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||| Huddersfield market halls of 1880 and 1970 |||
David Griffiths

To what extent have building materials, architectural fashions and functional considerations influenced the design of the Huddersfield market halls of 1880 and 1970?

The covered market hall was a 19th century innovation, pioneered by St John's Market, Liverpool of 1822 1. Virtually every provincial town and city built at least one market hall during the 19th century, and Huddersfield was no exception, opening an imposing Gothic Revival market hall in 1880. Unlike neighbouring Halifax, however, which retains its free Renaissance market hall of 1896 to this day, Huddersfield's was replaced in 1970 by the modernist Queensgate Market. This essay compares and contrasts Huddersfield's 19th and 20th century market halls.

A perspective on market hall architecture

The question invites consideration of the interplay between building materials, architectural fashions and functional considerations. In this section a general argument is advanced about how these inter-relate. The two buildings are then investigated in turn to see how these general themes are played out.

To begin with functional considerations, these operate on at least three levels. There is, firstly, the purpose of the building type itself. As has been said, the large covered market hall was a new building type of the early 19th century, responding to the unprecedented pace of urbanisation. On the one hand, the increased volume of trading put great strain on existing open street markets, which became ever harder to manage - whether from the point of view of economic regulation, public order or simply circulation of traffic. On the other was the need to find effective means of marketing food and other necessities to burgeoning urban populations. A more centralised and enclosed market place or market hall reasserted social control and - together with the growth of the railways - created the conditions for sharp competition on price 2. Thus the covered market hall was a rational response to functional needs.

At a second level, the design of the market hall had to meet a whole series of functional requirements. Schmiechen & Carls identify some of these as follows: 3
  • A location close to the existing commercial centre and accessible to transport links.
  • Ease of internal movement, with a layout which avoids giving undue prominence to any particular stall or shop.
  • Multiple entrances to draw trade in from all sides - preferably with a striking visual feature to assist this, such as a tower.
  • Adequate lighting and ventilation - whilst avoiding direct sunlight with its adverse impact on perishable foods and fabrics.
A final key consideration, noted by no less a Victorian architectural authority than Alfred Waterhouse, was "how to isolate the fish market from the rest of the market" 4.

Thirdly, however, buildings have social and moral 'functions' - their owners and designers deploy architecture as a form of rhetoric. Schmiechen & Carls identify a Victorian
"social and spatial functionalism … based on the Enlightenment idea that architecture, art and design are agents that excite and stimulate our minds because of the associations we make between the object viewed and he values the object represents in our memory. Applied design, whether of building, chair or flower vase, serves as a chain of connection for the internalization of a universally accepted social code. In short, architecture is a visible language." 5
The ideas being expressed through Victorian market design, they argue 6, included:
  • The development of civility - a code of accepted public manners, contrasted with the 'roughness' of the traditional open market.
  • An improvement in standards of economic behaviour, with goods of adequate standard and honest trading.
  • Social unity - "the market hall was projected as a place where people of all classes could come together." 7
  • Municipal pride - a symbol of a town's civic virtue.
To recognise these broader functions of architecture is perhaps to recognise that the modernist assertion that 'form should follow function' does not take one very far. Function always has to be clothed in an architectural language, and therefore always under-determines the final form of a building. And it is in this irreducible gap between function and form that there is room for architectural fashion to operate.

There is also - and finally for these generalities - a subtle interplay between functional and fashion considerations and the chosen materials. Materials can act as a constraint on form - things are possible with 19th century iron-and-glass construction, or 20th century concrete, which were not possible before. As Pevsner argues:
The Crystal Palace is the mid-nineteenth century touchstone, if one wishes to discover what belongs wholly to the nineteenth century and what points forward into the twentieth. 8
Market halls were a key exemplar of this new iron-and-glass era.

Yet at the same time, materials continued to be chosen to make expressive points. As Schmiechen & Carls put it:
While the market hall was wildly inventive as a functional building type, its exterior architectural format, or style, was not pathbreaking … [Crystal Palace's] popularity led to only a few market halls borrowing its utilitarian glass-frame form for their exteriors … For most markets … [t]he exterior did not speak of the honesty of its materials and the modernity of glass and iron; rather, it conveyed the powerful message that the business of buying and selling could aspire to a plane above the ugly, the utilitarian and the profane. 9
In other words, materials were being used to articulate economic function within, social function and fashion without.
Huddersfield Market Hall (1880) 10


Market rights in Huddersfield were held from 1599 by the Ramsden family of Almondbury, who dominated the town's 18th and 19th century development. Incorporation as a Borough was secured in 1868 and the new Council was one of great civic ambition, including the creation of a modern covered market hall.

