Close your eyes and imagine a market place in days gone by, writes Ed Grimsdale.
Did you conjure a square or rectangle? I bet you did, after all market and square go together like bacon and eggs.
If you were Buckingham born and bred, you should have imagined an isosceles triangle – base across the town hall and with long sides narrowing to an apex at North End Court. As so often, Buckingham is, if not unique, different.
Infill by shops and the gaunt Old Gaol obscures the neat shape the later Normans gave us. Are there other triangular market areas?
Towns like Winslow can correctly talk and write off market squares, but Buckingham’s is a 19th century confection by our burghers concerned with ‘the naming of parts’: it identifies only the area closest to the White Hart. The first reference to Buckingham’s market square may date from 1830 when Mr Blencowe started a tea business in ‘Mr. Goode’s old-established grocery business’. Personally, I’d like to do a midnight raid and pull down those misleading cast iron Market Square signs!
Buckingham’s market grew away from its castle and needed to be defensible. While history shows this area became quiet after the Norman Conquest, the fear of invasions, uprisings and civil disorder remained. The market could go into ‘lock-down’by using narrow gateways at principal entrances to this vital area. A reminder is the overhanging roof of the town hall over Castle Street. Traffic in the 19th century demanded more room to pass and our town hall was trimmed.
Have you noticed the pinch point when driving out of Buckingham along West Street? You may have thought, ‘Can I pass that oncoming lorry?’ and decided to rest awhile. A few years ago, part of the house next to the entrance to Reynolds’ Yard was demolished by a lorry. The top of Bridge Street was not widened until the 1860s and even today, the pavement adjacent to its pedestrian crossing is scarcely wide enough for a baby’s buggy.
Podd’s Lane was the old name for Moreton Road, and its mean entrance was widened less than 100 years ago when Buckingham lost part of the old Market House. So difficult was it for stagecoaches to penetrate the heart of Buckingham that when the George Inn (Brown’s Hairdresser’s) was built, a coach entrance from the market was omitted. Coaches were to arrive and depart at its rear yard using a ford specially created across the River Great Ouse.
Few coaches came – drivers hated crossing moving water for their top-heavy vehicles overturned so easily. In 1783, Mr Pead sold his failed George Inn with its snooker table and it became (the first) Buckingham School and when that failed despite surveying being on its curriculum, it provided a comfortable home for the vicar of Maids Moreton.
The affluent and self-indulgent Rev James Hutton Long got fed up with travelling to church along narrow Podd’s Way so he built his own tree-lined route and based his design on Stowe’s avenue – 200 years later, Long’s way remains Maids Moreton Avenue.