Cullompton was granted the right to hold a weekly market in 1318 by King Edward II to the Abbot and Convent of Buckland, together with a fair for three days at the Festival of St John the Baptist. As it is today, markets and fairs were trading places held at regular intervals. In medieval England it was common for a market to be held once a week, usually closed to the local church.
In those days there were no shops and the market stalls were the housewife’s only means of stocking up her larder, apart from food which the family produced itself. A 1633 plan of Cullompton show a ‘Shambles’ meat market in the centre of Fore Street, close to its junction with Church Street. The ‘Shambles’ was a long narrow wooden structure with a roof. The corn market was held in the same place and there was a bell in the turret at the top of the structure which called the farmers every Saturday for barter. This was also an alarm in case of fire.
Also shown on the 1633 plan is a market cross in Fore Street, near the Walronds. It may have been donated by the Cockram family who were the owners of Hillersdon at that time. Ciela Fiennes said of Cullompton, writing in 1695 “Culimton is a good little market Town, and has a market cross and another set on pillars”. A will dated 1710 mentions an inscription round it. It was gone by the time of the 1802 survey for the first 1 inch maps (the Shambles is shown).
The ‘Shambles’ was replaced in 1810 as it was considered a public nuisance. The Market House was built and used as a meat market until the declining prosperity of the town caused butchers to sell from their own homes. It was then used as a dwelling house and ordinary shop. The Market House is listed as being in Fore Street in 1830 but I am not quite sure of its location.
Sheep and cattle continued to be sold in the Higher Bullring area, on the first Wednesday in each month until 1917, when a field was acquired near the station and the market was moved. The entrance is next to what is now known as the Weary Traveller but at that time it was known as the Railway Hotel as it was close to the station.
Farmers from all around Cullompton would bring their animals to sell and it was common for young lads to miss school on market days to help out. If dealers came from further afield to buy cattle then the cattle were loaded onto trucks at the station and taken out by train. The market closed in 1957 due to lack of support.
The following appeared in a local publication on 1 December 1837
“It is a matter of regret to many who feel an interest in the prosperity of this Town, that the Market is fallen into so neglected a condition. There are those now living among us who remember it under better circumstances, when the usual market commodities were amply supplied on a Saturday, and a good stroke of business done in the Corn Trade, around the lower end of the Old Shambles, and the balcony of the Salutation (now the Globe) Inn ….”
It would appear that markets have had many ‘ups’ and ‘downs’ since Cullompton was first granted its Charter. The weekly street market resumed in 2012 and has been going strong ever since.
The Farmers Market was the brain child of Tracey Frankpitt who, with the support of the Cullompton Regeneration Group (now defunct) set it up in 1998. It was the first Farmers’ Market to be set up by anyone other than a local authority and it is still thriving today. It is managed by a committee of volunteers and local events are often timed to coincide with the market dates as there are generally a lot more people about in the town centre. Its original location was Forge Way car park but it later moved to High Street.