Market Harborough

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Market Harborough is a market town within the Harborough district of Leicestershire, England.

It has a population of 20,785 and is the administrative headquarters of Harborough District Council. It sits on the Northamptonshire-Leicestershire border. The town was formerly at a crossroads for both road and rail; however the A6 now bypasses the town to the east and the A14 which carries east-west traffic is 6 miles (9.7 km) to the south. The town is served by East Midlands Trains with direct services to Leicester, Nottingham, Derby and St Pancras International. Rail services to Rugby and Peterborough ended in 1966.

Market Harborough is located in an area which was formerly a part of the Rockingham Forest, a royal hunting forest used by the medieval monarchs starting with William I. Rockingham Road takes its name from the forest. The forest’s original boundaries stretched from Market Harborough through to Stamford and swallowed up Corby, Kettering, Desborough, Rothwell, Thrapston and Oundle.

The centre of the town is dominated by the steeple of St. Dionysius Parish Church which rises directly from the street, as there is no church yard. It was constructed in grey stone in 1300 with the church itself a later building of about 1470. Next to the church stands the Old Grammar School, a small timber building dating from 1614. The ground floor is open, creating a covered market area and there is a single room on the first floor. It has become a symbol of the town. The nearby square is largely pedestrianised and surrounded by buildings of varying styles. The upper end of the High Street is wide and contains mostly unspoiled Georgian buildings.

Domesday Book records Bowden as a Royal Manor organised in three manors. The population lived in three villages, Great Bowden, Arden and Little Bowden. The Manor of Harborough is first mentioned in 1199 and 1227 when it was called “Haverberg”. It is likely that Harborough was formed out of the Royal Manor with the intention of making it a place for tradesmen and a market when a new highway between Oxendon and Kibworth was established to help link Northampton and Leicester. A chapel dedicated to St Dionysius was built on the route, whilst St Mary in Arden retained Parish Church status.

The name of Harborough is likely to derive from the Anglo-Saxon “haefera-beorg” or oat hill. A market was established by 1204 and has been held on a Tuesday ever since 1221. The trades people of Harborough had large tofts or farm yards at the rear of their property where goods were made and stored. Many of these yards remain but have been subdivided down their length over the years to give frontage to the High Street

The Steeple of Harborough Church was started in 1300 and completed in 1320. It is a broache spire, which rests on the walls of the tower, and are earlier than recessed spires which rise from behind a square tower as at Great Bowden. By 1382 the village of Arden had been abandoned, although the Church remained in use for some years. In 1470 the main part of Harborough Church was completed. An open stream ran down the High Street. The Town Estate was created and managed by a body of Feoffees elected by the townspeople, to help manage among other things the Open Fields surrounding the town, the proceeds from which were used for a variety of purposes. From 1570 the Town Estate owned several properties within the town.

Harborough figured nationally in the English Civil War in June 1645, when it became the headquarters of the King’s Army. In Harborough, the King decided to confront Parliamentary forces who were camped near Naseby but the Battle of Naseby proved a decisive victory for Parliament led by Oliver Cromwell. Harborough Chapel became a temporary prison for the captured forces. Cromwell wrote a letter from “Haverbrowe, June 14, 1645” to the Speaker of the House of Commons, William Lenthall, announcing the victory.

An Independent Church was established in the Harborough area following the 1662 Act of Uniformity and a Meeting House was built in Bowden Lane in 1694.

During the 18th century the timber mud and thatch buildings of the town were largely replaced with brick buildings. After roads were turnpiked and regularly repaired (making wheeled traffic easier all year round) Harborough became a staging point for coach travel on the road to London from the North West and the Midlands. In 1776 the Open Fields of Great Bowden were allotted to individual owners and fenced with hedges planted, followed by those of Little Bowden in 1780.

In the 19th century, the increasing level of heavy goods traffic on the turnpike roads led to complaints. A plan for a canal from Leicester to join the London to Birmingham canal was mooted but it eventually bypassed the town and a branch canal was cut from Foxton to Harborough with wharves at Gallow Hill, and Great Bowden. Harborough wharf, to the north of the town, became a distribution centre for coal and corn. A gas company was formed in 1833 to make and distribute gas. John Clarke and Sons of London built a factory for spinning worsted and later making carpets. Other industries developed were a brickworks, brewery, wheelwright/coachworks and the British Glues and Chemicals works by the Canal at Gallow Hill. In the 1830s a union of parishes around Market Harborough was formed to look after the poor and a workhouse was built in 1836 on the site of St Luke’s Hospital. In 1841 Thomas Cook who was a wood turner and cabinet maker in the town organised the first group travel by rail from Leicester to Loughborough and went on to found the travel agency bearing his name.

Market Harborough became a centre for fox hunting with hounds during the 19th century when Mr Tailby of Skeffington Hall established a hunt in South East Leicestershire in 1856. The country between Billesdon and Harborough was considered severe, involving jumping the specially designed ox fences. His hunting diary is recognised as an important document in the history of hunting. The Hunt was re-named the Fernie after a subsequent Master.

The Grand National Hunt Steeple Chase was held to the south west of the town in 1860, 1861 and 1863. This race and the meeting eventually developed into the Cheltenham Festival and the organisers were part of the founding of organised steeplechasing through the Grand National Hunt Committee.

