46-48 Covered Market – uncovered
As a first phase of a heritage led regeneration of the Oxford Covered Market, last week planning permission and listed building consent was granted for the restoration of 46-48 Covered Market. The scheme restores the unit, externally removing modern brick extensions to improve views along the avenues, whilst internally uncovering and repairing early fabric. Alterations will provide a flexible layout for up to three smaller units, which is proving very attractive for best in class independent retailers. Davis Witts of Pershore Foods has opened a new fishmongers in the former Hayman’s unit and the Teardrop micropub has opened a new food emporium in the unit next to the bar selling local produce.
We first realised that the stall was too good to leave covered up following a survey in April 2018. However, careless alterations carried out prior to the Market being listed in March 2000, meant that there was a large funding gap to repair the store properly. Oxford Preservation Trust have funded the conservation work which has allowed Oxford City Council to restore the units sympathetically.
Opening up work carried out in June 2019 by Oxford Direct Services has begun to reveal more about the original fabric and history of the units. The original stone flag floor and surviving sections of chimney breasts which form part of the 18th Century phase. Remnants of the early shop front frames have been revealed and have allowed us to redesign the new shop fronts in a more fitting design closer to the earlier appearance. Wall-tile paintings by artist John Ellis a gift to butcher, Mr Feller, have been saved and will be presented elsewhere in the market. The project goes out to tender this week to a number of local contractors and works are due to start at the end of August 2019.
The units are part of the earliest surviving phases of the market dating to a phase of work by Thomas Wyatt the Younger in 1834. As a butcher’s shop, No.46-48 contributed to the visual delight in external displays of stall produce. The stall retains metal hanging structures used for hanging game and bird throughout the year but especially at Christmas.
Oxford’s Covered Market was begun in 1772-4 to the designs of John Gwynn as a market for meat, fish, poultry, vegetables and herbs to replace the street markets in Fish Street (St Aldates) and Butchers Row (Queen Street). It was rebuilt and enlarged in 1834-40 by Thomas Wyatt the younger. Later in the 19th century additional roofs were constructed and new avenues built. In 1880s and the 1890s extensive reconstruction was undertaken. The market was listed grade II in March 2000 and is situated in the Central and City Conservation Area. It holds architectural interest for its composition of lofty arcades of several phases of building and reconstruction from the 19th century onwards and shopfronts which are characteristic of the Market’s function and contributory to its appearance. The construction of a Covered Market is of historic interest as evidence of the evolution of the contemporary sensibilities towards public health and helps understanding of the commercial development of Oxford, which was particularly active in the C18th and C19th centuries. The market is a rare example of a covered market which has been in continual use and is still in use as such, primarily by local businesses.
Markets were the main source of food and other goods from earliest times until the twentieth century. Historically, markets were held in streets or market squares, but were a constant source of strife for burgh authorities who sought to control the activities which went on during market days. A solution was sought by holding markets within an enclosed space. This attempt to civilise the selling of goods started in the later 18th century but gained momentum during the 19th century when authorities across the country constructed elegant and elaborate market halls which were statements of the importance of their locality and trading prowess.
“In a market hall, the movements and behaviour of traders and shoppers could be closely controlled, and extraneous activities excluded. Unlike the shambles and market houses of the past, a market hall could accommodate every species of trader. It established new standards of hygiene, with washable surfaces, a plentiful supply of water and even ice houses for fishmongers. The provision of gas lighting and natural ventilation facilitated marketing at all times of the day and in all weathers, although heating was considered inadvisable.”
Morrison (2004: 109)