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Chichester Butter Market

by Pat Saunders

By Pat Saunders, Volunteer at The Novium Museum

In 1501 the Bishop of Chichester, Bishop Storey, gifted the Market Cross to the City. His aim was to provide a sheltered place for small, honest traders to sell their produce protected from the harsh elements. The Market Cross continued to be used for this function until 1807 when The Market House, known locally as the 'Butter-Market', opened.

In 1802 the City Corporation had agreed that there was a real need for a fixed and central location to be sought for the sale of market goods. This idea was unfortunately abandoned the very next year due to the great expense that this would incur. In 1806 the issue was raised again and this time it was agreed a Market House should be erected in a central location within Chichester. The City Council purchased what is now the site of the Market House on 8 May 1806 from William Humphrey, a brewer at Westgate, for the sum of £650. A Royal Assent was approved on 8 August 1807 which, by an act of parliament, granted permission for the construction of the building. 

The original building was designed by architect John Nash and consisted of a single storey building, fronted by the familiar portico of six Doric columns and a niche or alcove at either end. It was constructed by builders William Brooks and Thomas Cobden at a cost of £1,522. John Nash was a notable architect of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, responsible for the design of much of regency London, including Regency Street and Regent's Park, as well as the design and construction of the Royal Pavilion, Brighton for the Prince Regent.

When the Market House opened in 1808, traders selling fish, poultry, butter, vegetables, eggs, cheese and other locally sourced products operated within the building. John Holder was appointed as collector of tolls (a charge levied for use of the building to sell goods) on a salary of £25. The tolls were required to offset the running costs of the building. The toll board pictured here containing a list of the tolls levied for certain goods, as well as a set of weighing scales also pictured remain in The Novium Museum collection. To prevent local traders from evading these tolls metal railings were erected at the Cross to force them to instead make use of the Market House to sell their goods. The railings remained in place until 1872. The level of tolls charged differed depending on the goods; for example a butcher or a seller of cheese, bacon or pickled pork was charged one shilling a day, however the toll for any basket of butter not exceeding 12lbs was two pence. A table of tolls was clearly displayed within the building.

Over the last two hundred years the building has undergone notable changes. The original niches at either end of the building were removed and in 1900 the Market House was almost totally remodelled. The original wooden stalls and fish market to the rear were removed and an additional storey was erected. This housed the Technical Institute and Art School. In the 1960's the Art School moved to be merged with Worthing College.

A structural survey of the building undertaken in the early 2000s identified the need for significant structural repairs, which could only be undertaken if the building was empty. As the leases of occupying tenants came to an end they were not renewed to allow the City Council time to develop a proposal for the building. The Butter-market closed early in 2010 for a yearlong refurbishment overseen by architect Harry Groucutt. The re-design was inspired by London's Burlington Arcade with its Victorian style lamps. The previous tenants having moved elsewhere did not return. The first new tenant was cake-shop Patisserie Valerie followed by Worthing jewellers G H Pressley.