A Superb Market in Historic Skipton
Skipton is a thriving and prosperous market town located in the Craven district of North Yorkshire, 16 miles northwest of Bradford and a little over 20 miles from Leeds. Historically in the West Riding of Yorkshire, it is located on the course of the River Aire to the south of what is now the Yorkshire Dales National Park. Historically, the Town grew up around the impressive Skipton Castle which still stands proudly overlooking the High Street.
The protection offered by the castle encouraged the region to become a prosperous market town, trading sheep and woollen goods. In the 19th century, Skipton emerged further as a small mill town connected to the major cities via the Leeds and Liverpool Canal which still flows through the heart of the town centre. During the 20th century Skipton’s economy shifted to tourism, aided by its historic architecture and proximity to the Yorkshire Dales. Skipton Market itself is unique and its history also dates back to medieval times when, in 1203, a royal charter granted consent to The Lord of the Honour of Skipton Castle to hold a fair on Skipton High Street.
This consent still holds true today – and the current owner of Skipton Castle grants the rights to hold the market on four days each week. The historic fairs of medieval times have long since been replaced by what we now recognise as a traditional street market, but the principles are the same – a group of traders get together on the High Street, set up their stalls and sell their wares. For many years, the market in Skipton was a place where animals were traded. The town’s close associations with sheep is reflected in the name of the town. Skipton actually means “sheep town”, so the historic link will always remain.
On each market day, stalls are erected on the area of the High Street known as the setts. These are, in effect, cobbled areas between the formal footpaths and the main road. Each stall on the market is different as they are, in effect, the same size as the shop front they stand in front of. Skipton Town Council, which acts as the Market Authority, also works very closely with the shop owners to make sure the stalls placed in front of their shops don’t sell the same products as the shop itself. Skipton Market plays a huge part in the life of the town. Very few places of a similar size have as many regular market days as Skipton, and very few have a market located in the very heart of the town, on the High Street. At the moment, there are no fixed stalls, so each trader builds their own stall from scratch early each morning.
Generally the stalls will be up and running from 9.30am and the market clears away from around 4.30pm, although this may be slightly earlier or later depending on the weather conditions. Many of the traders attend for every Market Day, others for one or two days per week. The range of commodities available includes clothing, footwear, fresh fruit and vegetables, meat, cheese, baked food, sweets, packaged food, household goods, tools, DVDs, CDs, takeaway food, stationery, bags, plants and flowers.
There is always something of interest and value. Another reason that the market is unique is because it operates in rather unusual circumstances. In what is currently a three-way operation, traders need both the permission of the landowner and the Council before they can trade and, in the majority of cases, they pay rent to the landowner and a ‘consent fee’ to the Council for managing the Market. The Council is currently negotiating with the majority of owners for full control of the market setts, meaning in the future the system will become simpler and more effective to operate. As a town, Skipton is well served by public transport with a fast and efficient rail service on the Airedale line from Leeds, Bradford, Bingley, Shipley, and Keighley. There are also direct services to and from Morecambe, Lancaster and stations on the historic and hugely scenic Settle- Carlisle line. There are frequent bus services from nearby towns and cities, including Leeds, Ilkley, Colne, Burnley and Preston.
The amount of tourists Skipton has visit is a key part to the success of the town. This was my first visit, but it is easy to see why so many people want to go there, it definitely won’t be my last. There is a big car park just off the High Street for cars and coaches.
During my mid-morning visit I noticed that there were already five coaches in the car park on a chilly and damp day in the middle of March, suggesting that as the weather continues to get better and as we get into the summer months, this will only increase further. It is the ideal destination for visitors as there is so much in Skipton for them to see or do and the location of the market means it is at the heart of it. All of the traders commented how much they enjoy meeting the vast amount of visitors that come from far and wide – some from places as far flung as America, China and Australia. Even if the tourists come with a visit to the Castle or the canal in mind, they always end up spending time at the market as well.
Skipton is often referred to as being the ‘Gateway to the Yorkshire Dales’ and, in 2014, it was voted ‘Best Place to Live in Britain’ by the Sunday Times, adding to the accolade of ‘Best High Street in Britain’, which they had won a few years previously, beating off some very stiff competition. Many activities and events take place in and around the market each year and 2015 is no different, in fact the 15th June this year marks the 800th anniversary of the sealing of the ‘Magna Carta’ – a document between King John and his ‘rebel’ barons which is claimed to be the birth of modern democracy. One of those 25 barons represented Skipton and its Castle – and the town is celebrating this with a range of events across the summer. Other events include ‘Sheep Day’ a heritage event celebrating the town’s close connections with the countryside, the Skipton Waterway Festival based around the canal basin and an internationally-renowned puppet festival.
The most popular of these special events is the Skipton Christmas Market, which takes place on the first two Sundays in December. This event has just passed its 20th anniversary and is now regularly voted into the ‘Top 10 UK Christmas Markets’. It attracts over 100 coaches each day from destinations across the country. The Council is always looking at new ways of promoting the Market and, as part of a major campaign on social media, they recently ran a series of competitions offering prizes linked to ‘likes’ on Facebook and Twitter. The prizes offered are in the form of ‘vouchers’ to spend on the market – and the voucher scheme itself, aimed at increasing customer loyalty and is to be extended later this year. The market staff and traders all work extremely hard to ensure they do their part in maintaining the history of Skipton, while making sure they are still attracting people into the town. They are very pro-active at advertising the market, recently advertising on the sides and backs of buses operating routes into Skipton from outlying towns. Another positive for the market this year will be the unveiling of a ‘Market Mascot’.
On market days you can often see Council staff walking around the market wearing bright yellow jackets with the words ‘Town Centre Ambassador’ on them. They are there to help with any enquires from tourists during their visit and basically operate as mobile tourist guides.
This is something that has gone down very well in the town and offers a friendly face of advice for all who visit. It also helps the Council spot any early problems with things such as litter, traffic problems or graffiti. As part of its plans to expand and develop Skipton Market, new opportunities are coming on stream in the coming months – and anyone who is interested in becoming a trader at Skipton Market or wishes to find out any more information can contact Skipton Town Council on 01756 700553 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Skipton Town Centre Manager, Brett Butler, told MTN,
“We’re very proud of our town and the Market plays such a huge part in its success. We can’t afford to just rest on our laurels, though, and we are working hard on ways to ensure that it stays as popular as it always has been”.
“One of our main aims is to simplify the method of operation, achieve greater flexibility in the control of the market setts – and to offer opportunities for new traders, with new products to join the well-established traders who have been with us for years.”
Telephone 01756 700553