After an unsuccessful attempt at compulsory purchase in 1871, the Corporation acquired the market rights by agreement in 1876, and immediately initiated a competition to design a market hall on the site of the existing butchers' shambles (fig.1). Over 30 entries were received and adjudicated in 1877 by the eminent Victorian architect G E Street. However his recommendation for Charles Fowler's 'Queen Anne' design 11 was rejected by the Markets & Fairs Committee, who turned instead to local architect Edward Hughes. Although based in Huddersfield since 1871, Hughes had practised for 12 years in George Gilbert Scott's office. His design was approved on 1 March 1878, and described in detail in The Builder of 28 December 1878. The Market Hall opened to the public on 31 March 1880. Here we review it from the perspectives of function, fashion and materials.


The building was an "oblong parallelogram", 270' x 101'6", on a North-South axis, surrounded by streets on all sides, each with a central entrance. There were glass-fronted shops on the N and S facades, and open-fronted butchers' shops with glazed awnings on the E and W sides, sheltered as part of the building but adequately ventilated for their trade. Fish shops were at each side of the S entrance, while the shops of the N façade were for anything but fish.

Within was a general market of 4153 square yards on two floors, at ground and basement levels. The southern third of the basement was originally a wholesale market with a ramped cart entrance, and the rest was for storage. In 1888, however, a new iron-and-glass wholesale market was opened at Brook Street 12 and by then, such was the demand for space that the whole of the basement was in retail use.

The floor of the main hall was of asphalt on cement to minimise clatter. This was supported on arches resting on 60 to 70 iron columns. The roof was in a single span of 71'6", of wrought iron lattice-and-girder construction, with ridges arranged to admit light only from the North. There were originally 72 stalls, arranged in octagonal clusters of four, within a grid of longitudinal and transverse gangways 13. The site sloped down from W to E and Hughes used this to create a row of inward-facing shops above the butchers on the E side, while on the W side was an arcaded gallery affording 16 small stalls for lighter and novelty goods.


Huddersfield Market Hall of 1880 (Huddersfield Weekly News 3 April 1880)
Fig 2. Huddersfield Market Hall of 1880 (Huddersfield Weekly News 3 April 1880)
The principal North façade was designed to make a powerful urban statement. In a style described as "domestic" 14 or "vaguely romantic" 15 Gothic, "the main three-storey front to King Street had corner turrets and conical roofs, and the central section incorporated a Perpendicular entrance, a Decorated window in the gable, more corner turrets, and a tower in which a tall pointed roof rose above gables into which were fitted clock faces" (Fig.2) 16. The S façade repeated this without the tower, and both contained offices above the shops. The 'shambles' frontages were lower and plainer.

Decoratively, there was extensive stone carving to the architect's designs by a local craftsman, S Auty of Lindley. A carved string course ran round the building above the ground floor, and there was carved foliage to the capitals of the columns and the finials of the turrets. The Huddersfield Weekly News reported that the carved decoration was "in keeping with the Gothic character of the building" and "very well done". Historical continuity was emphasised by shields at the W and E entrances depicting the arms of Elizabeth I and Charles II, who had granted and confirmed the Ramsdens' market rights in 1599 and 1671. Clearly all of this made use of the fashions of the Gothic Revival to dignify the building beyond any narrowly functional requirements.


Much has already been said in passing of the materials used. The roof was of wrought iron, painted and gilded (as were the pendant gas lights), with North-facing glass and South-facing green slate. The exterior was of local stone, with ashlar dressings and decorative carving as described above. The market stalls were made of oak and red deal, the latter stained and varnished, while the shops' three-coat plasterwork made them look "clean and white as sea-bleached shells". 17


As the above shows, Huddersfield Market Hall of 1880 met the functional need for a covered market, and the functional design requirements of such a building. But it went far beyond these in its architectural and decorative rhetoric, with a tower rising to 106' to become a dominant landmark feature of the town. The Weekly News noted that "Mr Edward Hughes is to be congratulated upon having shut his eyes to the dull form of Huddersfield buildings, and raised in our midst one in a decorated Gothic of decidedly domesticated type, as becomes a market."

