The Market-Houses of Steyning
by Janet Pennington

Pages 1 . 2 . 3 . 4

Old Market House

Figure 3.

The Old Market House, 72 High Street, Steyning, 2006

In August 1655, when Quakers George Fox and Alexander Parker came to the town, they were received by the town constable, John Blackfan, who '… Lett them have the Liberty of the Market-house to meet in.' Blackfan himself became a Quaker and some of his family, with other Sussex men, emigrated with William Penn in 1682. So the first Quaker meeting in Steyning must be imagined, not at the present market-house at 72 High Street (Fig. 3), but in the first floor room of the earlier building that stood in the middle of the street towards the White Horse area of the town. A notice fixed to the front of today's 'Old Market House' reads: 'George Fox, Founder of the Society of Friends, (The Quakers) Held A Meeting Here in 1655 (Sussex Archaeological Collections Vol. 55)', the SAC reference lending credence to the statement.7

The earlier market-house had a:

… large Upper Room and beneath was the Dungeon or Cage, and Stocks. In the upper part of the Building was a large Clock, the Bell of which, besides the purpose it had of giving the Hours, used whenever Divine Service was performed at the parish Church (which stands at a Considerable Distance from the High Street) to be Tolled by the parish Clerk by way of Notice to the Inhabitants.8

In the eighteenth century the building was often referred to as the 'Market House or Town Hall'. Many similar market halls still survive in country towns all over England. Great Bedwyn's 'old town hall' in Wiltshire gives some idea of the type that Steyning might have had, though perhaps without a chimney, and some timber-framing may have been visible (Fig. 4). Great Bedwyn's lock-up can be seen, and the bell-housing is similar to the one on Steyning's later market-house before a new clock turret was added in 1848-9 (Fig. 5).9 Titchfield Market Hall, at the Weald and Downland Open Air Museum, Singleton, can also be used as a comparison (Fig. 6).10

The ground floor of Steyning's old market-house would have been open for a large part of its area, with the end behind the stairs taken up by the town gaol - often called a cage or dungeon. This was probably boarded up to breast height, with perpendicular wooden bars above. The stocks were also in full view of the town's inhabitants. By 1771 the building had become a problem. It was '… in a Ruinous State and (standing in the Middle of the principle Street [sic.]) a Considerable obstruction and Inconvenience to the public and Inhab[itan]ts of the place …'11

Great Bedwyn Market Hall

Figure 4.

Great Bedwyn market hall, Wiltshire, demolished 1870s.

High Street 1840

Figure 5.
Steyning High Street in 1840, showing the clock hanging out over the street, and the bell-housing on the rebuilt market-house.

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Page last updated
16th August 2021