Market tradition on borrowed time

TRADERS in Ipswich have watched the town's once-thriving market spiral into decline over the last four decades – and now an 800-year tradition is under real threat.

By Paul Geater

TRADERS in Ipswich have watched the town's once-thriving market spiral into decline over the last four decades – and now an 800-year tradition is under real threat.

As they set up the market outside the town's Civic Centre today, they seem to know they are living on borrowed time.

"This is the wrong place. There aren't enough customers to make it worthwhile for many traders – they go to other towns instead," said fishmonger Mike Youngs, chairman of the co-operative that runs the market.

"We need to be somewhere more central, like the Cornhill or Carr Street. There isn't enough passing trade here."

The only "passing traffic" they see is people heading into the Civic Centre to do business with the council.

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Apart from that, the only people who visit the dwindling number of market stalls are those who make a special trip – and their numbers have been falling for years, eaten away by superstores, convenience shops open all hours, and by other shops nearer the bus stations and car parks.

That's why on Saturdays – the busiest day of the week for most shops – the market is even quieter than normal and fewer traders turn up, preferring more lucrative pitches in other towns.

"This is the county town of Suffolk, yet people go on trips from here to the market at Bury St. Edmunds – and the markets at places like Norwich and Cambridge are in a different league," said a frustrated Mr Youngs.

The car park, currently used for Civic Centre staff when the market isn't in town, is due to be converted to a public pay and display park in the spring.

"Many people see that as the real death-knell for the market. They've been asking us which towns they can find us in once we've left Ipswich," said Mr Youngs.

The council wants the market traders to move to a new site which would be part of the Mint Quarter development between Carr Street and Tacket Street.

But the traders don't think they'll be around by the time the Mint Quarter is completed – work to start the centre is still some way off.

"We can't wait that long. There will be no market within weeks unless we can move," said Mr Youngs.

Greengrocer Nigel Parker has been working on the market for 18 years and running his own stall for nine.

"Things have got far worse, this used to be very busy – but look at it now. There's no future here," he said.

Ipswich council's economic development spokesman Philip Smart said market traders had been threatening to pull out of the town for years – but a consultant employed by the borough felt the market did have a viable future.

It was not possible to move it to the Cornhill for legal reasons and there was not enough space there for the market as well as the craft market that already operates there.

THE right of Ipswich citizens to hold a market was enshrined in the charter granted by King John in 1200.

For centuries it thrived, and for more than 100 years its home was the Corn Exchange in the heart of the town.

However its decline began in the late 1960s when it was decided to give a boost to the new Greyfriars development and the market moved there.

Greyfriars was universally hated and the customers didn't follow it into the new development.

It then moved to a temporary home on the site of what is now Crown Pools. When development work started there, the market crossed the road to the site of what is now the Tower Ramparts shopping centre.

Back in the heart of the town, it regained some of its previous popularity.

But as work started on the new shopping centre, the market had to move again – this time to the Civic Centre car park.

It was only ever designed to be there temporarily, until a new permanent site was found.

But this proved difficult to find, and a new permanent site was not identified until the first plans for what was then called the "Cloisters" development were published in 1992.

This placed the market in a new square off Tacket Street, an object that has remained the planners' goal.

However Cloisters never happened, and now the re-development of that area has been re-thought and is now called the Mint Quarter – the goal of having the market at its heart remains the same.

The council had asked traders to move to that site before work started – but they refused, saying that one thing worse than staying where they are at present would be to move to a building site.

Is the market worth saving? Where should it go? Do you make a special trip to the markets in Norwich, Cambridge or Bury St. Edmunds? Let us know your views, write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or e-mail