Context 165 - August 2020

12 C O N T E X T 1 6 5 : A U G U S T 2 0 2 0 PETER DE FIGUEIREDO The decline and revival of food markets Once the coronavirus crisis has receded, the revival of markets could make a big contribution to building community identity, and making available fresh, healthy, affordable food and diets. In September 2019, almost 800 years after the town of Rochdale was granted a Royal Charter to establish a market, local traders were told that their covered market would be closed the following month as it was no longer viable. This unhappy event is typical of the fate that has affected many historic markets, casualties of the internet shopping revolution, the rise of fast-food outlets and the decline of high streets. In 2009 a Parliamentary inquiry into tradi- tional markets found that the number in decline was greater than those that were more than holding their own.1 The committee expressed serious concern, pointing to the contribution markets make to social cohesion, and their role in promoting healthy eating and reducing envi- ronmental impact in the retail sector, as well as their obvious economic benefits. Noting that the majority of the 1,000 or more markets in Britain were owned and operated by local authorities, the committee urged those councils struggling to keep their markets alive to consider sharing costs and management responsibilities with the private sector, and to embrace change. Some historic markets, especially those actively promoted by their local authorities, have kept pace and never lost their appeal. Among these are the open markets at Norwich and Newark, whose loss would be unimaginable. There are also those with spectacular Victorian market halls that are symbols of civic pride.2 At Leeds Kirkgate, one of the largest markets in Europe, everything from shawarmas to shrimps, chapatis to cockles, and Yorkshire puddings to patisserie can be found beneath the soaring cast-iron- and-glass vaulted market hall. This stupendous structure, designed by John and Joseph Leeming and completed in 1904, is listed Grade II*. The same architects’ slightly earlier market hall at Halifax is equally ornate, with foliated capitals, decorative spandrels and brackets in the form of wyverns. It has recently been repaired and remains the vibrant heart of the town. Meanwhile Bury Market, which has avoided Rochdale’s fate and those of other proud indus- trial towns in the north of England, is today 1 Market Failure? Can traditional markets survive? ( 2009 ) ² Dobraszczyk, P, (2012) ‘ Victorian market halls, ornamental iron and civic intent ’ , Architectural History , 55 Norwich Market Place in 1806 by John Sell Cotman Kirkgate Market in Leeds is one of the largest markets in Europe (Photo: Wikimedia)