The building of the Leicester–Rugby railway in 1840 had a catastrophic effect on the coaching traffic through the town. A railway did not serve the town until 1850 with a link to Rugby but this was quickly followed by links to Leicester and London in 1857 and to Northampton in 1859.

In 1850 William Symington, a grocer in the town established a factory to make pea-flour. His brother James developed a haberdashery and stay making business and in 1876 his sons acquired the old carpet factory to make corsets. They expanded it by three additional floors in 1881 and then built a new factory opposite Church Square in 1884 which still remains today as the Council offices, library and museum. In the 1890s Harborough Rubber Company, Looms Wooden Heels and Caxton Die Casting works were established. A Tannery was built on land adjoining the Commons.

There was a rapid expansion in the town’s population from 4,400 in 1861 to 7,700 in 1901. This had been at the expense of living conditions with severe overcrowding in the old town.. Rows of cottages had been built in the yards of older houses with shared access to water and waste disposal. The Public Health Act of 1875 required local authorities to implement building regulations, or bye-laws, which insisted that each house should be self-contained, with its own sanitation and water. In 1883 a new system of sewers were laid and piped water supplied from wells at Husbands Bosworth. Additional residential areas were developed – the New Harborough estate off Coventry Road and the Northampton Road estate between Nithsdale Avenue and Caxton St.

In 1888 Little Bowden parish was transferred from Northamptonshire to Leicestershire and following the Local Government Act of 1894, an Urban District Council was formed for Market Harborough, covering the town and the parishes of Little and Great Bowden. Various schemes were implemented to improve the town. It acquired the gas company and built a public baths. It acquired land for the construction of Abbey Street in 1901 which removed the a multi occupied yard of the Coach and Horses Inn and enabled the building of a fire station on the new Street in 1903. In the same year a new livestock market was opened between Springfield Street and the river on 12 acres (49,000 m2) of land, enabling the cattle and sheep markets to be cleared from the streets. In 1905 the council bought land at Great Bowden and Little Bowden for recreation grounds.

In 1919 there were still around 150 dwellings identified as unfit for human habitation mostly in the yards and courts of Harborough and there was an identified need for 300 new houses. Land to the north of the town was selected and a scheme for 98 homes for rent developed as the Bowden Fields Estate. Following the introduction of mortgage subsidy, over 100 private homes were built and a further development of 72 rented homes took place. By 1928 about 400 houses had been built since 1918, 164 by the Council. A major improvement took place from 1930 with the acquisition of land between Northampton Road and Farndon Road. This enabled the construction of Welland Park Road (which enabled east west traffic to bypass the town centre), provision of 100 homes for rent along Welland Park Road and 52 in Walcot Road to rehouse occupants of the old yard houses, plots for private housing, the layout of Welland Park and the construction of Welland Park School.

A covered Market Hall was opened at the western end of the Cattlemarket in 1938, replacing the market stalls on the Square on Tuesdays and Saturdays.

The postwar period saw another shortage of housing and some 600 people on the waiting list for social housing. The council developed a 100 dwelling extension to the Bowden Fields Estate by 1949 and acquired 140 acres (0.57 km2) of land to the south west of the town to deal with the problem. A new Southern Estate was planned to accommodate 700 dwellings, shopping centre, school and recreation ground. The Council laid initial access roads named after personalities of the Battle of Naseby since these fields were crossed by both armies on 14 June 1645. A plaque now records the events and was unveiled by Mrs H.B. Lenthall on 1 February 1951 to mark the opening of the Estate development. Around 150 dwellings were built for rent with the remaining plots available for private building. The final phase of development occurred in the 1980s.

In 1950 the canal basin was the venue for a week long National Festival of Boats, the first such Festival organised by the Inland Waterways Association and marking the beginning of the revival of the canal network for leisure use. The old Brewery site was acquired for a bus station in 1951 and in 1958 a main car park was opened at the Commons and further car parks established in the 1960s to deal with the increasing demand. Proposals for development of an Industrial Estate at Riverside and Rockingham Road were approved in 1962 and the area developed during the 1960s.

Following serious flooding in the town centre on 2 July 1958, a flood relief scheme was begun and the river bed was straightened and deepened.

In 1968 the centre of Market Harborough was declared a conservation area. Major developments included the development of headquarters for Golden Wonder crisp makers, and the demolition of the old Symington factory in Adam and Eve Street for redevelopment as Eden Court shops and flats.

During the 1970s, draft proposals were made for an inner relief road to avoid traffic congestion in the town centre. However, it was rejected in favour of a bypass outside the town. In 1980 the Symingtons Factory at Church Square was redeveloped as the District Council offices, Library and Museum. Plans for an A6 by-pass were approved by the Department for Transport during the 1980s and the 5 miles (8.0 km) road costing £9.5m was opened in June 1992. In addition, proposals were made for a new east-west link road (A14) between the A1 and M1 and a route was identified 10 miles (16 km) south. It was opened in summer 1991. The opening of these roads has reduced considerably the volume of heavy goods vehicles passing through the town centre. Associated improvements to the town centre took place as part of a “By-pass Demonstration Project” completed in 1994. This involved comprehensive re-paving and new street furniture to make the centre more pedestrian friendly whilst through-traffic with a 20 mph (32 km/h) speed limit.

In 1993 the former cattle market, bus station, indoor market and several properties next to the old post office and the Peacock Hotel were re-developed to form a new pedestrianised shopping centre called St Mary’s Place. This included a Sainsburys supermarket.

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