Given that the town already boasted Pritchett's Palladian railway station (1851) and Crossland's Gothic Revival Ramsden Estate Office (1871-2), this perhaps over-stated the case 18. But the building was still held in much affection as demolition approached 90 years later (and still attracts much nostalgia in the letters column of the Huddersfield Daily Examiner). Planning consultants to the Council argued in 1966 that:
This is Montmartre in the West Riding. If St George's Square contains the spirit [of Huddersfield], then here is the body - an earthy one, maybe, but representing a sturdy, robust way of conducting business - the essence of the town at its most vital. 19
But the die was cast by 1960s perspectives on function and fashion, which are pursued below.
Queensgate Market, Huddersfield (1970) 20


If Huddersfield's first market hall was a product of the explosion of municipal energy after incorporation in 1868, its replacement was an equally characteristic product of the 1960s drive for town centre redevelopment. During that decade the Corporation invited development proposals for a wide area of the town centre, and accepted a four-phase plan from the Murrayfield Real Estate Co,

The same site today
Fig 3. The same site today
This included as phase 2 the erection of a new market hall just South of the old one, on the site of Peel St Police Station - released in 1967 by the nearby construction of the new Civic Centre - and as phase 3 the demolition of the old market hall, to be replaced in phase 4 by modern new shops (fig.3). As Alderman J Sykes, Chairman of the Markets Committee, put it, expressing the spirit of the age, "We have to face the fact that the Market Hall building is obsolete by modern retailing standards." 21

Like its Victorian predecessor, Queensgate Market Hall - unlike other phases of the development scheme - was directly financed by the Council. However, Murrayfield's architect Kenneth Wood, of the Birmingham-based J Seymour Partnership, was asked to design it. As we shall see, using the developer's architect enabled the integration of the market hall into the wider development, but in a way which has confused some later architectural commentary.

The old Market Hall closed on Easter Saturday, 28 March 1970, and the new one opened on Monday 6 April. We follow the same headings of function, fashion and materials in discussing it, bringing out many parallels between old and new.


The new market, like the old, is essentially rectangular, this time on a broadly East-West axis. It is larger than its predecessor, and made provision for 187 stalls, arranged in rectangular island groups. Once again there are entrances from several directions - two from the N, from the Piazza shopping centre (across which is the southern building line of the old market hall), one from the W, from Peel St, and two from the S, from Alfred St and its multi-storey car park. To the East, the Market Hall overlooks Queensgate, the ring road, with a substantial change of level and therefore no entrance. 22

Queensgate interior, looking South
Fig 5. Queensgate interior, looking South
Queensgate Arcade, looking North
Fig 6. Queensgate Arcade, looking North
Once inside, instead of through aisles the layout is irregular, with the deliberate aim of ensuring a fair dispersion of traffic (fig.5). The stalls backing onto Peel St have (little-used) display windows to the street, though not external entrances - an external 'shambles' being no longer needed now that refrigeration rather than ventilation meets the need for cool conditions. One of the two Piazza entrances is an arcade of closed-fronted shops (fig.6), which continue along the E side of the hall. Below is a service area for deliveries (no longer by cart) and storage.

Given the large 'footprint' and need for a well-lit interior, the form of the roof was again a key issue, and indeed the roof and its supports are the building's most distinctive architectural features. As the brochure for the opening describes it:
The Architects' conception was for the roof to express the trading divisions of the Market Hall using modern techniques and the roof takes the form of twenty-one asymmetrical hyperbolic paraboloide [sic] shells at differing heights [fig.5]. Each roof measures 56 feet in length, 31 feet in width and is 10 feet deep and they are located in four rows of four and a row of five to the Queensgate elevation. Each roof shell is supported by a single off centre column of natural coloured concrete, the rough board shuttering of which gives vertical emphasis. Rough board shuttering has again been employed for the roof shells, which are of white concrete and the direction of the board marking accentuates the directional movement along the length of the Market Hall.

In order to provide the maximum amount of natural lighting within the Market Hall the heights of the roof shells were varied by approximately 4 feet 6 inches and the glazing is suspended from the upper roof shells in order to accommodate any movement which may occur. (Fig.7) 23
Queensgate roof, looking North-West
Fig 7. Queensgate roof, looking North-West

In many ways Queensgate Market epitomises the stripped-down, functionalist aesthetic of its time. But this was an aesthetic, not just function somehow automatically expressed. And, as a fashion, it spread from town to town. The old Market Hall may have reminded some in 1966 of Montmartre,
But Huddersfield Council's markets and fairs committee had already been to Blackburn, Wolverhampton, Sheffield and Coventry, looking at new market halls which offered better, more modern facilities than Huddersfield's stately Victorian building." 24
Queensgate Market from Queensgate
Fig 8. Queensgate Market from Queensgate
Queensgate façade; concrete, ceramic, ashlar and random stone
Fig 9. Queensgate façade; concrete, ceramic, ashlar and random stone
In an age when commercial values had come to dominate civic ones, there was certainly no attempt to 'make a statement' on the skyline in the manner of the old Market Hall - Queensgate lies low on its site, except when viewed from the ring road (fig.8). Schmiechen and Carls are led to comment that the markets of Huddersfield and Sheffield were "resited in large, drab, cheap-looking utilitarian boxes". 25

We return to consider this judgement below. Here it is worth noting that the functionalist idiom is enlivened by significant decorative elements.

