Reinventing Doncaster’s Wool Market

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It was the street food of its day – a market square in the centre of town, bustling with Irish cattle, sheep, pigs and poultry.

Tomorrow, the idea will come back into vogue in Doncaster. The food will be cooked, not live, but the reinvention for the 21st century of its Grade II-listed Victorian wool market will, its architects hope, make it once more the hub of community life.

The old Wool Market from the Corn Exchange

The old Wool Market from the Corn Exchange

The transformation will see the traditional market stalls that used to fill the building replaced by specialist, artisan retailers and food carts – including one serving traditional Peruvian cuisine – all taking cashless payments and serving well into the evening.

The £6.8m development has seen the old Irish Middle Market, which took its name from the livestock breeds that were once paraded there, swept away and space cleared for the free entertainment events that will form a backdrop to the trading.

“We found remnants of the railings they used to tie the sheep and cattle to,” said Dave Wilkinson, of Doncaster Council. “It had become a bit of a shanty town of old sheds, wooden buildings and a few shipping containers, and it blocked the view of the wool market, which we want to be the jewel in the crown.”

Not only wool but also linen, leather and other goods were traded in the market hall, which has been restored to its former glory as part of Doncaster’s first major regeneration since its elected mayor, Ros Jones, launched her “urban centre masterplan”.

Chandra Edgson gets her stall ready for opening at the regenerated Wool Market in Doncaster. Picture: Chris Etchells

Chandra Edgson gets her stall ready for opening at the regenerated Wool Market in Doncaster. Picture: Chris Etchells

“We have stripped it back to its original fabric,” Mr Wilkinson said. “It had become ramshackle – it was 60 per cent vacant and it wasn’t really adding a lot.

“Markets have to reinvent themselves. There will be fewer stalls in future but they will be better quality.”

The traders who had populated the old market, which closed 18 months ago for the refurbishment had mostly moved on, he said.

Among the restored interior features will be a medieval well discovered by builders as they laid a slab. It has been glazed over and left visible.

Final preparations at the regenerated Wool Market in Doncaster.

Final preparations at the regenerated Wool Market in Doncaster.

The site will mount live music performances on Fridays from now to September, and a stage with TV cameras has been installed for cookery demonstrations.

The market will also host the start of the Tour de Yorkshire cycle race on May 2.

The development is very different to the one last year in Barnsley, 16 miles to the west, where a rift between traders and their council landlords soon opened up over the way it was being operated. One trader there described his stall as a “little ghost town”.

Mr Wilkinson said: “Barnsley is a traditional market, open from eight to five. Ours in Doncaster is more of an event. You can go there during the day or in the evening to meet, eat and socialise, as well as shop. It has more in common with the Piece Hall at Halifax.”

Today’s market hall, originally opened in 1868, is on the same spot as one established in Roman times. Doncaster’s position on the Great North Road made it a trading hub through the years.

Its mayor, Ros Jones said she expected that “local people and visitors are going to love the new vibe”.

Dan Jarvis, mayor of Sheffield City Region, said: “The new wool market is creating a real attraction for residents and visitors alike.”