John Lerwill’s website tells us that the market began in 1154 when Peter de Bermingham, a local landowner, obtained a Charter of Marketing Rights from King Henry II to hold a weekly market every Thursday and levy tolls on goods and produce sold. Richard I confirmed this right in 1189 in a charter enrolled and placed on the Patent Rolls, now in the National Archives.
In a lively discussion on the Restirred Forum, Andy Foster wrote: “The Wholesale Markets occupy the site of the old Manor House of Birmingham, demolished in 1822, and its moat, hence Moat Row. This is the very oldest part of the city.”
Later the area was known as the Bull Ring, because the ‘sport’ of bull-baiting took place on the site The market‘s location, where trackways in the area converged and there was a crossing point on the River Rea, made Birmingham a centre of trade and attracted skilled craftsmen. A major cloth trade was established and over time other markets developed nearby including food, cattle and corn markets.
The Bull Ring developed into the main retail market area for Birmingham as the town grew into an industrial city and there were demonstrations and speeches from leaders of working class movements during the political reform movements of the1830s and 1840s. Its first MP, Thomas Attwood, having seen the effects of growing unemployment upon ‘an affectionate people’ in Birmingham, warned that: ‘Poverty has made them madmen; by coercion you may make them devils’.
The Street Commissioners – fifty unpaid residents – decided that a sheltered market hall was needed and bought the market rights from the lord of the manor. By 1832, all properties on site had been purchased and construction of the Market Hall, designed by Charles Edge (an architect of Birmingham Town Hall), began in February 1833. It opened on February 12, 1835 and contained 600 market stalls. Some idea of the design can be seen in the remnant photographed before demolition:
The building was faced with stone from Bath and its wide entrances were supported by Doric columns. At the end of the market day, metal gates were pulled in front of the entrances. In the centre of the large market hall was an bronze fountain, given by the Street Commissioners upon their retirement in 1851. On the inside of the bowl were eight lions’ heads from which water was ejected and in the centre was a 150 cm tall statue called the Messenger and Sons. The statue consisted of four children representative of each of Birmingham’s main four industries; gun making, glass-blowing, bronzing and engineering.
Nearby New Street was heavily bombed in World War II and the Market Hall was severely damaged.
No repair work was conducted on the building and the arches which housed the windows were bricked up. However, although roofless, it remained in use for small exhibitions and open markets until the redevelopment of the Bull Ring in the early 1960s.
Demolition began in the late1950s and the outdoor market area was opened in June 1962 with 150 stalls, most selling, food and the demolition of the old Market Hall began.
The London and Edinburgh Trust (LET), who had bought the land planned a second redevelopment in the 1980s but their proposals were changed by a pressure group called Birmingham for People and eventually the designs were amended. However, a recession meant that the plans could not begin construction.
The markets were untouched by the second redevelopment which was opened on 4th September 2003. In the Restirred Forum, Barnard Hobbit described the wholesale market:
“Birmingham Wholesale Market is the largest wholesale combined food markets in the United Kingdom that include the selling of meat, fish, poultry, fruit, vegetables and flowers all on one site. This makes it one of the best markets in the UK for traders and restaurants as they can buy all their needs in one stop.”
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