The New Market Square (1826 - 1871)

With the amazing growth of Bolton towards the end of the eighteenth century and beginning of the nineteenth century, came the need for a more spacious arrangement than Churchgate.  In 1826 the open space now known as Victoria Square was opened as the “New Market Place”.  Previously the suare, it is believed, was a bowling green surrounded by chains hanging from posts, with a stream that flowed between pleasant banks towards Bridgeman Place.  Oxford Street at the time was slowly extending southwards, but Newport Street as far as Great Moor Street was devoid of houses or shops.

The market at Churchgate had grown haphazardly, without restraint, until it became an embarrassment in its growth.  Its removal to the purpose-built New Market Place was evidence of the greater degree of planning involved in controlling the growth of Bolton.  The shape of the market had also changed, it was no longer a straggling street market, but a self-contained Market Square which became the focal point of the town’s trading and social life as well as of greater convenience for the traders … “the new market is a great convenience for the farmers and causes more provisions to be brought into the town for the benefit of the inhabitants.  When the farmers were compelled to stand in the public thoroughfare they were obliged to be here on Friday night to procure a place for their carts, consequently they had the turnpikes to pay on Friday and Saturday when they returned.  Now they arrived on the Saturday morning and return in the evening, they only have to pay the turnpikes once, giving the inhabitants a chance of having their provisions as cheap as they have them in large towns”.

(Bolton Chronicle, 9.10.1830)

The New Market Place was claimed to be the finest uncovered market in the country.  At the opening, Mr Benjamin Hick of the Soho Iron Works, presented a gas lamp which was a feature of the square for many years.  Later, Benjamin Hick’s son, John, gave the circular water trough round the base of the lamp.  Sometime after the opening of the market, “The People’s Drinking Fountain” was erected near the lamp.  It took the form of a bronze nymph pouring water from a vase, and was made by the Coalbrookdale works.  The cost was met entirely by subscriptions from the workers of the town.

The square was bordered by shops eager to profit from the attraction of the market, and grand buildings such as the Exchange Buildings (1828) once described as “lofty, open and elegant”.  From 1857 the General Post Office was at the South West corner of the Market Place.

The stalls on the market were used by all types of traders, though butchers, bakers and fruit sellers predominated.  The fishmongers continued to hold their stands at the cross.  By this time shops had become well established and had taken away, in part, some of the market’s trade.

Although the market place offered better provision for traders and buyers alike, the transition did not occur quickly nor easily: a certain resistance to the move was evident.  By 1829 the Market Place was still underused, so that the Trustees were obliged to authorise the use of the Market Place rather than the streets.  The tolls payable could have deterred potential traders, but all tradesmen had to have a licence to sell, no matter where.

It was ordered that, “all carts and carriages bringing produce to the market for sale (except carts laden with herrings) shall expose the same in the New Market Place; that no cart or carriage shall be allowed to stand in any street of the town either empty or full”.  Also “that the pot market be removed into t he area of the Town Hall plot: that the same be levelled and convenient for that purpose”, (previously situated elsewhere in Bolton).  Nelson Square was designated as the live cattle market; it had previously been held in Bridgeman Place.  The Boroughreeve (town official), Mr John Bolling of Great Bolton, and the constables appointed along with him, were authorised to enforce all the orders and regulations of the Trustees, and the orders were printed on large bills and posted on the walls in the streets, and advertised in the local newspapers.  Eventually the Market Square became a thriving trading centre, but this site soon became inconvenient.

The New Market Place became inadequate, as Churchgate had been in earlier days, and the stalls and carts began to crowd the surrounding streets, so becoming a source of inconvenience to the town’s business and traffic.  The opening of the Market Hall in 1855 served to alleviate this problem as it absorbed the retail trade, leaving the Square to be used as a wholesale market for farmers’ produce only.  Yet this arrangement was shortlived, as the site that the wholesale market occupied had long been thought of as one ideal for a Town Hall.  It was considered inappropriate that the Square should be used as a market, so prior to the commencement of the Town Hall’s construction (1873) the market was moved to a new site.