History of the Market Hall

An exhibition exploring the history of Chesterfield's iconic Market Hall

Building the Market Hall

The Market Hall was built in 1857 to provide shelter for traders and buyers. Shops on the ground floor and offices on the upper floors were available for rent to local businesses.

The Hall also housed the County Court, the Post Office, and a library. An Assembly Room was provided for lectures, concerts and other entertainments

The ambitious size and grand appearance of the Market Hall demonstrate the pride and vision of the town at the beginning of a period of industrial growth.

Painting of the Market Hall

Painting by H Smyth showing the newly completed Market Hall

The original plan for the Market Hall was for a less elaborate building but, during construction, the design was changed to include a clock tower to make the building look more impressive. However, for some reason a clock was not provided until ten years later, when the Duke of Devonshire presented one to the town in 1867.

Frederick Swanwick was a driving force behind the building of the Market Hall. An engineer and colleague of George Stephenson, he had moved to Old Whittington in 1837. Retiring in 1850, he dedicated himself to public works. With a group of other leading citizens he formed the Chesterfield Market Company in 1853. The Company raised the money to build the Hall through issuing shares. Chesterfield Borough Council bought the Market Hall in 1873.


Frederick Swanwick

Prior to the construction of the Hall, there had been a block of buildings in the market place known as the ‘Cross Daggers’ after the pub located there. The block had a bad reputation, and its demolition as part of the building of the Market Hall was welcomed. Once the Cross Daggers was gone, people liked the large open space which resulted. A matter of a few weeks before building work was due to commence, a futile campaign was launched to move the Market Hall to a different site.

The Chesterfield and Brampton Mechanics Institute was an organisation dedicated to improving the education of working people. It provided a library and reading room as well as a programme of lectures. The need to provide a permanent home for this organisation was one of the original reasons for building the Market Hall. However, by the 1870s, the accommodation at the Hall was no longer considered suitable for their needs and, along with other organisations, they raised funds to build the Stephenson Memorial Hall which opened in 1879.

The building of the Market Hall was controversial. Tolls for trading on the market were payable to the Duke of Devonshire. He had agreed not to claim this tax in 1842 at the request of the farmers who were struggling because of a recession in agriculture. The new market hall scheme required tolls to be re-introduced, and this met with considerable opposition. Chesterfield Market Place has hosted many important gatherings throughout its history, and since its construction the Market Hall has provided a backdrop for these events. A procession took place as part of the celebrations of the centenary of the birth of George Stephenson and, one hundred years later in 1981 as recorded by the Derbyshire Times, crowds gathered in the Market Place to see the Prince and Princess of Wales during their visit to Chesterfield.

The outward facing shops which surround the Market Hall have been a popular choice for Chesterfield traders. Seaman's, one of Chesterfield’s best known professional photographers moved to the Market Hall, around 1896. The shop fronts on the north side had lost their curved top windows, and these were re-instated in the 1980 restoration.

Market Hall

Shop fronts without curved top windows

The Assembly Room on the first floor has been used for many special events, public meetings and entertainments, including dances. The Melody Boys were the resident band for the weekly Broadway Tea Dances in the 1930s.

Assembly Room

Assembly Room in the 1990s laid out for a celebration meal.

In the late 1960s, the Market Hall exterior was blackened by smoke which was typical of many buildings in Chesterfield at this date. The building was cleaned and the dome was replaced as part of the restoration in 1980.

Market Hall Dome

Replacing the dome on the clock tower

Public announcements of national importance have often been made from the balcony of the Market Hall, or from a specially built platform. This includes the Coronation of George V in 1911 and, a more sombre occasion, the announcement of his death and the accession of Edward VIII in 1936.

Saving the Market Hall

By the 1970s, Chesterfield town centre was overdue for redevelopment. However, the Council’s plan for a modern shopping complex, which involved building over the Market Place, met with widespread public opposition. A new plan was produced which retained the open market and the surrounding historic buildings.

Retaining the Market Hall, as part of the new scheme was controversial, as many people considered it ugly, unsafe and unhygienic. As the surface grime was cleaned away, its Victorian splendour was revealed.

In the mid-1960s the clock tower dome became unsafe and was removed. The building itself, like many in Chesterfield, was blackened by years of exposure to smoke from domestic and industrial chimneys.

Market Hall

Market Hall without its dome

The Market Hall is built on a sloping site which resulted in a complicated series of floor levels inside the building. In the 1978 restoration, this issue was addressed by creating continuous ramps between floors. The other major change was the demolition of the old Corn Exchange section at the rear of the building in New Square and its replacement with a new extension.

Although many Chesterfield people did not want to lose the open market, few were in favour of keeping the Market Hall as part of the redevelopment. However, the clock tower was crowned with a new dome and, cleaned, extended and refurbished, the Market Hall re-opened 1980. Its façade remains the focal point of the Market Place.

A Market Hall for the 21st Century

By 2000, after 20 years of successful trading, the interior of the Market Hall was looking dated, and demand for stalls inside the building was falling. It was estimated that over £150,000 per year would need to be spent on repairs alone, which would not bring in new business. The Borough Council commissioned studies to consider what could be done to attract new tenants and shoppers.

A £4 million redevelopment began in 2012, the work being paid for through grants from the European Union, the Heritage Lottery Fund and with money from Chesterfield Borough Council.

The scheme included opening up the main retail space and providing a new glass roof, improving access to the Assembly Room and office space, and replacing the 1980s extension.

The new section built at the New Square end to replace the 1980s extension was designed to reflect the exterior architecture of the existing Victorian building.

Victorian Building

New Square end of the Hall in the course of construction

A new glass roof over the main shopping atrium provided views of the clock tower and let in natural light. Descriptions of the Market Hall in 1857 show that the General Market and the Corn Exchange both originally had a glass roof. This was considered particularly important at a time before electric lighting so that corn dealers and their customers could clearly see the quality of the grain.

Main Hall in 2014

Market Hall mall 2014

During construction work, the Market Hall traders were rehoused in a temporary Market Hall in New Square, or in other shops in the town centre.

The arched booths in the main atrium were retained, but the 1980s style tiles were replaced with a new look. 

Watch Box Watchbox

Watch Box prior to and after restoration

The Assembly Room with its Victorian tiles and stained glass was restored.

Assembly Rooms Restored

Assembly Room restored

Last updated on 01/02/2024