Externally, the architect was asked by the Council to consider "an interesting treatment of the long high wall along Queensgate to avoid an oppressive impact on that traffic busy road of a long blank wall" 26. The result was the addition to the ashlar wall of ten projecting reddish-brown ceramic panels, each 17' by 16', designed by German-born but Stratford-based Fritz Steller (figs.8,9). Their abstraction was, again, part of the fashion of the day - adding "colour and interest" 27 or "[d]eveloper's pretension" 28 according to taste. (In my own opinion, the ring road view of the roof shells and ceramic panels is a striking and effective part of the townscape.) Internally, the N wall is enlivened by a full-length metal structure reflecting, in semi-abstract form, some of the activities represented in the market (fig.10).

Moreover the roof form was motivated by more than functional considerations: 29
Quite early the Committee decided that much of the attractive appearance of a Market Hall depends on the roof design, and the architect … was instructed to give emphasis in his planning to this feature". 30
Queensgate interior, with sculpture
Fig 10. Queensgate interior, with sculpture
The resulting roof has been described above, and while one would perhaps not follow one local enthusiast in likening its shells to the sublimity of Le Corbusier's chapel at Ronchamp, they are undeniably aesthetic as well as functional features - perhaps to some extent wasted, as is the sculpture, on a space where the stalls at ground level inevitably detract from their visual impact.


Once again, much has already been said of the materials. The glass roof is supported on concrete shells and columns, both treated with rough board shuttering. The metal glazing bars remain from the 'crystal palace' tradition (fig.7), and the interior has a tiled floor (one wonders if the glazed green tiles on the lower reaches of the concrete columns are original, or if the roughened concrete originally reached the floor unadorned). This functional interior - characterised in the words of the opening brochure by "simplicity and robustness" - is complemented, as in the Victorian market hall, by a more 'polite' exterior, treated variously in ashlar and rough random stonework, exposed concrete and buff brickwork (fig.9).


Queensgate Market was designed to meet essentially the same requirements of purpose and function as its Victorian precursor. But while the old Market Hall can readily be seen to make a social and moral statement of the kind outlined by Schmiechen and Carls, Queensgate seems a much less rhetorical structure - unassuming in its site and pretending to no dignity transcending its purely commercial functions.

Piazza façade, with Queensgate Market entrance to the right
Fig 11. Piazza façade, with Queensgate Market entrance to the right
This is perhaps to overlook its contribution to a different rhetoric characteristic of its time - the rhetoric of modernity itself, the perceived need for a wholesale makeover in the conditions of urban life. Whilst that may be the rhetoric of comprehensive redevelopment, however, Queensgate itself remains - at least externally - a modest building. Having said that, its modesty is partly thrust upon it by its relation to the adjoining Piazza development. Schmiechen & Carls' "large, drab box" actually comprises two halves, linked only at ground floor level. To the N, and therefore visible from the piazza, are large one- and two-storey flat-roofed shops, occupied by multiple retailers and in no sense part of the market (fig.11). These are cut through by the market arcade and the second N entrance. Behind is the glass-roofed market hall. Although held together by the E and W facades, these are almost separate structures (fig.12), and the Piazza shops are more deserving of Schmiechen and Carls' anathema than the innovative market hall itself.

The 'hiatus' between the Piazza and Queensgate Market buildings
Fig 12. The 'hiatus' between the Piazza and Queensgate Market buildings
Certainly at the time of opening it generated, like its predecessor, some enthusiasm. As a journalistic observer noted on opening day,
Walking along these modern arcades for the first time one gets a feeling of excitement. Here is something which appears so different from anything we have had before. Have we ever had such a shopping complex where so many tradespeople have been able to display their goods in such comfort? And in such style? 31
And twenty years on, the Express & Chronicle, quoting the previous comment, reflected that:
"…it remains true that the Market Hall is a smart, easily accessible, bustling place, full of interest, of bargains and more than a hint of the Old Market Hall (for those of us old enough to remember!). 32

