In the early eighteenth-century, the women who sold butter, milk, poultry and eggs on Fridays at the Butter Market in Lincoln had to do so with no shelter from the elements. Until 1572 their forebears had sold their wares at the Butter Cross on Newland but when that was taken down the Butter Market moved to the churchyard of St Peter at Arches.
For ten years, the Corporation of Lincoln agreed, at the instance of the mayor, John Lobsey, Esq, to forego its annual feast, saving £1,000 (their feasts must have been something to behold!) and they donated this to pay for a new market, providing shelter for the traders, which was erected in 1736.
The Butter Market was located on the High Street in ‘downhill’ Lincoln, close to the junction with Silver Street and just behind St Peter at Arches church (the market still extended into the churchyard). The Stonebow is on the other side of Silver Street. Neither the Butter Market or St Peter’s still stand; for anyone who knows Lincoln, the corner building (dating to the 1930s but built in a Georgian style) which now houses The Works is where St Peter’s and the Butter Market once stood.
The openings along the side of the building were originally open arches but they were later glazed to make things more comfortable for the stallholders. The façade had a fine pediment made of Portland stone with the city shield carved into it.
In 1744, Lincoln gained an Assembly Room on Bailgate, in the ‘uphill’ area of the city (Lincoln is famous for the aptly named Steep Hill, neatly dividing the city into uphill and downhill sections). In the twentieth century, a newspaper columnist recalled that:
Those who lived ‘downhill’ were not permitted to set foot in the ‘sacred’ precincts of the County Assembly Rooms, which were for the ‘uphill’ people and county magnates.
And so, it was decided that the people living ‘downhill’ needed their own assembly room. Funds were raised by public subscription and, in 1757, the council allowed the upper floor of the Butter Market to be developed to include an assembly room with a tea room and a small card room, overlooking the street. Accessed by a staircase from the rear of the Butter Market, it was the finest ballroom in the lower part of Lincoln and the scene of many important gatherings. Subscription Assemblies were hugely popular and well attended by the ‘city’ tradesmen who, together with their wives, were not admitted to the County Assembly Rooms uphill. The façades of both buildings are strikingly similar.
In 1813, some bronze statues and elegant decorations were contributed by Lady Monson (Sarah Elizabeth Grevile, wife of John Monson, Baron Monson of Burton). Gradually though, over the decades, the building declined and while the ground floor continued to be used as a market hall (selling fruit and vegetables in the week as well as milk, butter, eggs and poultry on a Friday), the upper rooms saw service as a ‘People’s News Room’, were the home of the mechanics institute and housed the city library for a time; by 1934 the school medical service used the space.
A bugbear of any Lincoln resident to this day is traffic congestion in the city; in the 1930s Lincoln was undergoing redevelopment and the Ministry of Transport had stipulated that the roadway in that area had to be 50 feet wide. The Butter Market and St Peter at Arches were in the way and had to go, despite their history.
We have the Bishop of Grantham (the Right Rev E M Blackie) to thank for the fact that the façade of the Butter Market has survived. The bishop wrote a paper, Architecture and the Ordinary Man, in which he referred to the Butter Market as a fine specimen of eighteenth-century work, pointing out that very few towns in England possessed anything of its kind quite so good. He urged that the beautiful façade facing High-street should be taken down and carefully rebuilt.
“What is going to be its fate? Will it be pulled down and destroyed and forgotten? I am told that this is likely to happen, and I can only hope that the prophecy is not entirely true.”
The bishop’s advice was heeded and the façade was taken down, brick by brick, each carefully numbered, and it was rebuilt on Sincil Bank, the focal point of a new central market where the stallholders from the Butter Market could share the space with the vendors from the existing Cornhill Market. This new building, four times as big as the former market, was opened on the 18th May 1938. Within the fabric of the building, care had been given to provide space to continue an old custom which would have been familiar to the eighteenth-century residents of Lincoln.
An Old Custom: An interesting feature of the new market was the fact that the Corporation had provided sittings for the sale of butter, eggs and poultry, thus continuing an old-established custom, and indeed a custom which was almost unique in England.
The provision of these sittings on Fridays in each week had meant, of course, that the building had to be built sufficiently large to accommodate the sittings and ordinary stall-holders as well, the sittings were used only one day per week.
Lincolnshire Chronicle, 1st July 1904
Lincolnshire Echo, 19th February 1932
Lincolnshire Echo, 22nd January 1934
Lincolnshire Echo, 19th May 1938
Williamson’s Illustrated Guide through Lincoln, 4th Edition
A Survey of the Antiquities of Lincoln
Tudor and Stuart Lincoln, J.W.F Hill, Cambridge University Press, 1956