Sadly the ‘High Street’ is not what it used to be. Increasing competition from ‘out of town’ supermarkets and the internet has led to the disappearance of many once loved and well frequented stores. Twenty years ago it would have been unimaginable to think that the centre of Wolverhampton would be without the likes of Woolworths, W. H. Smith, British Home Stores, Littlewoods, C & A, TJ Hughes, Tesco, Jessops, Maplin, and many, many more. Another unimagined casualty was the retail market in Salop Street which closed on 30th April, 2016 and was subsequently demolished.

There had been an indoor retail market in Wolverhampton for 163 years. Its sad loss was felt by many people. What follows is the story of Wolverhampton’s first indoor market which stood on a site now occupied by the Civic Centre.


Soon after the formation of Wolverhampton’s first elected council in 1848, thoughts turned to the building of a General Market Hall, which led to the formation of a Markets Committee. In 1850 the council instructed the Markets Committee and the General Purposes Committee to hold discussions with the Market Proprietors who proposed that they should erect a suitable building at a cost of £9,140 and then let it to the Town Council at a rent of 5% per year on the outlay. They would grant a lease to the council with an option that the council could later purchase the freehold.

Tenders for the building work were accepted in June 1851 after the acceptance of the plans drawn-up by local architect, Mr. G. T. Robinson. The building work was to be carried out by G. & J. Lilley of Measham, and the structural ironwork would be provided by Mr. J. Hayward. The Market Square was far from ideal because it was seventeen feet lower at the North Street end than at the Exchange Street end. In 1852 a sub-committee was formed to consider the building’s interior. The committee members visited many towns throughout the country to inspect their indoor markets.

The front entrance in North Street. From 'Century of the Opening of the Retail Market Hall'.

The original estimate for the building work was soon exceeded. In July 1852 a further agreement was reached between the Council and the Market Proprietors because by that time £21,760 had been spent on the building, which didn’t include internal fittings and market stalls. In November, 1852 the Council purchased a fountain which would be an important feature in the centre of the building. The fountain, which cost £150 was called ‘Swan with boy’. It had been made by the Coalbrookdale Company for display at the Great Exhibition in 1851. The Council also purchased a basin for the fountain at an additional cost of £85.

A view of North Street with the old Town Hall on the left and the Retail Market on the right. The old Town Hall had formerly been the Lion Hotel. It survived until the building of the later Town Hall in the late 1860s. From 'Century of the Opening of the Retail Market Hall'.

The old retail market drinking fountain, seen at Wightwick Manor in 2009.

The plans for the building included an ornamental clock tower which was to be erected at the Exchange Street end of the site.

When the tower had been built it was discovered that the lower portion of the building was not strong enough to support the tower. So the tower had to be taken down at a cost of £200.

The final cost for the building was £29,000.

The Coalbrookdale fountain stood in the market for 25 years, by which time it was in a dilapidated state and became the regular meeting place of a number of undesirables.

It was removed and became a feature in West Park which opened in 1881.

The following description of the new market hall appeared in the Wolverhampton Chronicle on Wednesday 9th March, 1853:

The new Market Hall

 The opening of this handsome structure (which we have already described) for its intended purposes, took place, unmarked however by any ceremony, on Wednesday last. At a comparatively early hour those who had engaged shops or standings exhibited their commodities, but the day proved cold and stormy, snow and rain fell abundantly and the visitants, consequently, were many less than expected.

The leading approach to the hall, also that by Exchange Street, was in such an unfinished state and so intolerably muddy that it might be almost conjectured that the spot was designedly left in its rough and dirty condition as an obstruction to visitors to the market. In several places the mud was more than ankle deep. The transactions of the day therefore, were of a very limited character, and sinister predictions were frequently heard.

On Saturday, however, although on that day advantage of favourable weather was not fully experienced, the whole space of the market under the arcades was crowded and a reasonable share of business seemed to be transacted. The charge for first class shops beneath the arcades ranges from 9s to 15s per week; their present number is 104, of which no less than 86 were taken before the opening of the market; there will however be an extra charge for gas. In the open space forming the centre of the market, the charge for standing is 4d per foot which entitles the party paying the amount to occupy the space the whole of the week. Temporary stalls occupy portions of the market on the north and south sides for which the charge is 6d per foot per week.

