||| home |||
||| Huddersfield market halls of 1880 and 1970 |||
To what extent have building materials, architectural fashions and functional considerations influenced the design of the Huddersfield market halls of 1880 and 1970?
The covered market hall was a 19th century innovation, pioneered by St John's Market, Liverpool of 1822 1. Virtually every provincial town and city built at least one market hall during the 19th century, and Huddersfield was no exception, opening an imposing Gothic Revival market hall in 1880. Unlike neighbouring Halifax, however, which retains its free Renaissance market hall of 1896 to this day, Huddersfield's was replaced in 1970 by the modernist Queensgate Market. This essay compares and contrasts Huddersfield's 19th and 20th century market halls.
A perspective on market hall architecture
The question invites consideration of the interplay between building materials, architectural fashions and functional considerations. In this section a general argument is advanced about how these inter-relate. The two buildings are then investigated in turn to see how these general themes are played out.
To begin with functional considerations, these operate on at least three levels. There is, firstly, the purpose of the building type itself. As has been said, the large covered market hall was a new building type of the early 19th century, responding to the unprecedented pace of urbanisation. On the one hand, the increased volume of trading put great strain on existing open street markets, which became ever harder to manage - whether from the point of view of economic regulation, public order or simply circulation of traffic. On the other was the need to find effective means of marketing food and other necessities to burgeoning urban populations. A more centralised and enclosed market place or market hall reasserted social control and - together with the growth of the railways - created the conditions for sharp competition on price 2. Thus the covered market hall was a rational response to functional needs.
At a second level, the design of the market hall had to meet a whole series of functional requirements. Schmiechen & Carls identify some of these as follows: 3
Thirdly, however, buildings have social and moral 'functions' - their owners and designers deploy architecture as a form of rhetoric. Schmiechen & Carls identify a Victorian
"social and spatial functionalism … based on the Enlightenment idea that architecture, art and design are agents that excite and stimulate our minds because of the associations we make between the object viewed and he values the object represents in our memory. Applied design, whether of building, chair or flower vase, serves as a chain of connection for the internalization of a universally accepted social code. In short, architecture is a visible language." 5The ideas being expressed through Victorian market design, they argue 6, included:
There is also - and finally for these generalities - a subtle interplay between functional and fashion considerations and the chosen materials. Materials can act as a constraint on form - things are possible with 19th century iron-and-glass construction, or 20th century concrete, which were not possible before. As Pevsner argues:
The Crystal Palace is the mid-nineteenth century touchstone, if one wishes to discover what belongs wholly to the nineteenth century and what points forward into the twentieth. 8Market halls were a key exemplar of this new iron-and-glass era.
Yet at the same time, materials continued to be chosen to make expressive points. As Schmiechen & Carls put it:
While the market hall was wildly inventive as a functional building type, its exterior architectural format, or style, was not pathbreaking … [Crystal Palace's] popularity led to only a few market halls borrowing its utilitarian glass-frame form for their exteriors … For most markets … [t]he exterior did not speak of the honesty of its materials and the modernity of glass and iron; rather, it conveyed the powerful message that the business of buying and selling could aspire to a plane above the ugly, the utilitarian and the profane. 9In other words, materials were being used to articulate economic function within, social function and fashion without.
Huddersfield Market Hall (1880) 10
Market rights in Huddersfield were held from 1599 by the Ramsden family of Almondbury, who dominated the town's 18th and 19th century development. Incorporation as a Borough was secured in 1868 and the new Council was one of great civic ambition, including the creation of a modern covered market hall.
After an unsuccessful attempt at compulsory purchase in 1871, the Corporation acquired the market rights by agreement in 1876, and immediately initiated a competition to design a market hall on the site of the existing butchers' shambles (fig.1). Over 30 entries were received and adjudicated in 1877 by the eminent Victorian architect G E Street. However his recommendation for Charles Fowler's 'Queen Anne' design 11 was rejected by the Markets & Fairs Committee, who turned instead to local architect Edward Hughes. Although based in Huddersfield since 1871, Hughes had practised for 12 years in George Gilbert Scott's office. His design was approved on 1 March 1878, and described in detail in The Builder of 28 December 1878. The Market Hall opened to the public on 31 March 1880. Here we review it from the perspectives of function, fashion and materials.
