Market halls like this were once general throughout England. Among the earliest which have survived are several from the late 15th and early 16th centuries. The majority were timber-framed. Many were demolished in the 18th and 19th centuries, since they no longer served the purpose for which they were built and were occupying space needed for other uses. Many others were replaced by more solid buildings, with enclosed rooms taking the place of the open arcade. One by one they were transformed, lost, or, in a few cases, moved to a less valuable site. This was the fate of the Titchfield Market Hall in the middle of the last century — some two and a half centuries after it was first built.
Within six miles of the Museum there are two surviving market buildings, the market cross at Chichester and the timber-framed market hall in Midhurst. Both were built early in the 16th century. The market cross at Chichester has, of course, no chamber above, but the Deed of Gift of Bishop Storey in 1501 defines the purpose of the covered arcade, which is expressly dedicated to the use of poore people to sell their chafer there. The market hall at Midhurst is a little later in date, but at least half a century earlier than the Titchfield hall.
Drawings made in the 18th century show us what the market halls of Petworth and Horsham were like before both were rebuilt as town halls in stone, with no open arcade. They appear to have been timber structures of the same general form. There is also a description in the memoirs of James Spershott, a Chichester carpenter writing in 1783, of a timber-built market hall standing in North Street, Chichester, having been replaced by the new market hall. He describes it as standing on posts or framed timbers, panelled up about breast high. It had an entrance on each side. What is of particular significance is that it had a cage, which was boarded up breast high and wood bars perpendicular above. Behind the cage was the stairs up into the Council chamber. This provides an additional clue to the probable use of the space behind the stairs in the Titchfield hall, which also had mortices for perpendicular bars and a separate access door and was presumably used, amongst other purposes, as a temporary lock-up or ‘cage’ for offenders.
The only market hall still surviving in the Museum’s catchment area similar to that of Titchfield, is that at Fordwich, near Canterbury. The roof at Fordwich is hipped, whereas that at Titchfield is gabled, but in both buildings the upper storey is built of close studding with brick infilling. Subsequent modifications were also similar; in both, part of the arcade was enclosed and converted into lock-up cells. More recently their history has diverged. Fordwich is used as a museum and parish room, whereas Titchfield, after its removal from a central position in the old High Street, eventually became derelict and deteriorated rapidly during the 1960s. The roof lost most of its tiles and in spite of spasmodic local efforts to raise money for its repair, the Trustees responsible were served with a Dangerous Building Notice by the local Council, which insisted on immediate demolition.
The market place in medieval times was sometimes an area completely separated from the main street of the town but could also take the form of a widening of the street itself. In both types the market hall was usually placed off-centre, nearer to one side or even in the corner of the area. The Museum’s market place is intended to be the centre of a group of town and village buildings. Its shape and area are based on the market square at Alfriston in East Sussex, which is a widening of the main street and where a simple market cross takes the place of a market hall.