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History of the Northampton Market

Northampton's Market Square hosts one of the longest-running markets on record in the UK. It has a rich and varied history dating back to the 12th Century.


1189 - Northampton received its first market charter allowing markets and fairs to be held on the ground east of All Saints.

1235 - The market moves to its present location in the Market Square after King Henry III forbade the selling of goods in the churchyard of All Saints.

1516 - the town was destroyed by fire for the first time.

1530 - The Market Square was paved.

1675 - The Great Fire of Northampton devastated the Town Centre, destroying over 600 buildings in just six hours. Local people raised around £25,000 towards rebuilding the town centre based around the Market Square.

16th and 17th Centuries - Strict legislation covered all aspects of trading. No foreign traders were allowed on the Square. A peculiar order from the time states "No butchers or fishmonger's wife shall fall out with one another nor use or speak any evil or slanderous words or otherwise revile". Anyone who flouted the order was under the threat of the stocks or a three shilling fine.

17th Century - Large-scale horse markets in the town were described by Daniel Defoe as 'the centre of all horse markets and horse fairs in England'. They were held four times a year.

1828 - A balloon ascent from the Square ended with it failing to take flight and the female aeronaut having to escape through an attic window.

1845 - Famous firework artist and tightrope walker, Joseph Gyngell, ascended a tightrope whilst holding two lit fireworks. He threw one of them into the watching crowd, unfortunately killing an onlooking spectator.

1863 - A cast iron fountain was presented to the town by a Captain Isaacs to commemorate the marriage of Prince Albert (later King Edward VII) to Princess Alexandra of Denmark. The fountain stood until 1962.

1873 - The town's cattle market was built. Before which, animals were penned and sold on the Market Square and the surrounding streets - hence the names of the Sheep Street and Marefair.

1874 - The Square was the scene of the Bradlaugh Riots when supporters of Charles Bradlaugh believed an election had been rigged. Soldiers fired shots over the heads of the crowd to disperse them.

19th Century - Fun fairs offering the popular amusements of the day such as dancing bears, acrobats, jugglers and sideshows were regularly held on the Market Square. Steam driven Carousels and other rides also made appearances.

1913 - King George V visited and was received on the Market Square.

1930s  - The Square was the venue for an open-air cinema with films used to enlist troops for the armed forces.

Second World War - The square was used for War Weapon Weeks to raise money for Spitfires, Warships and Tanks.

2023 - The Market is temporarily relocated to allow for redevelopment of the Square, taking approximately 18 months - find out more about this and other current regeneration projects.

Last updated 13 February 2024