ROTHERHAM Markets has been in the current spot for 50 years — but the tradition began in town eight years before the signing of the Magna Carta.
The earliest record is the grant of a charter to Eustace de Vescey by King John in 1207.
These rights remained in the hands of the Vescey family until 1284, when Edward I confirmed their transfer to the Monks of Rufford Abbey, who held them until the dissolution of the monasteries in 1536.
And there are records of additional charter rights being granted during this period by Edward I and II, in 1306, 1308 and 1315.
After the dissolution, the market and fairs rights attached to the Manor of Rotherham were granted under letters patent by Henry VIII to the Earl of Shrewsbury, and passed in succession to the Earl of Arundel, Duke of Norfolk and finally to the Effingham family.
The Earl of Effingham was one of the principal shareholders in the Company of Proprietors of the Rotherham Market Place, who obtained powers under the Rotherham Market and Improvement Act 1801 to “enlarge and improve” the facilities.
These powers were passed in 1863 to Rotherham and Kimberworth Local Board of Health, which was merged into the borough when Rotherham was granted its Charter of Incorporation in 1871.
Before 1877, when the old market hall was built, there was a corn exchange at the site. A weekly butter market was held beneath the building.
The old slaughterhouse — in regular use before being completely rebuilt and modernised in 1936 — was erected by the old company of proprietors after its formation in 1801.
Before this, public streets were among the places where slaughtering took place.
The old market hall was built in 1877. It burned down in 1888, and was rebuilt the following year.
Come the mid-20th century, there was the need for a more modern set-up.
The current complex — between Howard Street and Drummond Street — began trading on March 26, 1971. It was called the Centenary Markets, given this was 100 years on from the formation of the borough.
The markets development cost £550,000 and the main contractors were George Longden and Son Ltd.
The Advertiser welcomed the completed project — “in all its splendid architectural appeal”.
A report from the time added: “The outstandingly attractive design tens to put the old market hall to shame, but traders will be quick to point out that it’s the picture that matters, not the frame, and they will be all out to retain the high standard which was so prevalent at Corporation Street.”
It was thought to be the first three-level market in the country. It boasted 87 stalls across its 75,000sq ft, and was connected to the new C&A store.
The Advertiser said at the time: “The stalls flaunt all the gaudy colour of the ancient market place, but use different materials from the traditional wood and canvas.
“The new designs come to the fore, mild-steel frames, red and white plastic roller shutters, blockboard and formica surfacings, with multi-coloured pyramids of fibreglass for roofs.”
At the start of the 1960s, the borough’s planning and development committee was said to be making good progress with housing schemes, school building and health and welfare services — but there were no plans for the town centre.
In an interview with the Advertiser in December 1969, planning committee chairman Alderman Stanley Crowther, said that in his early says as chairman, there was a planning staff of three, and things like the new market, St. Ann’s development and inner by-pass were just a line on a piece of paper.
“During the 60s, I was often asked how long it was going to take to bring about the apparently grandiose visions of the new town centre, and I used to reply that 15 years would see quite a transformation,” said Alderman Crowther.
He seems to have erred on the side of caution, as the completion of C&A and the new market building was seen as a major step.
“There is no doubt that the splendid new market will do nothing but good for the town,” said the Advertiser in 1971. “It’s a place where you will really enjoy shopping, it has almost a relaxed atmosphere and really is a credit to all those who helped to bring about this boost to the town.”
Alderman T Heath, chairman of the Rotherham Corporation Markets and Baths Committee, unveiled a plaque at the official opening of the new Rotherham market on the day it opened.
Addressing a small crowd, he noted that there was no denying the popularity of the old market, but said the new one provided a more comfortable and cheerful setting for shoppers.
It was a very fine building, of which the people of Rotherham could be justly proud, he added.
Assuming the relevant Government funding is forthcoming, the markets could be set for a new chapter soon — staying at the same site but adding in the town centre library, which is set to move out of Riverside House.
“I’ve been around our family’s stall since I was five...”
SELLING is in the blood — just ask Rotherham Markets’ longest-serving stallholder.
Alison Longden (née Vickerage) has been around the place from 1959 — when she was five.
Now 67, she still works at her stall — B&A Longden on the upper floor — and is currently working her way back from a bout of ill health.
Nowadays, the stall is all about watches, repairs, household goods and hardware.
But it was started by her parents, Albert and Wynne, selling remnants and off-cuts of clothing materials.
Alison, of Todwick, said: “My mum started at the markets when I was five. Dad was at Steel Peech and Tozer.
“She would go to work, She started with an investment of £100, which was a lot of money then.
“For the first five years, Dad worked three shifts. If he was on mornings, he’d go to the market after. If he was on nights, he stopped up and took her to help get the stall set up.
“After that, he decided to risk it and packed up work for the markets. He didn’t drive. They used to use Tom Kerney’s taxis, and the business moved to more haberdashery.
“There was no childcare then, so I was wrapped up warm and taken along to the market from the age of five.
“I’ve been at Rotherham markets all my life, except for between the ages of 15 and 24, when I trained as a hairdresser and set up on Wellgate.”
Alison’s return to her true calling on the markets came after Albert needed an operation. She took over the Sheffield market side of the family’s venture to begin with, before moving across to Rotherham.
By this time, the new (and current) complex had opened — and it was hectic on the stalls.
“When I was hairdressing, I would finish at 2pm on Saturdays and come to the market,” said Alison. “Mum would have six working with her because it was so busy.
“Derek Beale had the butcher’s opposite. They had a double queue and we would be six deep, so you couldn’t get past there.”
In 1986, Alison married Barry Longden, a third generation marketeer whose family ran Arnold & Graham in Sheffield for over a century.
“We added the electrical stall on the other side,” said Alison. “They were like opposites, and when one was busy, the other was quiet, which was good because it meant I could split myself between the two.
“Twenty-four years ago we closed the sewing stall and did watches,” said Alison. “I moved the sewing to the outside market for a while, but it didn’t really work. The stock was in boxes at the market for years. I just left it.
“Then we bought a spot from Jack Fullerton and used it for more posh items like pictures, mirrors, ornaments and fancy lamps. We had that for quite a number of years. It went really well.”
She added: “I never miss an opportunity. It’s got to be money in the till.
“It’s in our blood, and I love Rotherham Markets. It upsets me to hear people say bad things about it because there’s everything you can get.
“Just that top landing where we are, there’s us, clothes, books and cards, all sorts. I still ring down to the market when I want my eggs and fruit. I do as much of my shopping as possible there.”