Brian Moseley, Plymouth
Webpage created: July 05, 2017
Webpage updated: April 06, 2022




Also known as The Plymouth, Fruit, Fish and Poultry Market.

When the new Guildhall was being erected in 1800 there was a lack of provision for a Shambles and so it was decided to erect a separate market.  The site chosen was officially known as "Saunder's Meadow" but was unofficially called "Bloody Field" because a young boy had drowned in a pond there.  The field was owned by a Mr Peter Ilbert and was purchased from him for 4,000.  A tontine loan of 10,000 was raised for building the market and the foundation stone was laid in 1804.

Plymouth Market was opened on Tuesday September 29th 1807 by the Mayor, Mr Thomas Lockyer, and the Mayor-Elect, Mr Thomas Eales.

Although the Market was owned by Plymouth Corporation, the lessee in 1836 was a Mr Thomas Ham of Park Street, Plymouth.

Mr Ham's lease expired on Lady Day 1840 and the property then devolved back to the Corporation.  The Market Committee decided to make some changes to the conditions and nature of the lease so that they could maintain 'an effectual control over the occupants and ensure their observance of the general orders and regulations'.  They promptly reduced the period of tenancy from annually to monthly and made it terminable by 28 days' notice.

Various improvements followed, all carried out under the supervision of Mr Adams, the Borough Surveyor.  The total cost of these works and general repairs that year cost under 1,500.

The Cattle Market was removed from the back of the pork butchery to a field near the Cattle Pound in Tavistock Road.  It was only accessible from that Road but was to have a second entrance created from Rowe Street and the addition of a shed for the accommodation of the cattle dealers.  Twice as many cattle pens were provided as there were in the old Cattle Market.

The Plymouth Pannier Market in 1933.


The remnants of the Plymouth pannier Market in 1956,
with New George Street in the centre of the map and Old Town Street on the right.

Part of the former Vegetable Market was used to provide a new Fish Market building 160 feet long and 13 feet wide, which was divided by two ranges of granite pillars leaving a space down the middle of some 6 feet in width.  The columns supported a cupola roof extending the whole length of the building, which with two shorter cupolas in the main roof, provided light and ventilation and shaded the Market from direct sunlight.  Forty-six slate slabs supported on iron pillars were provided for the fish merchants and each was directly supplied with fresh water.  It was intended to provide gas lighting.

An unusual view over the rooftops of the triangular-shaped Meat Market, taken in 1952.
The one new shop in New George Street at the top left of the picture
was the Plymouth branch of Messrs W H Smith and Son Limited.
City of Plymouth Museum and Art Gallery.

On part of the former Fish Market a new Corn Exchange was in the course of completion.  This was on the first floor and consisted of a lofty room, 77 feet long by 20 feet wide, lit by seven windows on the east side, two in each of the north and south ends, with skylights in the roof.  The room was approached by two flights of granite steps, one at each end of the room, and was supported on an arcade of wrought limestone.  A clock was to be fixed in the pediment of the building.

The area beneath the Corn Exchange was to be fitted out for the sale of butter and poultry but the developments reportedly undertaken in the following year (see below) suggest this may not have happened.

This reorganization 'enabled the Committee to remove from the centre of the Market Place the numerous carts which occupied very unprofitably that valuable extent of ground'.

Also in 1840 the Corporation adopted some new regulations for the conduct of the fairs that took place in the Borough, which were described as an 'admitted nuisance and fertile source of profligacy'.  Luckily the Corporation found that what they lost financially from the rents at the fairs was more than made up for by the increase in the rents from the Market.

The Market Gate at the Cornwall Street end.
Note the tower of Saint Andrew's Church in the background.
  City of Plymouth Museum and Art Gallery.

During 1841 further improvements were undertaken.  The space beneath the Corn Chamber, previously occupied by Fish Stalls, was converted into a row of stalls for the sale of fruit, flowers, baskets and garden produce.  A roof was constructed over the former roadway to the north of the Poultry Market, an area formerly used for the sale of vegetables.  The numerous dealers in manufactured goods who had previously had stalls in that space were moved to new "standings" against the southern wall of the Fish Market.  In addition, four cook's shops were erected in the north-east corner of the market place.  Finally, the old Weighing House at the eastern end of the former Corn Market was demolished and a new one, accessible from all sides, was erected at the southern end of the row formerly occupied by the country butchers.  The butchers' stalls were moved to the area formerly occupied by the fruit and basket stalls.  All that work cost around 800.

