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The history of Colchester Market

Colchester Cattle Market High Street 1850 - 1862




Colchester's market dates back to the late Anglo-Saxon period and possibly even earlier.  In 1189 the King granted the townspeople the right to hold a market, and while Colchester Market still thrives today, it has changed many times during the last 800 years.

Today Colchester Market is held every Friday and Saturday but in 1285 the market was held on Wednesdays and Saturdays.  Historical records show that by 1380 there was an unlicensed Thursday market and by 1464 the market was held at least six days a week with produce varying from day to day.  

Colchester High Street livestock market 1850 - 1862.

Throughout the long and rich history of the market there have also been a number of speciality markets.  1443 saw the introduction of a separate fish market for the sale of fish caught in the River Colne; the market was located at the Hythe for over 150 years.  Although there was a livestock market day in the town centre, the market charter of 1693 permitted a weekly livestock market just off Harwich Road.

By the early 1800's the Saturday livestock market in High Street briefly moved to Balkerne Hill amongst claims that it had become an obstruction but it quickly returned to the High Street following a petition from traders.  It is thought that loose cattle stood east of St. Runwald's church, pigs could be found between George Lane and the Swan inn, extending into St. Nicholas's Street if necessary, and bulls were kept near St. Runwald's church. 

Colchester High Street 1840 Colchester High Street on market day 1858

         Colchester High Street on market day 1840                               Colchester High Street on market day 1858

These are stereoscopic images, like an early form of  a 3D image. Two photographs where taken from the same location with one slightly offset.  When viewed through a special viewer the images appeared to be three dimensional.

Middleborough Cattle and sheep market 1898        Cattle and sheep market at Oscar Way Middleborough 1900  

    Middleborough cattle and sheep market 1898                             Cattle and sheep market Middleborough 1900

In 1862 the livestock market moved to Middleborough at the bottom of North Hill, with permanent animal pens.  The cattle market was later moved to Severalls Lane on the northern edge of the town in 1975.

Market stalls on Colchester High Street July 1959        Colchester Market Culver Street West 2012
Colchester High Street July 1959                                                     Colchester Market Culver Street West 2012
In 1888 Colchester's general market was only held on Saturdays but by 1929 the street market was held daily until 1989 when once again the general market only took place on Saturdays.



The information contained within this article was sourced from: 'Markets and fairs', A History of the County of Essex: Volume 9: The Borough of Colchester (1994), pp. 269-274. URL: http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=22000 (Date accessed: 12 October 2012).  The images are courtesy of Colchester and Ipswich Museum Service.