Sunday, 25 March 2012

Market - Let's Get It Right

I attended the Town Council Management meeting in Houghton Regis this week. Based on the premise that a Market Charter exists for Dunstable, and that precludes any other market from taking place within six and three quarter miles, we apparently cannot have a market in Houghton Regis. But what we can have is a maximum of four stalls. If we continue thinking like this, some poor soul in many years to come will still be trying to change the rules and looking for a starting point.

First off, Dunstable's alleged Market Charter goes back to the days when populations were measured in hundreds rather than thousands, and the whole point of that restriction was presumably to maintain a reasonable level of trade to make it worthwhile. This is the 21st century now, and the population of Houghton Regis is bubbling around 18,000, with the Dunstable population around 35,000. So I don't see any need for the restriction to still apply.

It is written in The National Gazetteer of Great Britain and Ireland 1868, of Dunstable, "A synod was held here in the early part of the 13th century, about which time was founded a monastery of Black Friars by Henry I., who erected a royal residence at Kingsbury Farm, rebuilt the town of Dunstable, which had been devastated by the Danes two centuries before, and constituted it a borough, with privilege to hold two markets weekly, Sunday and Wednesday, and a fair on St. Peter's day."

"But Dunstable has a market on a Friday", I hear you say. I am told that this Friday Market is held under The Food Act 1984.

Well, whatever Act allows Dunstable to have a market on a Friday, ought to be a way forward for Houghton Regis to also have a proper market, too. Whether it wants, or needs one at this time, is besides the point; it might desire one in the future. However, under section 50 of this Act is written "A market shall not be established in pursuance of this section so as to interfere with any rights, powers or privileges enjoyed within the authority’s area in respect of a market by any person, without that person’s consent."

So Dunstable's Friday market was presumably considered as not interfering with the priviledge of the other two days. Or 'the authority' just consented.

'The authority', I'm guessing, would be the South Bedfordshire District Council, now superceded by the Central Bedfordshire Council. So it might appear that Houghton Regis is blocked from holding markets because it might require permission from CBC who allow our neighbouring town to enjoy many different market days. I cannot see how they could reasonably refuse a request from Houghton Regis, if a request was desired to be made. To deny it would be inequitable.

So, Dunstable has a "priviledge to hold two markets"; I was curious because Gazetteer did not explicity state "Market Charter". And apparently one of them is for a Sunday!

Digging deeper, in the GAZETTEER OF MARKETS AND FAIRS IN ENGLAND AND WALES TO 1516, it states of Dunstable "M (Prescriptive: borough) recorded 1131x33, when K Hen I issued a general notification of his grant of Dunstable with its market and other liberties to the Ca of St Peter of Dunstable (Regesta, ii, no. 1827). In 1287, the P of Dunstable held Wed and Sat markets, which he claimed by right of a charter granted by K Ric I on 3 Jul 1190 (QW, p. 14)"

In these abbreviations "M" is market. "Prescriptive" just made me plain curious. It transpires that all markets and fairs were treated as prescriptive unless evidence of a grant was found. (source). So, when this Gazetteer was written, there was no evidence of an actual grant. And it states "Wed and Sat markets".

The National Archives are not a lot of help in this study. Whilst records may be traced here showing an early royal grant of such rights, they may have no bearing whatever on present day market rights, which have been much affected by modifications or revocations of earlier charters, by grants of new rights (for example in borough charters), by the demise of old jurisdictions (as at the dissolution of the monasteries) and by modern local government reorganisation and boundary changes.

When I wrote to Wendy Fair Markets on this subject they explained,

"You are right that the original Charter was only for Wednesday and Saturday, but Local Authorities have far reaching powers to establish new markets, in particular under the Food Act 1984 and the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1976. They can also just use the Planning Act to give a market Planning Permission and then they can trade as long as it is on private land. If it is on Public Highway they also need permission of the Highway Authority under The Highways Act (1980) or they may need Street Traders Licence’s under The London and Local Authorities Act 1991 or The Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1982."

In conclusion, my general feeling is that there is plenty of doubt around the restrictions of Dunstable's charter priviledge that allow it to hold markets on two days of the week (Wednesday and either Saturday or Sunday - it's a grey area) that preclude any other town from holding a proper market within six and three quarter miles. Additionally, there are plenty of other mechanisms to permit the number of stalls in Houghton Regis to rise above four, should the demand ever arise.

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