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Shefford Market

close up of Shefford town sign February 2008
 

The original charter granting the Lord of the Manor of Campton and Shefford the right to hold a market was given to Henry, son of Gerold in 1229. A market was certainly held in 1275 as a coroner's inquest records the pillorying of a cut-purse there prior to his untimely demise.

The market survived well after the Middle Ages, a case in the State Papers of Charles I for 1636 throws light on a squabble over where stalls might be set up. Clearly, at this time, the Crown let the right to take tolls at the Market, rather than the Lords of the Manor (as was the case later, see below). The published summary being as follows [CRTShefford10]: "Brief of the contents of a bill and answer in a cause between Humphrey Sampson, plaintiff, and Thomas Stephens, Oliver Thody, and others, defendants. The bill alleged, that the Queen's Commissioners by indenture dated 9th June…demised to James Sampson, father of the complainant, the tolls of the markets and fairs in Shefford, co.Bedford, and all shops, stalls, and pickages whatsoever for 21 years, at the rent of £12 a year, by virtue of which lease the plaintiff set up certain stalls, which defendants pulled down and erected others in their stead. In their answer defendants prescribed to set stalls under the railings of their houses, and Stephens confessed that he hindered the plaintiff from setting up a stall which stopped the light of his house".

No other surviving document hints at the site of the market. Presumably it could be held on any part of the manorial waste, or even on the manor land itself. The abundance of known licensed premises around the junction of Northbridge Street, Southbridge Street and the High Street may be a clue as to the traditional site.

In 1681 the market and fair tolls were granted to Timothy Wilson and Elizabeth, his wife. In 1713 the right to hold a market was reconfirmed to the Lords of the Manor, the Bruce family, Earls of Elgin and Ailesbury [PE441] in a charter stating: "a market in the vil of Shefford on Friday of each week for ever". The Earls had held the manor from the Crown since 1613.

In 1738 the Bruce family sold the lease of the manor to the Dukes of Bedford. An entry in the court book [X89/1] for 1755 reveals both that now the Lords of the Manor leased out the right to collect tolls at the market and that it was considered important to let all know the time of day: "Also that the person who rents and occupyes [sic] of the Lord the Tolls and Market of Shefford, shall at noon upon every Market day throughout the year, ring the Market Bell or cause the same to be rung, upon Pain to forfeit lose and pay to the Lord for every Offence five shillings".

The Dukes of Bedford did not renew the lease of the Manor in 1839 and it thereafter, with the right to hold the market, reverted to the Crown. In that final year the right to collect market tolls was leased by the Duke to a John Brown for £3 per quarter (the same as in 1636).

The Victoria County History relates that by the late 18th century the market had declined in importance, but by the middle of the next century it had regained some of its lustre. The Post Office Directory of 1847 notes "a considerable market for straw plait" held every Friday. The last mention of a market in a directory is that in Kelly's of 1914.

In 1964 a Shefford estate agent, John W.Maisey, proposed to revive the market. At that time the Lord of the Manor was Alderman W.A.Inskip, who raised no objection.