Stockton Market the ‘Queen of the North’
Stockton’s market can trace its history to 1310, when Bishop Antony Bek of Durham granted a market charter – ‘to our town of Stockton a market upon every Wednesday forever’.
The Bishops of Durham residing at Stockton Castle took tolls from the markets as well as from goods coming into the ports. A 1666 renewal of the charter allowed Stockton to hold a market every Wednesday forever and a fair once a year, which later became known as the Cherry Fair.
The market was central to life in the Borough, it was where town and country folk assembled to buy and sell. Stockton market was known far and wide and for a time was known as ‘The Queen of the North.’
All manner of essential local food produce and clothing could be found at different parts of the market. Farmers would bring their livestock to market for sale, including geese, sheep, cattle and pigs until 1875 when the Public Health Act removed the cattle market from Stockton High Street. The cattle market then moved to The Square, where the library now stands until 1959 when it closed for the last time.
Standard town weights and measures ensured market goers got what they were charged for! By 1835 three searchers of weights and measures were employed by Stockton Corporation, alongside fish and flesh lookers, butter searchers and ale tasters to ensure quality.
By the 1800s it was an important agricultural market. Millers and corn merchants used it, as did farmers and market gardeners who sold fresh produce. In 1933 when JB Priestley visited Stockton he saw ‘an agricultural fiesta… the uncommonly wide High Street was filled with stalls and women shoppers and brick-faced lads from the country. The hotels along the street were loud with farmers roaring for beer.’ There was still the risk of runaway animals though!
The Tees was once a good Salmon river and some splendid fish were for sale on the market Dealers could also be found selling saddlery, cooperage, caps, stockings, shawls, boots, ribbons, sweets and cakes. Street vendors sold their wares from carts, shouting their prices and advertising their products. Quack doctors also had their place in the market and came from far and wide to sell their pills and potions. On Saturdays the market stayed open until 10.30pm and was an exciting mixture of sights and sounds.
It would be difficult to buy a saddle or find a quack doctor at the market today, but it still dominates what is reputedly the widest High Street in the country on Wednesdays and Saturdays.