​Settlements which have a market square are often referred to as market towns. This is a legal term from the Middle Ages. It means that the settlement can lawfully host a market. Market squares provide a physical space to meet and trade with enough room for stalls on market days.

There are many market squares in Northamptonshire and all have a fascinating history. Some still have a market cross, which were built in order to obtain God’s blessing on the trade.

  • Brackley Market

    ​In 1260, the de Quincy family obtained Borough status for a market in the town. Brackley grew as a market town during the 13th and 14th centuries due to the wool and lace trade. By the early 14th century, it had become the second wealthiest town in Northamptonshire.

    The weekly market is held in the town square, surrounded by the 18th-century town hall and Georgian and Victorian buildings. The square is still the focus of the town today.

    Brackley Wool Fair, c.1910 © Northamptonshire Archives Service

  • Brigstock Market

    ​Brigstock became an important farming village and opened a market in the mid-15th century. Records indicate that the success of the market came from the decline of the market at the neighbouring village of Geddington.

    However, Brigstock Market declined in the 17th century due to competition from Kettering, Oundle, and Thrapston. It no longer existed by the 18th century. Brigstock Market Cross is located in the centre of the village and was erected by a local landowner in 1586. The cross is still used for the annual crowning of the May Queen.

    Brigstock Market Cross, c.1890 © Northamptonshire Archives Service

  • Daventry Market

    ​Daventry was granted a market charter in 1255. This meant that a two day fair could take place on the feast of St Augustine and another on the feast of St Matthew.

    The market square has a Neo-Gothic memorial from 1908 honouring Edmund Charles Burton, an important local figure and sportsman.

    Daventry Market © Northamptonshire Archives Service

  • Northampton Market

    ​In 1010, Northampton was a ‘port’ - a centre for importing, exporting, collecting, and distributing goods. It was not considered a market town, but it had annual fairs that attracted trade from a wide area.

    Northampton received its first market charter in 1189. However, it changed location shortly after because King Henry III forbade the selling of goods in the churchyard of All Saints Church.

    In the 16th and 17th centuries, laws prevented foreign traders on the square. Female rivalry was also common. An order from the time states, “No butchers or fishmonger's wife shall fall out with one another nor use or speak any evil or slanderous words or otherwise revile.” Those who broke the rules were put in the stocks or fined three shillings.

    The square has been the site of many dramatic events. In 1828, a hot-air balloon flight from the square ended with the female aeronaut having to escape. In 1845, a tightrope walker and fireworks 'expert' climbed a rope in the market square whilst holding two lit fireworks. Halfway up the rope he threw one of them into the watching crowd, killing a woman. It also hosted fun fairs from the 19th century and was used as an open-air cinema in the 1930s.

    Markets are still held in the square today.

    Northampton Market © Northamptonshire Archives Service

  • Towcester Market

    ​Towcester Market is on Watling Street. The first records of the market are from 1220, but it may have opened some time earlier. It became an important market because of the good local farm land and its good location on the national road network.

    The market continued throughout the medieval period and survived the recession of the 14th century. Coaching routes declined across the country with the arrival of the railway, but Towcester kept its market town status.

    Towcester Market Place, c.1860 © Northamptonshire Archives Service

  • Wellingborough Market

    ​Wellingborough received its market charter in 1201, which allowed markets on Wednesdays. This was approved by King John at Croyland Abbey. The busy market square is next to All Hallows Church.

    Wellingborough Market Square, c.1900 © Northamptonshire Archives Service


Key periods

11th century

​Economic growth in the county caused the expansion of the population and farming industry. These goods needed to be sold, which led to the creation of markets and fairs in Northampton, Oundle, and Higham Ferrers.

11th to 15th century

​The ‘great contraction’ (an economic depression) led to the decline of market towns across Northamptonshire. Most did not survive after 1350. However, market crosses and steps are still standing in several places, such as Chipping Warden and Naseby.

13th century

​The larger, historic villages continued to grow. The further expansion of trade and exchange of goods led to the creation of more local markets.

15th to 17th century

​In the Tudor and Stuart period, another phase of economic growth led to higher demand for food and the resurgence of market trading.

In 1610, a map maker called John Norden wrote, "No village, parishe or place in the whole shire is scarcely 4 myles from some one market towne."