The market and fairs of Moreton were an early feature of the town; indeed, the market was what defined the settlement as a town, distinct from a village, until modern times. Its foundation and early history is dealt with in a separate page.
By the end of the 18th century, fairs were being held regularly in Moreton on the third Thursday in July and the last Thursday in October. There was a Great Market (especially for cattle) on the first Saturday in June before 1800, but in that year it was changed to the Saturday before Whitsunday. Very large numbers of cattle and sheep were brought to market on these occasions, and the tithe map shows fields on either side of the town designated as “Market Closes”, presumably where animals which had come some distance could be held before sale.
The Fairs were big occasions for entertainment for all the population, and a chance to buy goods which they could not get locally. There were sporting events of all sorts – wrestling was popular, and horse-racing – and there would be all sorts of rogues and vagabonds looking for easy money, who made a practice of travelling from one fair to another to trick the simple country folk! A well-documented case is the murder of Jonathan May in 1835, on his way home to Dunsford after selling his cattle at the summer fair in Moreton. Treleaven’s Diary also has many references to the trade and sporting events at the fairs.
Later, with the coming of the railway and more road traffic, the cattle market was held in what is now the Station Road car park, in front of Jubilee Cottages, until it was closed in 1939. The animals could then be taken down to the station to be moved by rail. Many local sheep were sold there – our photo shows Mr Jackman at the market.
In the eighteenth century, market traders were pushed out of their traditional spot at the top end of town, near the church, to the lower end of what had once been a great square around which the town grew. In the early nineteenth century the lord of the manor – the Courtenay family – built new market buildings here; they stood near the Bell Inn and opposite Muzle Patch until early in the last century.
Several buildings were associated with the market, and were provided at the expense of the Lord of the Manor (who also did well out of the trade). There are references in Treleaven’s diary to the Apple Market, the Cornmarket, and the Shambles. These had become dilapidated, and a new Market House and Shambles were built in 1827. The original cornmarket was in or near Greenhill – a deed of 1764 for the present Greenhill House speaks of the cornmarket being “opposite”.
A map of the town centre in 1835 shows market buildings occupying much of the road between the present War Memorial and the Bell on one side and buildings in the Square on the other side. (This is part of the map was prepared in connection with the trial of the supposed murderers of Jonathan May, mentioned above).
The Market House blocked the end of Back Lane but as it was completely open on the ground floor, supported on pillars, you could walk through from Back Lane into the Square (see the View from Back Lane under the Market building. The new Market House of 1827 may have been similar to, or even the same as, the building known as the Butter Market by the end of the that century, which formed a shelter under which traders could spread out their goods. There was a small room over it, which was used by a religious sect for meetings. The building was taken down in the 1920s to allow the street to be widened and to make way for the War Memorial.
The Shambles at the end of its days was a long shed-like building occupying the top of Ford Street, and provided accommodation for butchers in particular. It was conveniently situated by the premises of the tanners and tallow-chandlers, who lived at the top of Ford Street and dealt with the hides and surplus fat of the animals. At one time the fire-bell for the town was on top of the Shambles (eventually, it was removed to Doccombe Chapel). There was also a mounting block which was liable to be used as a soap-box for orators.