The earliest evidence for a fair in Warrington is a charter dated 20 October 1255, when the population of the town was no more than 700 people. The charter grants the 7th Baron of Warrington, Sir William Fitz Almeric le Boteler, the right to hold:
"A three day fair yearly at his manor of Wherington, on the eve, day and morrow of translation of St Thomas the Martyr, and also a market on Wednesdays."
The medieval market
Later, King Edward I granted two more charters. One in 1277 added a weekly market on Fridays and a winter's fair on the feast of St Andrew. And one in 1285 said that the baron could hold a weekly market on Wednesdays and extend the July fair by five days.
A Royal Charter was important to the landowner as it meant they could charge rents and tolls to the sellers and it protected them from other market operators. This protection still exists as, under common law, the holder of a market charter can take action against anyone who opens, or tries to open, a market within 6 and 2/3 miles of its charter market.
By the middle of the 15th century the population of the town had increased to about 1,300 people and, even though travelling was hard, Warrington’s markets and fairs were known far and near. The lanes around the market became so crowded with stalls and animals that an open space had to be made in the north west corner of the crossroads. On early maps this was called the ‘forum’, and later the ‘corn market’.
The rights to collect tolls on these markets and fairs remained with the barons of Warrington, and later with the lords of the manor, until 1856 when the new corporation bought them from John Ireland Blackburne, the then Lord of the Manor.
The Victorian market
Three years later the Warrington Improvement and Market Act said the corporation could hold and maintain a market, and could also to build on any land purchased under the powers of the Act, or on any land forming part of any street. The buildings were market houses and places for the sale of cattle, hay and other articles.
After much debate a new market hall for meat traders was built in 1856, which was an impressive brick and stone building.
It was extended in 1873, adding a cast iron-framed fish market hall. Later, a glass-roofed general market hall was built on land behind the Barley Mow Inn.
The market in the 1960s-1970s
By the late 1960s, the Victorian market halls had become outdated and they couldn’t meet the modern standards of health and hygiene. It was impossible to build a new market around the old without stopping trading for a long time.
When Warrington became a New Town, the town centre was redeveloped and the market was moved to Bank Street, where it would provide a counterbalance to the new Golden Square shopping centre.
The new market was designed on three levels, based on the natural fall of the ground, meaning that each floor came out at ground level. It gave service access to the back of shops on Bridge Street via a tunnel from the basement. The roof was designed so that it didn’t need structural supports taking up space in the middle of the market halls. The roof had a system of pyramid units (36 in all), glazed only on one side to distribute light evenly. The building opened in July 1974, at a cost of £1.5 million pounds.
The market now
In 2015, the Time Square development was approved, which includes the building of new council offices, new retail units and restaurants, a cinema, and a brand new market hall.
The 1974 market hall, now old and only half-full, was demolished in 2017, and traders old and new moved into a newly-built building next door. The fully-let, 54-stall temporary market hall opened on 2 September 2017 and will stay until spring 2020, when traders old and new will move into a brand new, purpose-built market hall.
The new market will face onto Bridge Street and use the listed façade of the old Boots building. The food court will face out onto the new Time Square, and will allow al fresco dining late into the evening. The temporary hall will then be used for other retail/leisure. Come and visit Warrington Market!