The building was an "oblong parallelogram", 270' x 101'6", on a North-South axis, surrounded by streets on all sides, each with a central entrance. There were glass-fronted shops on the N and S facades, and open-fronted butchers' shops with glazed awnings on the E and W sides, sheltered as part of the building but adequately ventilated for their trade. Fish shops were at each side of the S entrance, while the shops of the N façade were for anything but fish.
Within was a general market of 4153 square yards on two floors, at ground and basement levels. The southern third of the basement was originally a wholesale market with a ramped cart entrance, and the rest was for storage. In 1888, however, a new iron-and-glass wholesale market was opened at Brook Street 12 and by then, such was the demand for space that the whole of the basement was in retail use.
The floor of the main hall was of asphalt on cement to minimise clatter. This was supported on arches resting on 60 to 70 iron columns. The roof was in a single span of 71'6", of wrought iron lattice-and-girder construction, with ridges arranged to admit light only from the North. There were originally 72 stalls, arranged in octagonal clusters of four, within a grid of longitudinal and transverse gangways 13. The site sloped down from W to E and Hughes used this to create a row of inward-facing shops above the butchers on the E side, while on the W side was an arcaded gallery affording 16 small stalls for lighter and novelty goods.
Decoratively, there was extensive stone carving to the architect's designs by a local craftsman, S Auty of Lindley. A carved string course ran round the building above the ground floor, and there was carved foliage to the capitals of the columns and the finials of the turrets. The Huddersfield Weekly News reported that the carved decoration was "in keeping with the Gothic character of the building" and "very well done". Historical continuity was emphasised by shields at the W and E entrances depicting the arms of Elizabeth I and Charles II, who had granted and confirmed the Ramsdens' market rights in 1599 and 1671. Clearly all of this made use of the fashions of the Gothic Revival to dignify the building beyond any narrowly functional requirements.
Much has already been said in passing of the materials used. The roof was of wrought iron, painted and gilded (as were the pendant gas lights), with North-facing glass and South-facing green slate. The exterior was of local stone, with ashlar dressings and decorative carving as described above. The market stalls were made of oak and red deal, the latter stained and varnished, while the shops' three-coat plasterwork made them look "clean and white as sea-bleached shells". 17
As the above shows, Huddersfield Market Hall of 1880 met the functional need for a covered market, and the functional design requirements of such a building. But it went far beyond these in its architectural and decorative rhetoric, with a tower rising to 106' to become a dominant landmark feature of the town. The Weekly News noted that "Mr Edward Hughes is to be congratulated upon having shut his eyes to the dull form of Huddersfield buildings, and raised in our midst one in a decorated Gothic of decidedly domesticated type, as becomes a market."
Given that the town already boasted Pritchett's Palladian railway station (1851) and Crossland's Gothic Revival Ramsden Estate Office (1871-2), this perhaps over-stated the case 18. But the building was still held in much affection as demolition approached 90 years later (and still attracts much nostalgia in the letters column of the Huddersfield Daily Examiner). Planning consultants to the Council argued in 1966 that:
This is Montmartre in the West Riding. If St George's Square contains the spirit [of Huddersfield], then here is the body - an earthy one, maybe, but representing a sturdy, robust way of conducting business - the essence of the town at its most vital. 19But the die was cast by 1960s perspectives on function and fashion, which are pursued below.
Queensgate Market, Huddersfield (1970) 20
If Huddersfield's first market hall was a product of the explosion of municipal energy after incorporation in 1868, its replacement was an equally characteristic product of the 1960s drive for town centre redevelopment. During that decade the Corporation invited development proposals for a wide area of the town centre, and accepted a four-phase plan from the Murrayfield Real Estate Co,
Like its Victorian predecessor, Queensgate Market Hall - unlike other phases of the development scheme - was directly financed by the Council. However, Murrayfield's architect Kenneth Wood, of the Birmingham-based J Seymour Partnership, was asked to design it. As we shall see, using the developer's architect enabled the integration of the market hall into the wider development, but in a way which has confused some later architectural commentary.
The old Market Hall closed on Easter Saturday, 28 March 1970, and the new one opened on Monday 6 April. We follow the same headings of function, fashion and materials in discussing it, bringing out many parallels between old and new.