The "standings" on the south side of the Fish Market were occupied by vendors of manufactured goods.  But the stalls were 'without any convenience for the deposit and security of their wares' and the Committee were of the opinion that if they allowed the stallholders 'to inclose (sic) their stalls according to their individual taste' would deface the appearance of the row.  However, the dealers did agree that the Market Committee could, by using old materials at their disposal, construct 24 "standings" for their use and that the tenants would be prepared to pay an extra six pence a week on top of their normal rent.  The cost of doing the work was 11 8s.

So popular was the Pannier Market, however, that the Market Committee still had one accommodation problem to resolve.  The stalls had now been removed from every foot-way in the Market except one, beneath the wall adjoining the Drake Street Gate.  Here were the sellers of iron and tin-ware and other manufactured commodities but 'their stalls are unsightly in appearance as swell as encroachment on the public thoroughfare'.  Collectively they paid a weekly rent amounting to around 4 and several of them were among the oldest tenants of the Corporation.  But the Market Committee had no spare space to allocate to them so had to leave where they were for the present.

Plans were invited in 1853 for the rebuilding of the Market and the first contract was awarded to a Mr C Eales of London.

The Mayor used to be the Clerk of the Market and had the revenue from the Shambles to help put food in his kitchen.  He carried out regular inspections.  On a visit to the butter market on Saturday May 7th 1853, 'for the purpose of testing the weight of the apparent pounds and half-pounds of butter exposed for sale', he and his assistants confiscated 50lbs of butter from one merchant alone.

The prices of merchandise in the Pannier Market on October 13th 1855 were:

  • beef, 6d to 7d per lb;
  • mutton, 6d to 7d per lb;
  • veal, 6d to 6d per lb;
  • lamb, 6d to 7d per lb;
  • pork, 7d to 8d per lb;
  • geese, 3s 6d to 5s 6d each;
  • ducks, 4s 6d to 6s 6d per couple;
  • fowls, 3s to 4s per pair;
  • hares, 2s 6d to 3s each;
  • rabbits, 1s 8d to 2s per pair;
  • butter, 1s 4d to 1s 5d per lb;
  • eggs, 12 to 16 for a shilling;
  • potatoes, 6s 6d to 7s 6d per bag;
  • apples, 6d to 2s 6d per 100;
  • kidney beans, 1d per 100;
  • cucumbers, 1 to 3d each.
  • Fish was very scarce.

New iron gates, with granite piers, were erected at each of the entrances to the Market early in 1858.  Other improvements were made within the Market itself, of which the local press considered the new frontage to the butcher's stall of Mr James Ford to be the most significant.  It was designed by Mr O C Arthur, the local architect, and 'so far outshines its humbler neighbours that we do not doubt other tradesmen will follow the example of Mr Ford.....'.

The Market Gates at the Market Place end.
  City of Plymouth Museum and Art Gallery.

When the Market was put out to tender on Tuesday March 20th 1860 it was said to have upwards of 100 butchers' stalls, a spacious fish market, covered standings for the sale of poultry, vegetables and fruit, and five eating houses.

Mr Skardon, the auctioneer, held an auction in the Council Chamber of the Guildhall on Tuesday May 7th 1872 for the letting of the Market, Cattle Market and Abattoirs.  The bidding for the Market was opened by Mr Temple with an offer of 4,000.  Mr Sergeant immediately increased that to 4,100.  Vigorous bidding then ensued, in sums of tens and twenty pounds, from Messrs Box, Edwards, Percy, Temple and Willcocks until the sum of 4,309 was reached.  All but Mr Percy and Mr Willcocks relinquished the fight and the two men continued until Mr Willcocks, who had previously held the lease for 4,250, won it at 4.450.  He also acquired the lease of the slaughter-house in Glanville Street for 161 and the abattoir on North Quay for 30.

In 1882 other plans were obtained from a Mr C King and a Mr H Alty, the main result of which was the construction of Market Avenue in 1891.  The Avenue was formally "opened" as a public highway by the Mayor, Mr J T Bond, with the members and friends of the Corporation, driving through the Market on the way to open the reconstructed Drake's Place Reservoir on Wednesday July 22nd 1891.

