The Market-Houses of Steyning
by Janet Pennington

See Janet Pennington's website at:
Sussex Talks and Walks

Pages 1 . 2 . 3 . 4

Steyning is an ancient market town, but where was its medieval market-house? The problem seemed impossible to solve - until local historian Janet Pennington made up her mind to find the missing building. Use the numbered links in the text to view the notes for each page.

For some time Steyning's missing market-house posed a problem: it seemed strange that a town with a market history that reached back before the Norman Conquest had no apparent trace, in physical or documentary terms, of the centrally-placed market hall so typical of other English towns. A Catalogue of the Horsham Museum Mss., however, intriguingly contained a reference to late-eighteenth century papers containing 'much detail about Steyning Town Hall'. Since a Town Hall at 38 High Street was built in 1886, in the late-nineteenth century, it was not clear what this other building could be. Thus Steyning's 'lost' market-house or 'Town Hall' was revealed. Anna Butler had referred to it briefly in her book on Steyning published c.1913 with no sources listed, but her statement had later been discounted as an error.1

SAC Volume 144
This article was first published in the Sussex Archaeological Collections, Volume 144, 2006. The Sussex Archaeological Society kindly allowed it to be published here. Please observe the copyright.


'From time immemorial until the year 1771 the Town Hall or Market House of Steyning Stood in the Middle of the High Street there.' 2

Until 1771 Steyning had a market-house standing in the middle of the High Street, not far from the crossroads by the White Horse inn (Fig. 1). A sketch map of Steyning dated 1763 shows its approximate position (Fig. 2). From documentary evidence in rentals it can be deduced that it stood between the present Post Office (44 High Street) and Lashmars (31 High Street). The sketch map shows it not quite centrally placed, but slightly to the south-east side of the street. Harris finds that market halls were usually placed off-centre, nearer to one side of the street or even in the corner of the market area.3  Steyning's market-house was in the middle of the market area surrounded by inns. In the 17th century the Swan (later the George) and the Spread Eagle (later the King's Arms) stood on the north side of the road, with the Chequer, the Blue Anchor, the Crown and the White Horse on the south.4

As a borough Steyning had the right to hold a market and one existed at the time of Edward the Confessor. After the Norman Conquest the Abbot of Fécamp claimed the weekly market tolls. In 1288 it is documented that William le Veske of Steyning had built four shops in the middle of the market 'in the King's highway' and that they were a nuisance to the inhabitants. William's wife Joan was using two of these shops herself. The Sheriff was commanded by the local court to pull them down, but it may not have happened. Richard le Veske was a Member of Parliament for Steyning in 1311 and 1314, and the family would have had influence in the town.5    

From merchants taking matters into their own hands and building 'island units' that began as portable stalls but gradually became 'fixed', larger and more permanent buildings were erected in the midst of all the horse and wheeled traffic, profiting from their central siting in the bustle of the market area, usually with inns on either side. Whether William le Veske's shops turned themselves into a bona fide market-house is unknown, but this was sometimes the way that market-houses came to be positioned in the middle of a town's main street. The town's officers may have decided to erect a proper market-house, with space for stalls in the open ground floor, perhaps at some time in the 14th or 15th centuries. Some of the earliest in England to survive were built in the late-15th and early-16th centuries.6

Figure 1
Figure 1.
Location Map


Figure 2

Figure 2.
WRSO, Add Ms. 37, 522, section of sketch map of Steyning town and High Street, dated 1763, showing approximate position of former market-house (note that Church Street, which should be opposite 'A Road up the Hill', has been omitted by the draughtsman).

 

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