Home Of The Original Hitchin Virtual Tour.
The Market Place is a remnant of the wide, mile-long medieval open area, stretching from Bancroft to Tilehouse street, and used for trading until its stalls became permanent fixtures, developing into the shops between Bucklersbury and Sun Street. General Markets (as opposed to livestock sales) were held here on Tuesdays and Saturdays, right up until the Second World War when they moved to the new market place between St Mary's Church and the Biggin. This was in order to make way for a large water trough - which was intended to aid the fire brigade in quenching blazes started by bombs. Fortunately, it was never used.
Hitchin market was famous for the sale of straw plait for the Luton hat industry (Luton's football team are still called the Hatters). An extensive cottage industry grew up around the supply of straw plait and persisted from the seventeenth to the late nineteenth century. Women were the main producers of plait, and some used their additional earnings from this source to attain a higher standard of dress than their even poorer neighbors. This led to all manner of slanderous allegations.
The most striking building on the Market Place is the Corn Exchange. This Italianate
building was completed in 1853 (for a price of 2000 pounds), shortly after the
construction of the railway. With the arrival of the Great Northern Railway
Hitchin became an important centre for grain trading. Bowmans - one of the country's
largest remaining independent millers still have a large site at the charming
nearby village of Ickleford to the North. This historic settlement is well known
as it is bisected by the Roman trade route The Icknield Way and possesses a
fine Norman church. Ickleford is one of several villages on the outskirts of
Hitchin well worth a visit.
The origins of the grain trade go back a long way. In the sixteenth century, the town was said to be second to none for its grain market (especially wheat). Queen Elizabeth I is said to have replied to a Spanish nobleman, boasting of the vineyards of his country, that "My Hitchin grapes" (meaning malt) "surpass them, or those of any other country."
From here, you
can go to the High Street,
to Bucklersbury or Sun Street,
or to St Mary's Church.