Market Place

Opinion: ‘Looking back at Peterborough market before its potential relocation’

Toby Wood, of Peterborough Civic Society, writes...

Sunday, 21st November 2021, 4:55 am

Much has been written about the market and its potential relocation so it might be time for a brief history lesson before we come bang up to date with consideration of the latest proposals.

Peterborough, along with many other towns and cities, has had a market for centuries.

Indeed there was a market on what we now know as Cathedral Square for hundreds of years, from the Middle Ages right up to 1963, when it moved to its current site in Northminster.

The old market area was sometimes referred to as the Butter Cross due to the fact that people used to come from the outlying villages and farms to sell dairy produce. Two of the postcards accompanying this article show what the area was like – the coloured card is from the early 1900s and shows stalls selling their wares. The black and white photograph is from the 1960s and you can clearly see how squashed and cramped the area had now become.

The third postcard shows an idealised view of the west front of the cathedral and a few of the market stalls. The card, with its ‘With love from Arthur’ message at the bottom, was posted in 1926, 95 years ago.

I wonder who Arthur was and where his family is now!

In 1963 it was decided that the market should be moved to Northminster.

Why did it move? Up until the late 1960s the area round Cathedral Square was not pedestrianised and traffic trundled up and down Bridge Street, Long Causeway and Cowgate. As more and more people owned cars, the streets became dangerously overcrowded and the authorities decided to move the market and eventually close off the streets to motor vehicles.

As a young child I recall the smell of the exhaust fumes and my mum telling me to be careful not to get run over.

The market was moved to Cattle Market Road, itself an area where, on a Wednesday and Saturday farmers, livestock owners and smallholders brought cattle, horses, sheep, chickens and other animals to be bought and sold. Again I remember the smells and sounds of the animals as well as the dung that was on the ground (and often on the soles of my shoes)!

For many years the market has been successful.

But times move on, shopping habits have altered and there are far fewer traders prepared to operate in the ‘market stall way’. However, there are still plenty of people who wish to be offered the choice as to where to shop.

Peterborough City Council’s current proposal to relocate the market to Bridge Street seems sound and the civic society agrees with the principle.

However, there are a number of issues that need to be addressed before any final decision is made. Are all the market traders happy with the proposed site? Will rents be acceptable to them? Will the traders’ relocation costs be met? Will the stalls have reasonable access and will they look attractive?

What are the views of the shopkeepers that could have stalls immediately in front of their premises? The last thing Bridge Street wants is some sort of random ‘Festival of Sheds’, stalls thrown together in a sloppy, makeshift way.

There’s a great opportunity to design an eye-catching, innovative outdoor area that will blaze a trail in terms of look and layout whilst also satisfying existing customers and encouraging new ones. It could well be that outdoor stalls in Bridge Street are complemented by an indoor presence, particularly for perishable goods, in one of the now empty shop units.

As usual the questions are simple but the solutions aren’t.

How can the authorities develop an attractive area that Peterborians and others will want to come to? How can a market be incorporated into Bridge Street so that all businesses, old and new, feel included and involved? And perhaps most importantly, the most challenging question – how can we make our city centre become really thriving again?

The demise of the existing market should not be the end of the story.

It is just another chapter in Peterborough’s history. Change is inevitable, it’s how we manage it that is key.

Finally, who knows – we might eventually have a have a postcard market stall from which, in 2026, Arthur’s great-grandchild can buy a card to send to someone saying, ‘Wish you were here!’ We can but hope.

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