Doncaster is one of the most historic market towns in the land developing from a classic close knit trio of church, Norman motte and bailey castle, to one of the of the finest in the land.
It is a long, interesting but complicated story involving the need for permission from Norman Lords and many charters - but space is limited so we will concentrate on the latter half of its history.
By the 13th Century the Market Place had its own church, the splendid Mary Magdalene’s, and in 1467 Edward IV granted municipal borough status which meant a legal mayor, a council of freemen and two sergeants of mace to represent authority.
Doncaster itself covered 40 acres at this time and 18 of these were taken up by the church and priory sites, burial grounds and the Market Place.
By 1611 the corporation was renting out 63 market stalls including 25 butchers, 18 shoemakers, 16 wool and linen drapers and six fishmongers. From the 15th century there was even a weekly mystery play performed on a cart driven into the market square. It was a taste of live shows which were to eventually lead to the building of a fine market place theatre many years later.
The 1840s saw another major market square facelift when borough engineer John Butterfield designed the imposing 6,000 sq ft Corn Exchange with cast iron columns and a glass roof connected to the 15,000 square Market Hall. It was a major change to the look of the town mainly because its construction hastened the demolition of a cluster of older buildings including the old town hall and grammar school, the Buttercross and the butchers open fronted shambles arcade as well as the remnants of the St. Mary Magdalene chapel.
The Corn Exchange itself was given a Victorian facelift in 1875 when it became an entertainment venue, a venue which went on to benefit from appearances by such names as a young Winston Churchill, who gave a lecture on his Boer War experiences, and Sir Edward Elgar conducted the London Symphony Orchestra in 1909.
The wonderful Wool Market, which has benefited greatly from a recent update, reflected Doncaster’s sometimes understated importance when in Tudor and Stuart times the wool trade throughout summer involved the hectic trading of fleeces to London and the Midlands which was basically brought about by the Great North Road making travelling a much more attractive proposition.
Doncaster Market is still one of the finest and traditional markets, it was actually voted the best in Britain.
You can read a more detailed account of the town’s fascinating past accompanied with fine illustrations in the splendid book “A History of Doncaster” by Brian Barber, which is available from Doncaster Tourist Information Centre at The Blue Building in High Street, Doncaster as well as local bookshops.
The information given here is taken from just one of 30 leaflets on the positive aspects of Doncaster which are available.