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Leighton Buzzard Market Hall

Town Hall and Market Square in 1798
Town Hall and Market Square in 1798 [Z50/72/38]

The Market House was set up in the middle of the Market Square and was used as a building in which to hold the market court, often called the Court of Pie Powder elsewhere, at which disputes which arose during the markets or fairs could be resolved. The right to hold a market and take tolls at it was owned by the Manor of Leighton Buzzard alias Grovebury. The original building was timber-framed and had a single ground floor area which was open for stalls to be set up on it; the court was held in a room upstairs in the so-called Jury Loft. This is mentioned in a document of 1585 in which the tenant of the Manor, Sir Christopher Hoddesdon, leased the Jury Loft of the Market House at Leighton Buzzard to Edmund Bolsworth of Leighton Buzzard, tanner for 21 years at £6/8/- per annum provided he kept the loft "comelye benched att one of the sides and at one of the endes thereof". He also had to keep a window at the west end sufficiently glazed and to allow suitors at courts held in the Moot Hall free entrance to the Loft [KK319].

A letter a from Justice of the Peace Rev.W.B.Wroth, who was also Vicar of Totternhoe, to the tenant of the manor Chandos Leigh from 1825 survives [KK880] in which the J.P. noted that the justices had sought permission to use a schoolroom "near the church" [possibly Pulford's School] as a meeting place but was given instead the "room over the Market" in other words the Jury Loft, but now the man who rented the tolls was claiming compensation and the Justice wanted to know whether the Lord wished the Justices to pay or not. Leigh wrote to his steward Thomas Lane Wood asking for more information and Wood replied [KK882] that the room was used by the Justices on Tuesdays and was known as the Town Hall "where manorial business is conducted". Before that the room had been used as a schoolroom by a man named Copleston who had paid the lessee of the tolls, Saunders, £2/10/- per annum. The late Lord Leigh had had the room fitted up for the Justices and had arranged that they should pay an acknowledgement of two guineas per annum to Saunders. Wood went on that general justices meetings for the Hundred [Manshead] were held at the George in Woburn and that Justices could easily persuade the Duke of Bedford to provide them with a room over the Woburn market house. He ended by noting that Wroth was a "very troublesome man". Leigh then wrote back to Wroth [KK883] telling him that the same terms must apply.

The structure was demolished in 1851 and replaced by a new brick building at a cost of £1,182 [KK789]. The top floor was still used as a court and also contained two small ante rooms. The ground floor continued to be used as a site for stalls and a store for the market hurdles [KK401].

 The Town Hall about 1895
The Town Hall about 1895 [Z1306/72]

In 1918 Leighton Buzzard Urban District Council purchased both the Market Hall (called the Town Hall) and the market tolls [UDLLM2/4]. The entry in the appropriate minute book [UDLLM2/4] reads as follows: "The Committee [Joint Committee; Finance and General Purposes, Works and Fire Brigade] have to report that, following an interview between the Captain of the Fire Brigade and Mr.J.T.Mills, lord of the Manor, on the subject  of the proposed acquisition of the Town Hall for Fire Brigade purposes; a deputation consisting of Messrs Chapman, Furlong and P.D.Payne visited Stockgrove on the 30th September at the invitation of Mr.Mills to confer with him on the subject. A letter was read from Mr.MIlls' agent stating that Mr.Mills was very favourably impressed with the proposal laid before him by the deputation and offering the Council both the Town hall and the Market Rights for the sum of £1,200 and that Mr.Mills would give the Council £600 towards the purchase money, upon condition that the Town Hall and Market Rights are for ever retained by the Urban District Council for the use of the Town of Leighton Buzzard. The Weighbridge, Market Stalls and furniture in the Town Hall to be paid for by valuation unless a figure is agreed upon. The owner of Stockgrove to retain the free use of the Upper Room for the manor Courts and for Rent Audits if required. The conveyance to be made by the Steward of the Manor and paid for by the Council".

"A deposit of 10% on £600 to be paid upon accepting this offer and completion to take place within six months of this date, when possession will be given. It is recommedned as follows: -

1. That the Clerk be instructed to thank Mr.J.T.Mills, Lord of the manor, for his courtesy and kindness in receiving the deputation and his practical interest in the Town of Leighton Buzzard as now shown by his consideration for its best welfare.

2. The Mr.Mills' generous offer for the sale of the Town Hall, Market rights etc. as enumerated by him in detail, be accepted, including the conditions attaching to the sale.

3. That a cheque for £60 being the suggested deposit be forwarded to the Lord of the Manor's agent and arrangements for the purchase be made at once.

4. That the joint Finance and general Purposes, Fire Brigade and Market Committee be given executive powers to deal with all matters of detail and the completion of the transfer.

5. That the Clerk be instructed to apply to the Local Government Board for sanction to borrow the sum of £800 for the purpose of completing the purchase and for the necessary alterations to the Town Hall for Fire Brigade purposes".

 The Old Fire Station from the west June 2008
The Old Fire Station from the west June 2008

The building was used as a fire station until 1963, when it was closed on completion of the present fire station in Duncombe Drive. Leighton Buzzard Urban District Council became Leighton-Linslade Urban District Council in 1965 when the adjoining ancient parish of Linslade was transferred into Bedfordshire and joined with Leighton Buzzard. Urban District Councils were abolished in 1974 and the responsibilities of Leighton-Linslade Urban District Council transferred to South Bedfordshire District Council. the County of Bedfordshire was itself abolished in 2009 and South Bedfordshire District Council joined with Mid Bedfordshire District Council to form the unitary authority of Central Bedfordshire Council.

The Rating and Valuation Act 1925 laid down that every piece of land and property in the country was to be valued to determine the rates to be paid on it.  In 1927 valuers visited Leighton Buzzard and noted of the Town Hall [DV1/R80/59] that it was owned by Leighton Buzzard Urban District Council and was a brick and tile fire station and store measuring 20 feet by 66 feet together with an eight ton weigh bridge built by Avery. The valuer noted:

"first floor let to British Legion" at a rent of £30 per annum; the floor comprised a billiard room measuring 20 feet by 40 feet with two tables, a bar measuring 20 feet by 15 feet and an ante-room and W.C. totalling 20 feet by 11 feet.

The Old Fire Station in the Market Square June 2008
The Old Fire Station in the Market Square June 2008

The building was listed by the former Department of Environment as Grade II, of special interest. They noted that it is dated 1919 and is built of red brick with a gabled roof to the west. It has two storeys, the south elevation having seven casement windows under pointed arches on the first floor and seven ground floor pointed arched panels having windows and doors. The report notes a "much worn stone statue on left".