As I promised here, I have put up some photos of the Medieval market buildings in the High Street. It is likely that these particular buildings would have sold meat, which would have been slaughtered nearby to maintain freshness. There is a gable end further up at 10 Middle Row, which has a butcher’s sign of a meat chopper on it, and dated 1659, but I couldn’t get a very clear picture of it: I will try again soon …
The right part of this building in the picture, was probably a market hall, owned by the Lord of the Manor, and dates from the 14th century. For much of its history, however, the building was known as ‘The Cage’ because it has a small jail below street level, accessed via the cellar. In well-organised markets, men would have been employed to check weights, measurements, scale and quality. There were special market courts where dishonest traders were tried; hence the need for a nearby jail. Other punishments might have been a day in the stocks, being pelted with rotten fruit, vegetables and eggs. A butcher or fishmonger caught cheating his customers, might be pulled through the town on a sledge, with a piece of rotten meat or fish tied around his neck. One can imagine jeering and raucous laughter at this spectacle of social censure.
When the building was restored in the early 1980s, beautiful oak traceried windows were discovered, highlighting the importance of this building to the town. It is not surprising that the marketplace is just a few paces away from St Mary’s Church. Sundays were a popular day for markets as people could go to church and then visit the market to sell or trade, or socialise. Those unable to afford a stall, would sell their goods from baskets, or spread them on a cloth on the floor.
Markets allowed farmers and craftsmen to diversify and sell their products to a greater number of people, by travelling to different markets in different places. Minstrels, performing animals and other entertainers would have joined in.
Below you can see the 16th century extension to the left, to accomodate a growing market. This is likely to have been a covered, but open, marketplace.
In the early 17th century, the roof was raised and the pargetting put on. So, the pargetting is four hundred years’ old, yet it actually covers a building that is nearer seven hundred years’ old! These are amongst the oldest buildings in Ashford.
Although these buildings are very old and some now have different functions, events such as the weekly fruit and veg markets, or the monthly farmers’ markets with their street food, live music and other entertainment (such as those mentioned here and here), allow one to gain a glimpse of the sights, sounds, smells, and sheer human energy that must have occupied the same space seven hundred years’ before.