MARKET FORCES: 900 YEARS LATER

by James Anthony

Our society is governed by market forces. You can hardly sit through a news broadcast without the mention of stocks and shares, commodity prices or talk of the single market in relation to Brexit. It’s very easy to forget that markets are real, physical institutions that pop up around towns and cities across the country, sadly written off by many consumers in favour of large, corporate run supermarkets.

I consider myself very lucky to have an authentic market so close to where I live. Right in the heart of Norwich city centre stands the largest permanent open-air market in the country, playing host to a great number of individual stallholders selling everything from vintage clothing to fish and chips, suitcases to ice cream, and spices to haircuts. I often marvel at the range of goods and services on offer here, but what amazes me every time I pass the market is the history behind the area.

I’m picking up my produce at the same place as people did in the 11th century

As a history student, I love places that have stood on a specific site for a long time. It’s great to think about how many people have passed through places over time, and for that reason I absolutely adore Norwich – especially the Castle, Cathedral, and streets such as Elm Hill. The market of course, is no exception. Clearly, structures have been changed, but there has been a market on that site since the Norman conquest of 1066 – over 900 years. It fascinates me to think that I’m picking up my produce at the same place as people did in the 11th century. I suspect unlike me, they weren’t buying chips, but you never know.

(Norwich Market Place, John Sell Cotman, lithographer H. Ninham. 1806. via wikimedia)

The market is often a very personal place for those living in Norwich, and everyone finds a different experience with it based on their own interests and needs. I have often looked to the market when needing simple things such as herbs, spices,  fruit or veg, but it has also been my saviour when it came to situations like last-minute watch repairs. It has been there for me over summer through my continuing struggle to go vegetarian, and several trips to the fantastic vegan and vegetarian food stalls on offer have certainly helped me. The market is unique to each individual, and that’s partly what makes it such a great place to shop.

Despite this lavish praise from myself, business here hasn’t always been booming

Despite this lavish praise from myself, business here hasn’t always been booming. The market has regularly been hitting the local headlines over the last couple of years with stories about rising costs of running a stall and a lack of customers in the area. Many stalls had to face the reality of having to close permanently, and with over a third of stalls sitting empty, the future of Norwich market was far from guaranteed.

Thankfully, the market seems to have turned a bit of a corner over the last year, particularly over summer. New pop-up stalls and an increase in food produce on offer have been a key factor in drawing more people to the area. Clearer communication between the council and stallholders alongside very positive press coverage recently has massively boosted business. It’s even been winning countywide awards for food and drink, recognising the great quality the market has to offer. Long may this all continue.

(Michael Button / Flickr. CC License)

As I said, there is something at the market for everyone, and I believe it is just as enjoyable whether you go for the first time as a visitor, or for the hundredth as a regular. This market is no doubt a force for business in the city and an icon of the area – as consumers we need to make sure it stays that way. Hopefully another 900 years down the line, people will be amazed that they still buy produce in the same place as I purchased my chips.

Featured image: James_jhs / Flickr. CC License.


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