The new market, like the old, is essentially rectangular, this time on a broadly East-West axis. It is larger than its predecessor, and made provision for 187 stalls, arranged in rectangular island groups. Once again there are entrances from several directions - two from the N, from the Piazza shopping centre (across which is the southern building line of the old market hall), one from the W, from Peel St, and two from the S, from Alfred St and its multi-storey car park. To the East, the Market Hall overlooks Queensgate, the ring road, with a substantial change of level and therefore no entrance. 22
Given the large 'footprint' and need for a well-lit interior, the form of the roof was again a key issue, and indeed the roof and its supports are the building's most distinctive architectural features. As the brochure for the opening describes it:
The Architects' conception was for the roof to express the trading divisions of the Market Hall using modern techniques and the roof takes the form of twenty-one asymmetrical hyperbolic paraboloide [sic] shells at differing heights [fig.5]. Each roof measures 56 feet in length, 31 feet in width and is 10 feet deep and they are located in four rows of four and a row of five to the Queensgate elevation. Each roof shell is supported by a single off centre column of natural coloured concrete, the rough board shuttering of which gives vertical emphasis. Rough board shuttering has again been employed for the roof shells, which are of white concrete and the direction of the board marking accentuates the directional movement along the length of the Market Hall.
In many ways Queensgate Market epitomises the stripped-down, functionalist aesthetic of its time. But this was an aesthetic, not just function somehow automatically expressed. And, as a fashion, it spread from town to town. The old Market Hall may have reminded some in 1966 of Montmartre,
But Huddersfield Council's markets and fairs committee had already been to Blackburn, Wolverhampton, Sheffield and Coventry, looking at new market halls which offered better, more modern facilities than Huddersfield's stately Victorian building." 24
We return to consider this judgement below. Here it is worth noting that the functionalist idiom is enlivened by significant decorative elements.
Externally, the architect was asked by the Council to consider "an interesting treatment of the long high wall along Queensgate to avoid an oppressive impact on that traffic busy road of a long blank wall" 26. The result was the addition to the ashlar wall of ten projecting reddish-brown ceramic panels, each 17' by 16', designed by German-born but Stratford-based Fritz Steller (figs.8,9). Their abstraction was, again, part of the fashion of the day - adding "colour and interest" 27 or "[d]eveloper's pretension" 28 according to taste. (In my own opinion, the ring road view of the roof shells and ceramic panels is a striking and effective part of the townscape.) Internally, the N wall is enlivened by a full-length metal structure reflecting, in semi-abstract form, some of the activities represented in the market (fig.10).
Moreover the roof form was motivated by more than functional considerations: 29
Quite early the Committee decided that much of the attractive appearance of a Market Hall depends on the roof design, and the architect … was instructed to give emphasis in his planning to this feature". 30
Once again, much has already been said of the materials. The glass roof is supported on concrete shells and columns, both treated with rough board shuttering. The metal glazing bars remain from the 'crystal palace' tradition (fig.7), and the interior has a tiled floor (one wonders if the glazed green tiles on the lower reaches of the concrete columns are original, or if the roughened concrete originally reached the floor unadorned). This functional interior - characterised in the words of the opening brochure by "simplicity and robustness" - is complemented, as in the Victorian market hall, by a more 'polite' exterior, treated variously in ashlar and rough random stonework, exposed concrete and buff brickwork (fig.9).
Queensgate Market was designed to meet essentially the same requirements of purpose and function as its Victorian precursor. But while the old Market Hall can readily be seen to make a social and moral statement of the kind outlined by Schmiechen and Carls, Queensgate seems a much less rhetorical structure - unassuming in its site and pretending to no dignity transcending its purely commercial functions.
Walking along these modern arcades for the first time one gets a feeling of excitement. Here is something which appears so different from anything we have had before. Have we ever had such a shopping complex where so many tradespeople have been able to display their goods in such comfort? And in such style? 31And twenty years on, the Express & Chronicle, quoting the previous comment, reflected that:
"…it remains true that the Market Hall is a smart, easily accessible, bustling place, full of interest, of bargains and more than a hint of the Old Market Hall (for those of us old enough to remember!). 32