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Plymouth City Market History

It was the 14th Century when Plymouth became a town and acquired its own mayor, market and occasional duties to Parliament. However, it had no charters of any kind and depended on the goodwill of the various lords who owned manors by which Plymouth was divided.

Then, in 1439, by an Act of Parliament, Plymouth became a borough, the first truly incorporated borough of the country.

Records show that Plymouth City Council was granted the right to hold markets in Plymouth in 1253, and in 1440, Henry VI granted a Royal Charter to the Mayor of Plymouth and Commonality for fairs, feasts and markets.

This Charter was subsequently settled in Plymouth City Council under the Plymouth Corporation Act of 1915, (as amended by the Plymouth City Council Act 1987) which gives the right for the Council to own and run all the markets and fairs within the Council administrative boundaries, and incorporated the Markets and Fairs Classes Act 1847. Markets have been held regularly in Plymouth since 1804.

In the spring of 1941, the blitz on Plymouth left the city ruined. There were 31 air raids, with over a quarter of a million explosive devices dropped. In addition, due to the shortage of fire fighting equipment, manpower and water, fires were allowed to burn.

The old city market (formally known as the Pannier Market) was situated south of the former Mill Street, where the top of Cornwall Street now runs. The market was an important focal point of the community as shopkeepers whose premises had been destroyed, rented space in the market in order to continue trading.

The City Market was known as the Pannier Market until 2008. The word pannier derived from the French meaning ‘basket’. Therefore the pannier market literally meant basket market. However due to the change of modern day shopping, the word ‘pannier’ was dropped for ‘city’, as the market was no longer seen as a ‘basket’ market.

Today’s city market is made of reinforced concrete, erected between 1957 and 1959, to the design by local architects, Walls and Pearn. It was built in the west end of Plymouth in order to support trade in the west end of town.

The building is listed on the Statutory List of Buildings of Special Architectural and Historical Interest, and has been classified a Grade II listed building. The historical importance of the building relates to the original market bombed in 1941 and the determination to keep it running through a series of temporary iron structures throughout the war, so that its permanent rebuilding is a symbol of Plymouth’s survival and regeneration.

This article is supported through:

  • WELCH, C.E., (1962) Plymouth City Charters 1439 to 1935, A Catalogue. Corporation of Plymouth
  • Anon (1992) Spirit Through Survival. Plymouth Evening Herald, (From the Ashes) 29 July 1992
  • Records held within Plymouth City Council

Clearing of the Plymouth Pannier Market Site

Plymouth City Council, City Engineers Department 1959 to 1960
Plymouth and West Devon Record Office document reference no 1550/26