‘The finest Market Hall in England’: commercial aspirations in the mid-nineteenth century

The Improvement Act of 1828 (9 Geo. IV) gave the Birmingham Street Commissioners authority to erect a ‘market house’. Over the course of several years, money was raised through loans from the public and was finally opened to the public in February 1835. It was a grand building and came to be a much loved feature in Birmingham.


Birmingham Market Hall

Further alterations to the hall were proposed by the Market Committee of the Street Commissioners January 1849 ‘to promote the comfort and convenience of persons resorting thereto…and also to improve the internal appearance of the hall’. The Market Committee planned to ‘increase the accommodation of the public, by enabling them to purchase every article required, or usually to be found in a market – shops conveniently fitted up, being established, it is to be hoped that respectable Fruiterers, Green Grocers, Florists, Fishmongers and Butchers will avail themselves of the facilities and conveniences thus offered to them.’  As a result of these improvements, the committee suggested that ‘the public will be supplied not only with the common necessities of life, but with the more luxurious articles which, in combination, will give a greater interest to the whole, and the noble building will be appropriated to its legitimate purposes instead of being occupied by the vendors of manufactured articles, to the great injury of the fair and honest shopkeeper.’

The Street Commissioners had expended a substantial amount of the ratepayers cash on establishing Birmingham’s markets, but there was clearly a great sense of pride in their achievements. At this same meeting in 1849, the Market Committee expressed its clear intention to make this the ‘finest Market Hall in England’. Their report included detailed descriptions of the alterations to be made, and for the most part they were carried out by 1851. This information came from the volume 8 of the Street Commissioner’s minutes MS 2818/1/8 Archives, Heritage and Photography at the Library of Birmingham

Summary of planned improvements to the market hall, presented by the Market Committee of the Birmingham Street Commissioners at a general meeting held on January 1st, 1849

‘Panelling, or divisions of the stalls will be 4 feet high, capped with light mahogany’

‘On either side of the High Street entrance there will be 19 fruit shops, fitted with moveable sashes, sash doors and stall boards’  each shop containing an area from 80 to 130 square feet and ‘similar to the shops in the centre avenue of Covent Garden Market, London’

There would be 7 fish, game and poultry shops, fitted as described above and with an area of 110 square feet

12 butchers shops, fitted as above with an area of 65 square feet

In the centre of the hall, 18 fish stalls, 90 feet square with moveable marble slabs, each 4 feet wide.


Stalls in market hall, 1937

The fish stalls, along with the 7 proposed game and poultry shops were to fitted with a water tap and independent drain, and with ‘the whole of these drains discharging themselves into a shaft into which the overflow from the fountain will fall, effectually carrying away all filthy matter and preventing the escape in the hall of any offensive effluvium, into which shaft also arrangements will be made occasionally to discharge the fountain basin which will contain about 500 gallons of water – effectually driving away every particle of filthy matter.’


Market hall fountain

The projected cost of the improvements ‘including the magnificent fountain’ was £2000, plus an estimated annual cost of £20 for the supply of water to the fountain for 8 hours a day. The Market Committee suggested that the increase in rentals would bring the town an annual return of £500

The market hall was bombed in November 1940 and was eventually demolished to make way for the new Bullring development of the 1960s.

City Bull Ring Old Market Hall isolated




Photograph c. 1870s, fountain in distance


5 thoughts on “‘The finest Market Hall in England’: commercial aspirations in the mid-nineteenth century

    • It was! There are some photographs about the web. It had some faults to begin with so that it wasn’t carrying the dirty water away efficiently. But this was repaired free of charge by a gentleman who claimed to know what the fault was. i shall find the notes and add an update.

      • At a meeting of the Town Council on Jan 27th, 1852 [BCC1/AA/1/1/2] the Markets & Fairs Committee reported that complaints had been made by stallholders of ‘damp’ arising from the fountain ‘causing serious injury to their health and damage to their goods’. In May of the same year [same document] it was further reported that a Mr Messenger had suggested certain alterations to the fountain and had offered to make them free of charge. I shall add an photograph of the fountain into the end of the blog, though it’s only in the background. There’s a lovely watercolour painting showing more detail here: http://www.bmagic.org.uk/objects/1952P36 – hope this is of some help. Would be interesting to know if any parts of the fountain were re-used!

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