914.
  • 102. Glouc. Jnl. 3, 10 July, 7 Aug., 4 Sept. 1880.
  • 103. G.B.R., B 3/38, pp. 474, 481, 497, 517.