Once the rebuilding and alterations were finished, the most northerly building was the Fish Market.  This was accessible from Cornwall Street and from Radford Place.  South of that was the Fruit and Poultry Market, also accessible from both ends.  Through the centre of the Market, from Cornwall Street to Old Town Avenue, ran Market Avenue, with shops on either side.  At the rear of the southern range of shops were numbers 31 to 43 of the Meat Market, which was triangular in shape.  The Weighing House was in the centre with shops on each of the three sides and an entrance in the south-eastern corner facing the main entrance beneath the Corn Exchange.  Ranged around the outside wall were numbers 1 to 14 in the south-west and numbers 17 to 30 in the south-east.

Part of the Meat Market just before demolition in April 1952.
City of Plymouth Museum and Art Gallery.

The shops on the outside of the southerly wall of the Market were in East Street but were known as Market Buildings.  Those outside the eastern wall, after the entrance to the Corn Exchange, were in Market Place.  There were also seven shops between the entrance gates from Old Town Avenue and Drake Street, known as Radford Place.

Another part of the Meat Market, with the entrance from Market Avenue
on the extreme left of the picture.
City of Plymouth Museum and Art Gallery.

In the 1890s the horse-trams from Compton terminated in a loop in Old Town Avenue, just outside the Market Gate.

It was reported in 1893 that the Meat Market had the capacity for hanging 88 carcasses of beef or 430 carcasses of sheep but although it covered an area of 2,515 square feet it was inadequate for meeting the existing requirements.

The Superintendent of the Market was also the Keeper of the City Pound and the Caretaker of the Corn Exchange.  This post was held for ten years by Mr William Henry Abrams of 12 Ashery Drive, Hooe, Plymstock.

During the Second World War many of the shops fronting East Street were damaged when Bedford Street and Old Town Street went up in flames.  But most of the Market managed to survive the onslaught and proved of great benefit after the worst raids of March and April 1941 were over.  Major retailers like Woolworth's and Marks & Spencer, whose premises were totally destroyed, were given stalls in the Market building, while the smaller ex-Market traders opened stalls in the adjoining Drake Street in October 1941.  This gave rise to "Tin Pan Alley", a line of corrugated iron temporary stalls.

Messrs F W Woolworth re-opened for business in the market hall at 10am on Friday October 10th 1941.

Known as "The Back of the Market", in the foreground is Old Town Avenue,
 leading on to Market Avenue, date late 1940s, early 1950s.
In Market Place are the railings of the underground toilets.
  Western Morning News Company Limited.

It was very busy in the old Market in the 1940s, where many local businesses had stalls.

It was very busy in the old Market in the 1940s,
where many local businesses had stalls.
  Western Morning News Company Limited.

The Marks and Spencer Limited stalls in the post-war Pannier Market.
From "The New Book of Plymouth" by Mr W Best Harris (1913-1987).

Although fish was sold in the Pannier Market there were a number of ladies who ran handcarts selling fresh fish throughout the City Centre.  These handcarts were totally uncovered and were often parked in roadways alongside the pavement.  A popular venue was underneath the railway arch in Union Street while a photograph above shows some at "The Back of the Market".  The photograph below shows some of them at an unidentified site which looks ass though it might be adjacent to Tin Pan Alley.  Note how the fish is uncovered, totally open to the elements, flies, and petrol and diesel fumes.

Fish sellers' and their handcarts at an unidentified site in Plymouth during the Second World War.
Hulton Picture Library, reproduced as a Nostalgia postcard.

Market Buildings, in East Street, were demolished in January 1952 to make way for the eastwards extension of New George Street and the new premises for Messrs John Yeo & Company.  The shop on the corner with the Meat Market had been the home of Messrs Fernley Wallis (Chemists) Ltd for the previous 38 years and the other premises had recently been occupied by Battershill's the newsagents and Swiss's toy shop.

Work on demolishing "Tin Pan Alley" started on February 11th 1952.   The Wholesale Meat Market, along with the Corn Exchange, closed early in 1952 and was being demolished in April of that year.

The Pannier Market itself, which had long seen the end of 'Panniers' anyway, closed on Saturday September 5th 1959.  At closing there were 122 permanent weekly stalls occupied by 95 tenants, one wholesaler with six stalls and another 52 shops.  There were also what were known as "daily benches".

One of the oldest tenants, Mrs Mabel Martin, rang the closing bell, which also started a firework display and a party.

Sunday September 6th 1959 was moving day, when the every available motor vehicle was commandeered to transfer the tenants and their wares from the old building into the new Market.  The fruit-sellers, usually early starters, were first to start packing their vehicles at 6am.  The new premises opened at 7am and soon cars packed with fruit and vegetables, and even a weighing machine, were making the short journey between the two sites.