Darlington thriving thanks to market forces
PUBLISHED: 00:16 24 December 2010 | UPDATED: 18:21 20 February 2013
The historic market town of Darlington grew for more than two centuries in parallel with its Quaker connections. It has suffered during the recent recession but now the opportunities for shopping and eating in Darlington are improving
Darlington has had a market for more than 1,000 years. Following the Norman Conquests, the town was recorded as an important trading centre for buying and selling goods such as wine, salt and herrings. In the 16th century the author and antiquary John Leland described Darlington as the best market town in the bisshoprick apart from Durham city itself.
Despite some difficult trading and weather conditions over the past few years, Darlington market is open all year round. The indoor market in a Victorian Gothic-style building manages to avoid the vagaries of UK winters and operates Monday to Saturday, 8am to 5pm.
Alfred Waterhouse, a Quaker architect, submitted plans for the building in June 1861 and they were adopted in December 1861. The Covered Market was built in 1863 at cost of 16,356 8s 9d, and was opened in May 1864. The spire and clock tower were completed in July 1864.
The Quakers and the growth of Darlington during the 18th and 19th centuries are closely linked. Even the Darlington Football Club is nicknamed the Quakers. The club was formed during July 1883 and the ground at Feethams became the home for the club when leased from John Beaumont Pease in 1866.
Members of the Pease family were eminent Quakers and included Edward, who was involved in developing the public railways, and Joseph, who became the first Quaker MP in 1832. A statue commemorating his achievements stands at the junction of High Row and Bond Gate.
The Covered Market building was originally built with open sides but was surrounded by a low fence to keep dogs out. One year after it was opened, the sides were boarded up and arcades were built along the north, east and south sides. The building was closed between December 1977 and February 1979 for major refurbishment works, including replacing the glass canopy and providing cellar rooms for the traders. The indoor market now has 73 stalls and 18 peripheral shop units.
The outdoor market takes place on Saturdays in Tubwell Row, Blackwellgate, West Row and Horsemarket and attracts about 45 stalls each week. The Monday market is located in Prospect Place and Northgate with about 25 stalls.
A Farmers Market is held on the third Friday of each month in Prospect Place. It was introduced in September 2000 so local farmers and producers could sell goods directly. A three-day French Continental Market is held twice a year, selling meat, cheese, bread and olives, clothing and jewellery. And an Italian market was launched in March 2009 to help extend the diversity of traders within the town.
Darlington had its first Green Market on October 23, 2010, in conjunction with Darlington Its Growing, which is an independent group promoting local produce. In addition to food, the green market offered various other environmentally sensitive products - including eco-friendly coffins.
As well as this mix of speciality markets, there are shopping centres, pedestrianised areas and department stores, and Darlington has a selection of yards and attractive shopping streets, such as Grange Road, the Blackwell Arcade and Houndgate Mews.
The town centre is also attracting new dining ventures. The former pub, The Old Dunn Cow, in Post House Wynd, is now home to Seasons restaurant. It opened on October 4, 2010, and is a spin-off from a restaurant in Richmond. The Darlington venue has been refurbished while retaining original features such as the windows. The caf bar is popular during the day. Manager Jane Gallogly says: Weve been very pleased with the amount of custom and repeat business at lunchtimes.
On Duke Street another caf opened in May, 2010. Nicholas Rowlands, manager of Caf 85, explains that the location attracts people walking into town from the west end. Caf 85 takes its name from the address of the original caf at 85 Yarm High Street.
Owner/proprietor Simon Leadbetter says the casual modern British menu and dcor, combined with several special offers, have helped get the business off to a flying start. He adds: Even mid-week, we are often fully booked and have had to turn people away.
On a smaller scale, and in keeping with Darlingtons Quaker heritage, a new community-oriented coffeeshop is being run at the Friends Meeting House.
Council funding cuts are threatening some ventures - such as the potential closures of the Arts Centre and Civic Theatre, which are being opposed by the group Darlington for Culture - but the long-term marketing side of Darlington looks promising. Plans to build a shopping complex in Commercial Street have been revived. A privately-funded scheme, working in conjunction with the council, is set to begin work on the Oval shopping centre in January 2012, with the aim of opening December 2013 - just in time for Christmas shopping.
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