The opening of Preston’s new market
A reflection on the first morning
A round of applause is always encouraging, and that, along with a choral cheer that didn’t so much lift the roof as reverberate reverently beneath it, heralded the latest regeneration of Preston’s Tardis of trade when it opened today. Sadly, it’s smaller, rather than bigger, on the inside but it is still intrepidly travelling forwards through time in the same space and with a transformed shape.
Nourishment for the body and the thinking person’s procurement are promised, and the first day saw some outlets making those types of transactions, and others only presenting promissory notes. The stock-in-trade stalls swung swiftly into selling, whilst the more audacious sellers said they would be there soon, and a few others presented only vacant expressions of what their store might eventually contain. Food and drink were first off the mark and formed by far the dominant occupancy. Flowers were there too, but the full spectrum of wares won’t be seen for some time yet. On this first day, a third of the new indoor stalls were not in action, with some not yet fitted out and others still waiting to be allocated.
Historically speaking, for a town to thrive it needed two things: a reliable water supply and a market. In Preston’s past the river Ribble was there before the settlement, the market surely followed soon after. The borough was famously granted a royal charter for commerce in 1179, a privilege still commemorated every twenty years in the Preston Guild celebrations. Trading would have taken place prior to that time, but the charter officially recognised the town as a major market centre.
There is speculation that the first market place may have been just to the west of the Parish church, a deduction prompted by the fact that archaeology shows that Church Street was much wider there than on the eastern side. By the middle of the thirteenth century the market appears to have been moved to the square between Cheapside and where the Harris Museum now stands. The first covered market, on the site of the new structure, disastrously collapsed on 6th August 1870. The current roof was designed by Benjamin Sykes of the architectural practice titled with the wonderful nomenclature Garlick, Park and Sykes, and was constructed by the boat-building firm of Thomas Allsup in 1875.
The new market building opened this month was built by local firm Conlon Construction. It encloses about forty per cent of the previously open environment and will replace the adjacent indoor market which, it has to be said, had become tired and somewhat under-occupied following nearly half a century of operation. That structure comprised sixty-eight stalls and seven shop lets on the ground floor with fifty-four stalls and six shops on the upper floor. The new market replaces these with just thirty stalls, though there are other more rudimentary stands outside the new enclosure, and a ‘box’ market is to open next month across the road and beneath the canopy of what was traditionally known as ‘the Fish Market’.
The proof of the fresh emporium will be in the purveying. It must be given time to bed-in and build up. The structure certainly has a more modern feel and the seam between the enclosed and unbounded spaces is delicately done. Once both retailers and purchasers find their respective rhythms it could create a conducive conclave, especially on sunny days. The atmosphere is certainly much more agora than mortuary, which was the mood its predecessor was declining towards in its latter days.
Your scribe was randomly accosted whilst photographing the new structure by someone who claimed to have manned a fruit and veg stall towards the Starch House Square end of the site as far back as 1957. He declared the new build a white elephant, adding that he hoped he would be proved wrong. People’s shopping habits have changed he said. It’s all online and supermarkets now. On one level he’s right, but life’s not all about convenience. Specialisation, conversation and commonality count for a lot. Other cities have shown that living markets are not dead yet, and this kind of rejuvenation may provide lifeblood for the next generation of Preston patronage.
Let’s hope so; better still, let’s buy into it.
 Hunt, David, A History of Preston, page 17, Carnegie, 1992
 Sartin, Stephen Preston Past and Present, page 27, Landy 1992