Accrington Market, named best in Britain
PUBLISHED: 12:53 09 May 2011 | UPDATED: 19:20 20 February 2013
They're quirky, colourful and they're packed with bargains. Roger Borrell reports from Accrington Market, named best in Britain Photography by Kirsty Thompson
Samuel Dugdale was a man of vision. He believed building an indoor market in Accrington would make the fortune of the east Lancashire town. But it wouldnt be any old market - it had to be architecturally extravagant to bring prestige to the town.
He wasnt disappointed. After the opening ceremony in 1869 it received the extraordinary accolade of a building second to none in England for beauty and design.
Since those days, many communities have seen their markets swept away in the mania for town centre redevelopment. Others have been shifted to the outskirts, underused and unloved.
But Accringtons ornate cast iron framework has remained resolute in the face of modern trends and 2 million has just been spent restoring it to its former glory.
The project was so successful a competition organised by the National Association of British Market Authorities named it the nations finest.
So why, in an age of supermarkets and internet retailing, does anyone still want to shop in a place built when Queen Victoria was on the throne?
Karen Hall is not short of answers. She has been manager of the market
for ten years and was heavily involved in keeping the place open for business while the work went on around the 70 stalls.
There is still a place for markets like these, she says. Particularly in
the current economic climate when indoor markets should really come
into their own.
Markets are very environmentally friendly - they have a much smaller carbon footprint than big supermarkets. Theres not as much packaging and a lot of the produce will have come from within a ten-mile radius, plus, its often fresh in every day.
The market really is part of the community. Customers get to know
the stallholders who understand what the shoppers want. They are knowledgeable about what they sell and provide a level of personal service you dont get in other places.
The project also opened up the balcony area above the market and
this has created 20 start-up units in an area which once housed the towns reading rooms.
This has drawn in a wide range of fledgling firms which will eventually migrate to bigger premises, as well as several artists.
One of them is Heather Ashton Rowell, of genepoolart. She specialises in portraiture and figurative art and has a studio on the balcony. I love it here - my studio has a skylight which fills it with fantastic light. The rents are very affordable and the market staff are incredibly helpful.
The market is starting to build its own little artists colony and an exhibition is planned for the summer.
On the ground floor, Susan Heaton works at the J Heaton and Son stall, selling a wide range of garments ranging from socks to ladies unmentionables. Its a really nice place to work - the people are very friendly and they appreciate the personal service they receive. We always go out of our way to be helpful.
Another long-established family business is AllFruits, run by Duncan Allton. We were blown away when we heard the market had won the competition, he says.
Weve invested a significant amount in the market and at a time when fruit and veg businesses are not going forward in the way most would have hoped. But the improvements to the market have allowed us to expand and develop.
Its not just a place to shop. The market is the centre of the community - a place where local people meet and we are pleased to be part of that dynamic.
Karen Hall adds: Accrington Market is a rarity and its a beautiful building. I love working here - there are so many characters. No two days are ever the same.
Samuel Dudgdale would be pleased that his market is still inspiring people 142 years after it opened.
Get in the market
The north west is well-blessed for indoor markets. Heres a selection:
Ashton-under-Lyne - Bustling market re-opened in 2008 after a devastating fire
Barrow - With 60 stalls, this is one of the biggest in the north of the county
Blackburn - A new 8 million indoor market is due to start trading this month
Bolton - Former market of the year famous for its food and praised by the Hairy Bikers
Chorley - Famous for the Flat Iron and covered markets
Fleetwood - Established way back in 1804 with 250 stalls
Kendal - Another historic market on the go since the 1880s
Lancaster - Still in operation but its future has been the subject of fierce debate
Preston - Plenty of locally-produced veg to be found among the 70-odd stalls
Southport - This 130-year-old market escaped the cuts and is getting a 3million refurb
Wigan and Leigh - Both markets are still going strong selling a mixture of food and general goods