Morpeth received its Market Charter from King John in 1200 (previously recorded as 1199), though the King seems to have changed his mind quite quickly as some hold him responsible for the burning of Morpeth Market in 1216. The town celebrated the 800th anniversary of the market in 1999, and the burning of Morpeth Market and other Great Fires of Morpeth was a major theme of the 2016 Morpeth Northumbrian Gathering.
Over the years – right up until the 1950’s, it was a major livestock market – at one stage it was the largest livestock market in the North East – and the local Morpeth dialect still has a number of words deriving from Romany reflecting this history. The statue of the bull in Sanderson Arcade marks the livestock market though strictly speaking most of the cattle traded were Irish Shorthorn not the Aberdeen Angus portrayed.
After the closure of the livestock mart, the market relocated to “New Market” next to the bus station, which was where the Riverside Leisure Centre currently is. Through the 1970’s and 1980’s, it became a very successful street market run by the local council. But towards the end of the ‘80’s and in the early ‘90’s, it suffered from competition with private sector markets springing up in neighbouring towns. By the mid-1990’s, it had dwindled to a dozen or so stalls in Back Riggs.
In 1999, alongside the 800th anniversary celebration, the local council launched a monthly farmers’ market in Morpeth. Note – modern “farmers markets” are not restricted to farmers but are limited to producers who only sell their own produce and are local to the market. In the North East ‘local’ generally is taken to mean within 50 miles. Several of the producers who started up businesses selling at the farmers’ market are now also regulars at the Wednesday Charter Market, giving it a real local feel.
In 2002-3, the Market Place in Morpeth was refurbished and the pedestrian area was expanded. And in 2005, the Wednesday market which had dwindled to just five stalls was relocated from Back Riggs onto the refurbished Market Place bringing it back into the heart of the town. As part of the relocation, the Council invested some £30,000 in new market stalls. These green and white stalls are featured in the painting of Morpeth market by Ivan Webley, commissioned by the Morpeth Chamber of Trade and on display in T & G Allan’s alleyway.
After the Great Flood of September 2008, the farmers’ market scheduled for the Sunday was cancelled but the Wednesday Market, just four days after the flood, went ahead as usual. It was as a result of the flood that the farmers’ market, formerly held on the first Sunday of the month in the Town Hall switched to being held on the first Saturday of the month on the Market Place.
In 2009, with the abolition of Castle Morpeth Borough Council, management of the Morpeth markets was taken on by Northumberland County Council. The advisory “markets partnership” was continued providing local input and maintaining continuity.
In 2013, Northumberland County Council entered into a three year innovative public-private partnership with the Sanderson Arcade, with Morpeth Town Council also contributing funding, for resourcing, developing and promoting the markets. The partnership provided new blue & white stalls branded with the ‘More in Morpeth’ logo, and also commissioned the installation of stall anchor points on the Market Place.
And in 2014, that Markets Partnership established the annual Morpeth Food & Drink Festival, held on the first weekend of October (coinciding with the farmers market) which attracts 100+ producers and several tens of thousands of visitors.
Currently (2019), the Wednesday Market is averaging 17-19 traders while the monthly farmers’ market averages 20 producers. Both are effectively running at capacity, constrained by the size of the Market Place and the layout of the anchor points.
Market Manager: Neil Brown mob 07909 688174 NCC Markets Webpage