Buildings in Market Street, with a few notable exceptions, don't give up their secret histories very easily. It is well worth taking a closer look.
At first glance just like the ordinary wide street lined with late Georgian / early Victorian buildings is only part of the story. The street plan of the top half of the street and the building plots at right angles date from the beginning of the 14th century. The property boundaries have survived more or less intact for the last 800 years. Three properties date from Elizabethan times.
51 Market Street now Loros Charity Shop The half timbered building currently housing the Loros charity shop is genuine 16th century, as are the Bull's Head and the Lamb public houses.
Bull's Head established before 1595
The Lamb Inn A closer look inside several shop premises higher up the street than the White Hart reveals the original timber frames of much earlier buildings. Admittedly the majority of the fronts of current street buildings date from the late 1700s to about 1840 when the last phase of rebuilding took place. Some replaced 17th century buildings completely, others incorporated them and just added a new two or three story front. Taking figures just from trade directories (only the shops who advertised) the town in 1828 boasted 7 butchers, 5 Bakers, 9 drapers, 9 innkeepers, 9 grocers, 6 tailors. Bustling and successful.
The island area half way down Market Street probably started as market stalls. Over the years squatters' rights were claimed and more permanent buildings were erected. Imagine the early 1800s when the brook ran open along Brook Street, across Market Street and open down Union Passage between Boots and the yellow Greengrocers. The two halves of Market Street were joined by a small bridge.
The lower part of the street was added in the 16th century. In the main the street has survived wholesale development - we only have about three examples of abysmal 1960-70 architecture - not bad for a street of its size.
Market Street contained many surviving inns, pubs and ale houses; the museum has extensive information on those and the ones which have disappeared. Our prize exhibits are a document dating the Bull's Head to 1590. The White Hart lives on through the antics of an 18th century extrovert landlord; in the 18th century he kept a tame bear held cock fights and seemed to be visited by highwaymen.
The current Queen's Head and the Market Hall replaced much earlier coaching inns. The Zeus Bar was re-fronted in 1799 hiding a much older building at the rear.
During the last 300 years at least 30 further properties have been pubs or ale houses at one time or another - and this was only in Market Street. The museum holds pub history walks from time to time - come and join us.
Early 17th century Market Street was a mix of elegant town houses, inns pubs and ale houses, and shops. The Huntingdon family was living in the castle and the town enjoyed a period of prosperity largely lost during the Civil Wars and not fully regained until the late 1700s.
The majority of the early properties in Market Street were re-fronted between 1790 & 1840. These elegant fronts hid the squalid cottages lining the courts.
These courts consisted of rows of poorly built cottages facing each other across a dark, narrow yard. The population of Ashby doubled between 1800 and 1850 but the size of the town remained the same; consequently housing in certain areas degenerated into insanitary squalor. The last of the court cottages were demolished in the 1950s.
Bath Street leading from the bottom of Market Street towards the Loudoun Memorial and the Baths of the Bath Grounds was substantially widened in 1906. This was to make way for the Ashby to Burton Light Railway.
In about 1780 it became known as Cotton Mill Lane. Traces of an industrial building which provided work for 200 people can still be seen above Ashby Jewellers. Next to the Chinese restaurant Wong Kwei is an archway and a door. This led to the Theatre Royal in 1800's later renamed the Floral Hall.
Before the cotton mill the street was known as Meeting House Lane where one of Ashby's many non-conformist chapels was sited.
The Loudoun Memorial was erected by public subscription and unveiled in 1879 in memory of Edith Abney-Hastings a great local lady renowned for good works.
The Green was an area surrounded by cottages with the town's lock up at the centre. Horse fairs were held in the 18th century. Although now picturesque this used to be one of the poorer parts of the town. Workers' small cottages, lodging houses and more than its fair share of pubs and ale houses. Notable are the Plough and the Bowling Green; still thriving after 250 years. These two were supplemented by two more to quench the thirst of the local population.
Smithard's Bakers shop still selling bread since the early 1800s.
Off the corner of the Green leads Mill Bank once densely populated with more than its fair share of leatherworking industry. Mill Bank lead through into the Callis.
This area of town derives its name not from any French connection but from a corruption of an early spelling of cabbages. The Callis has changed almost beyond recognition.
The railway bridge has gone as have the thatched cottages.
The Blue Bell survives as does the spirit of community of a town within a town. Many families have lived in the Callis for many years - their names still linger on.