The whole area of the market is about 6,000 square yards, of which considerably more than half (the extreme portion of the quadrangle) is covered forming an arcade, and likewise a range of stalls open towards the centre of the market.

The Wolverhampton Improvement Act of 1853 allowed the Council to acquire the market hall under the terms of the 1852 agreement, after the execution of a Deed of Transfer.

This was completed in February 1859 when the ownership of the building was transferred to the Council at a cost of £28,492.7s.0d.

By 1868 the market had gained the reputation ‘of being the worst conducted market hall in England’.

A number of stall holders complained to the Markets Committee about the lack of enforcement of local bye laws, pick-pocketing was rife, and so the Inspector of Markets was instructed by the Committee to ensure that the police in attendance would summons any party who persisted in breaking the by laws.

Looking up Cheapside in the 1880s or 1890s with the southern side of the Retail Market Hall on the left. From 'Century of the Opening of the Retail Market Hall'.

In July 1869 the Markets Committee took over the running of the market hall. In November 1871 the Committee reported:

The comfort and convenience of the frequenters of the market hall have been improved by the temporary employment of policemen who have exerted themselves in ridding the place of unruly boys and others who attended the hall for no other purpose than loitering. The bye law against smoking has been strictly enforced.

A view of Cheapside and the Market Hall from between 1898 and 1902. From 'A Souvenir of Wolverhampton'.

In 1872 a special agreement was made between each stall holder and the Council, relieving the Council of any liability for damage caused by rain water penetrating the roof.

In the 1880s two contracts were entered into for keeping the roof in repair for terms of five years.

Considerable reconstruction of the roof and extensive re-glazing was carried out in the 1890s, in 1937, and in 1941.

The internal layout was altered in 1873 and 1874 when stalls were moved to provide two new walkways to allow better access to some of the stalls.

New fish stalls opened in 1890 and 1891 and electric lighting was introduced in 1895 at a cost of £753.

Looking up North Street in about 1900 with the Market Hall on the right and the Town Hall on the left. From 'A Souvenir of Wolverhampton'.

The old Market Patch with the Market Hall on the right. From an old postcard.

Later Years

In the latter years of the nineteenth century plans were made to improve the market facilities by the introduction of a cold store. It was initially planned to be in the market hall basement, but finally was incorporated into the new wholesale market. In 1901 the building was renovated and the stalls were classified and graded into divisions suitable for different trades, which greatly helped the visiting public to quickly find what they were looking for.

The opening days and times in 1908. From the 1908 Wolverhampton Red Book.

The Market Hall refreshment rooms in about 1900. The lady in the black dress is the manageress, Mrs. F. T. Hinds. Dinners were available for 4, 5, 6, and 7 pence. From 'Century of the Opening of the Retail Market Hall'.
The market went from strength to strength. In 1896 the stall holders’ rent amounted to £3,156, which had increased to £4,749 in 1905. This exceeded £5,000 in 1922, in 1939 it had risen to £7,000, and in 1953 it totalled £13,018.

The Market Hall in 1953. From 'Century of the Opening of the Retail Market Hall'.

From 'Century of the Opening of the Retail Market Hall'.

As early as 1944 the Council’s Reconstruction Committee, which considered the post war development in the centre of Wolverhampton, expressed the view that the existing market hall had passed its useful structural life, and its retention would involve extensive and costly repairs, necessitating its closure for a considerable time.

The Council agreed with the Committee’s findings and in July 1953 a model of the new market hall was made in the Borough Engineer’s Department. The original building continued in use until May 1960 when it closed for the last time. The market then moved to the new building in Salop Street, which was officially opened by Lord Morrison of Lambeth, on 22nd June, 1960. Unlike its predecessor it had a relatively short life of only 56 years.

The model of the planned retail market in Salop Street. From 'Century of the Opening of the Retail Market Hall'.

Another view of the model. From 'Century of the Opening of the Retail Market Hall'.


The Story of the Municipal Life of Wolverhampton by William Highfield Jones, J.P. Published in 1903 by Alexander & Shepheard Limited, London.

Centenary of the Opening of the Retail Market Hall 1853 - 1953. Published by Wolverhampton Council in 1953.

A History of Wolverhampton by Chris Upton. Published in 1998 by Phillimore & Company Limited, Chichester.

A Souvenir of Wolverhampton published by Alftred Barker of Wolverhampton in 1902.

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