  1. J Schmiechen & K Carls (1999), The British Market Hall: A Social and Architectural History, p34.
  2. Schmiechen & Carls (1999), pp24-31.
  3. Schmiechen & Carls (1999), pp95-113.
  4. Building News, 21/12/1877, p656, quoted in Schmiechen & Carls, p105.
  5. Schmiechen & Carls (1999), p53.
  6. Schmiechen & Carls (1999), pp47-58, 176-81.
  7. Schmiechen & Carls (1999), p56.
  8. N Pevsner (1968), The Sources of Modern Architecture and Design, p11.
  9. Schmiechen & Carls (1999), p83.
  10. The main sources for this section are:
    • 'Huddersfield New Market Hall, The Builder, 28 December 1878;
    • 'Opening of the new Market Hall, Huddersfield, Huddersfield Weekly News, 3 April 1880;
    • S Chadwick, 'A great ornament to the town', Huddersfield Daily Examiner, 14 February 1970.
  11. Schmiechen & Carls (1999), p227, n11. The design, illustrated on p110, seems in fact to be an eclectic mixture of classical and neo-Tudor elements. Moreover, Schmiechen & Carls appear to assume that this was the pioneering early Victorian markets architect Charles Fowler, who had in fact died in 1867 (Dixon & Muthesius (1985), p258).
  12. Schmiechen & Carls cite Brook St as one of the minority of markets that did follow in the 'Crystal Palace' tradition - perhaps because a wholesale function did not demand a 'polite' exterior.
  13. But there were later 166 stalls - presumably reflecting the retail use of the basement. At Your Service: One Hundred Years of Huddersfield Corporation (1968).
  14. Schmiechen & Carls (1999), p53.
  15. D Linstrum (1978), West Yorkshire Architects and Architecture, p320.
  16. Linstrum (1978), p320.
  17. Huddersfield Weekly News, 3 April 1880.
  18. Huddersfield architect W H Crossland was also a pupil of Scott, and the Gothic vocabulary of the Estate Office and Market Hall have a good deal in common.
  19. Quoted in D Hammond, 'All in the name of progress', Huddersfield Daily Examiner, 3 April 1990.
  20. The main sources for this section are:
    • Brochure for the official opening, 6 April 1970.
    • Huddersfield Daily Examiner, 6 April 1970, 8-page supplement.
  21. See note 19.
  22. Immediately across Queensgate is Edward Hughes' Technical College building of 1881-84 (fig.4), now part of the University, which Wyles points out "makes us of similar elements" to his Market Hall. D Wyles (1992), 'Architectural Design in Nineteenth Century Huddersfield', in E A H Haigh, Huddersfield: A Most Handsome Town, p330.
  23. Interestingly the device of maximising light through varying roof heights was used in a very early Victorian market, Exeter Higher Market Hall (1838) - Schmiechen & Carls (1999), pp36-7.
  24. D Hammond, 'All in the name of progress', Huddersfield Daily Examiner, 3 April 1990.
  25. Schmiechen & Carls (199), p215.
  26. Alderman Clifford Stephenson, 'Almondbury hospitality - first link in the chain?' in Huddersfield Daily Examiner, 6 April 1970.
  27. Huddersfield Daily Examiner, 6 April 1970.
  28. C Amery and D Cruickshank (1975), The Rape of Britain, p98.
  29. But also, functionally, left something to be desired. Admitting light from all directions, unlike its Victorian predecessor, it could lead to a 'greenhouse effect' on sunny summer days - "so much so that one particular year saw chocolate and even candles melting on the stalls" (Huddersfield Past and Present, supplement to Huddersfield Daily Examiner (n.d.)). Nor, in another functional retrogression, are the fish stalls segregated!
  30. See note 26.
  31. See note 27.
  32. 'Shopping in Queensgate Market', supplement to Express & Chronicle, 18 December 1992.
  • C Amery & D Cruickshank (1975), The Rape of Britain, London, Paul Elek.
  • R Dixon & S Muthesius (1985), Victorian Architecture, 2nd edition, London, Thames & Hudson.
  • E A H Haigh, ed (1992), Huddersfield: A Most Handsome Town, Kirklees MC, Huddersfield.
  • Huddersfield Corporation (1968), At Your Service: One Hundred Years of Huddersfield Corporation, Huddersfield.
  • D Linstrum (1978), West Yorkshire Architects and Architecture, London: Lund Humphries.
  • N Pevsner (1968), The Sources of Modern Architecture and Design, London: Thames & Hudson.
  • J Schmiechen & K Carls (1999), The British Market Hall: A Social and Architectural History, New Haven: Yale University Press.
  • Press articles as noted above.
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