23 August 1199 King John granted the abbot of St Albans the right to hold
a weekly market every Thursday in Barnet. For the king, granting such
charters was a useful way of raising cash, but he and his leading tenants
were also keen to stimulate trade and economic growth.
Many markets were founded at this period, and those like Barnet with good
locations usually flourished, bringing continuing profit both to the lord
of the manor and to local inhabitants. As we have seen, the market gave
Chipping Barnet its name and distinctive urban character:
The original market place was at the top of the hill, where the road junction
also provided a conveniently wide area, even larger before the church
was added, probably in the 13th century. Other buildings, permanent stalls
and eventually the market hall, then began to cluster against the church,
forming a Middle Row with narrow streets either side.
Middle Row was demolished in 1889/90, but even today it is easy to see
why the stretch of High Street along the church's eastern side was long
known as 'the squeeze', 'the bottleneck' and 'the narrow neck'.
The market day was changed to Monday in 1588 and then to Wednesday, probably
in the mid-18th century. In the mid-19th the site was moved off the main
road and into a space adjoining St Albans Road, and an extra market day,
Saturday, was added in 1960.The bare details, and even a visit to today's
market, give little sense of the sights and smells of the medieval market
place. Local people came to buy and sell food and pottery, but the market
was also one of the major trading centres ringing London, selling cattle
and livestock, wool and hides, corn and other grain, in quantities far
beyond local needs.
Here country drovers and carters sold their stock on to London dealers,
and although some animals were driven on, others were fattened up and
slaughtered by local butchers, so that Barnet had its Shambles. It was
also involved in even wider trade: in 1333 Barnet was one of the 32 manors
which supplied the prior of the Hospitallers (one of the" military
religious orders initially founded to help recapture the Holy Land) with
380 horses, 399 oxen, 572 cows, 137 calves, 1,201 pigs, 10,353 sheep,
2,620 lambs, 40, sacks of wool, and 200 marks-weight of silver –vessels
for trade to merchants in Florence.
After 1539 the new lay lords of the manor were equally eager to profit,
and in 1588 Queen Elizabeth (who, like King John, did a lot of this) granted
a new charter renewing the market and adding an annual fair.
The market house, at the southern end of Middle Row, was probably built
soon afterwards: William Linacres, citizen and haberdasher of London,
bequeathed £5 towards its construction in 1588, and Robert Searche
of Barnet bequeathed 5s to glazing one of its windows in 1595.
It was typical of its kind, timber-framed, open on the ground level, and
with a large room on the upper floor, supported on twelve timber posts
and reached by an external staircase.
By the mid-19th century the ground floor had been walled, and it was later
used as a shop.
It perished with the rest of Middle Row.The 1588 move to a Monday market
seems to have been particularly helpful to Barnet's role as a meat provider.
In 1592 the inhabitants of Leighton Buzzard complained that it was forestalling
their own Tuesday one, and a draft parliamentary bill, never implemented,
changed it back to Thursday. More seriously, the Court of Aldermen in
London ordered in 1597 that "the Wardens of the Companye of Butchers
shall presentile attend Mr Recorder for his advize in a cause towching
a market of Cattell kepte at Barnett to the preidudice of the markets
within this Citty".
The London butchers then began to persuade drovers to drive the cattle
in closer, Barnet protested, and in 1630 the butchers denied to the Court
of Aldermen that this bypassing was making beef dearer. They also remarked
that there was still plenty of corn and coal to be had there, but the
meat must have been central since in 1631/2 "the restoring of Barnet
Market" surfaced in the House of Lords and in 1636 the Privy Council
ordered the Middlesex Justices of the Peace "to consider the consequences
of the overthrow of Barnet Market"', noting that "the object
of the butchers was to discontinue Barnet Market and to establish in lieu
thereof a new Monday market in West Smithfield".
All that was new in this was the day, since Smithfield had had cattle
markets and fairs for centuries, but it seems to have been effective,
and Smithfield soon afterwards largely superseded Barnet Market for cattle.
Pigs may have been brought in to help fill the gap; pig drovers were robbed
en route to Barnet in 1682; a stretch of the hill up into the town was
known as Hoggy Lane from the 17th century, and directories of 1823 and
1831 refer to the market's sales of pork and pigs. But probably by 1839,
and certainly by 1850, the market had expired, killed off not only by
Smithfield but also by the increase in coach traffic.
Ironically, though, just at the point when we know that coaches had killed
the market, the railways slaughtered coaching. The London-Birmingham railway
line opened in 1838, with instantaneous effect even before the Great Northern
Railway mainline through Barnet followed in 1850. Coaches rapidly vanished,
and drovers, animals and markets could reclaim the streets, although the
hygienic disadvantages of a town-centre location remained obvious.
At some point in the mid-19th century the lord of the manor finally sold
the market, apparently to local auctioneers. By the mid-1860s the 1st
edition of the Ordnance Survey shows Market Place next to the Green Man
at the junction of St Albans Road, and it was presumably here that the
first re-established cattle market was held in 1869 (not, as used to be
thought, 1849). The present market site, almost next door, came into operation
in 1874, and until the 1940s the cattle market remained very lively. Thereafter
various changes - increased regulation of slaughtering, butchers preferring
to buy ready processed meat from wholesalers, fewer local farms - combined
to hasten its decline, and the last cattle auction was held on 19 August
1959. The gates to the cattle pens and the weighbridge were sold, and
cleared site became a general, and still flourishing, stall market.
MARY PAYNE'S PLACE From the mid-19th century to the mid-20th the market
was more exclusively concerned with cattle than previously, and this may
explain the success of a supplemental market at Mary Payne's Place, on
the opposite, eastern, side of the High Street just north of Bath Place,
specialising in fruit, vegetables and flowers brought in from the surrounding
countryside. Also known as the Poor Man's Market, this too operated on
a Wednesday, but also on Saturdays when it stayed open until 11 in the
evening, allowing men who were still able to do so to collect provisions
for Sunday lunch. It may have been started by ex-servicemen after World
War I, and closed either in 1929, when John Swain's wanted to expand over
the site, or within the following decade.
Market now have their own web site with more history and an update on
what is happening to the market. Go to http://www.fobm.co.uk/index.html