The Origins of Leighton Buzzard Market
The market, at the centre of Leighton Buzzard, is both an historic and modern feature of our town.
Named in the Domesday Book of 1086, Leighton Buzzard had the biggest market in Bedfordshire and was owned by the King. At the time of the Norman Conquest, Linslade was owned by Queen Edith, widow of Edward the Confessor.
It was a traditional market where livestock, grown produce and made products were traded with farmers and producers travelling in from the surrounding areas. The regularity of the market operating on Tuesdays gave rise to the local saying, ‘Tiddly Tuesday’; a reputation gained due to tradesfolk earning money and then spending it in the local hostelries.
The market remains in the centre of the town along the main thoroughfare, working its way up, down and across the High Street, at the heart of what we know today as the combined Parish of Leighton Buzzard and Linslade.
Leighton-Linslade Town Council received ownership of the Charter in 2012 and continues to manage its delivery. Upon receiving the Charter, the Town Council also received a broad translation of the Charter Document provided by Kathryn Faulkner of Bedfordshire Archives.
Charter to the Treasurer of London
John by the grace of God etc. Know us to have conceded, and by this our charter to have confirmed, to William our treasurer canon of the church of Lincoln, that he shall have one fair at his prebend of Leighton every year for three days duration, namely on the vigil of the Invention of the Holy Cross and for the two days following, and that he shall have there one market every week on Wednesday, in such a way that that fair and that market shall not damage neighbouring fairs and markets. It shall be prescribed in such a way that William and his successors to the aforesaid canonry shall have the aforesaid fair and the aforesaid market at Leighton, in perpetuity, well and in peace, freely, quietly, wholly and honourably, with all franchises and liberties customarily pertaining to this type of fair and market, as aforesaid. Witnesses: The Lord Bishop of Winchester, William Earl of Devon, William Brewer, Peter Fitz Herbert, William de Cantilupe, William Malet, Robert de Vallibus, Geoffrey Luterell, John Fitz Hugh. Given by the hand of H. of Wells, archdeacon of Wells, at Christchurch, 12 November in the 10th year of our reign 
This charter granted a market and fair at Leighton to King John’s treasurer, William of Ely. It does not relate to the main market at Leighton, which was already in existence by 1086, as recorded in the Domesday Book, and which was held by right of the status of Leighton as a Borough. The Pipe Roll (record of financial transactions of the Exchequer) records in 1209/10 that William of Ely owed the king a palfrey (a horse suitable for everyday riding) in return for the grant of the market and fair. The online Gazetteer of medieval markets and fairs (footnote 1) does not record any other references to this market and it is not mentioned in the Victoria County History for Bedfordshire. This suggests that the grant may never have been put into practice, or that if it was, the market and fair were very short lived.
Footnote 1: http://www.history.ac.uk/cmh/gaz/gazweb2.html
Many people use the Market Cross as a meeting point before visiting the market, shops and coffee houses and you will often see people sitting on the steps to have their lunch, rest their legs or take in the historic architectural buildings of the town.
The origins of the Market Cross are not certain; however, it is believed to date from the 15th century and was probably paid for and built by order of Alice, Duchess of Suffolk.
Alice, wife of William de la Pole, Duke of Suffolk, is believed to be the granddaughter of Chaucer. After her husband’s murder in 1450, the Duchess began to take a great interest in Leighton Buzzard, and it is believed that she may have organised and financed the construction of the Market Cross in 1453.
By 1650 the court leet was told that the cross was “in a ruinous state that it greatly endangered the lives of those persons who were near it” and so a tax was levied on the townsfolk to pay for the repairs.
It is believed the Market Cross provided a focal point for local proclamations to be made on market days when the High Street was busy, and many people would hear the announcements.
Historically, the Justice of the Peace could perform marriages in private houses and by an Act of Parliament passed in 1653 it was ordained that after the 29th September of that year, Banns of Marriage should no longer be published by Clergyman during their service. They would be issued instead either by the registrar in Church after the service on Lords days or, if the party desired, in the marketplace three weeks successively. The Parish Register shows that this publication of Banns often took place on market days and probably at the Market Cross.
1654 March 27th: Thomas Doggett, the son of Ralph Doggett, of Laighton Beaudesert, was married to Elizabeth Edwards of Biggleswade, the daughter of Thomas Edwards of Langford. They were married in the County of Bedford, by Samuel Bedford, Esq. Their contract having been published in Leighton aforesaid on three market daies. viz. Feb 21, 28 and March 7.
In 1751 a group of townsfolk gathered around the Market Cross to denounce Jane Massey and Catherine Hawkes as witches, despite witchcraft laws being repealed sixteen years before. The crowd intended to drag the victims to Luton to float them in the river, as the one in Leighton Buzzard was not deep enough. Luckily, the mob was stopped by several local gentlemen.
By 1852 the Market Cross was once again declared in a poor condition and after the raising of the necessary funds, restoration was started in November of that year and completed the following May. This restoration was rather too thorough, involving the addition of a stone parapet, new steps and an iron palisade. It also included replacement of the existing statues; the old figures were placed around the neighbouring Town Hall (now a Restaurant).
1863 saw the Market Cross become the spectacular centrepiece of the town’s celebration for the marriage of the Prince of Wales and Princess Alexandra of Denmark. It was reported in the Leighton Buzzard Observer 17th March 1863, that the celebrations in Leighton Buzzard and Linslade carried on into the evening when the inhabitants of the town lit up their premises using lines of cunningly designed gas-filled devices. The most striking, as well as being of the greatest dimensions was at the Market Cross. Designed by local talent, Mr Sharp, the whole of the outline, arches, columns and spine of the Cross were lit up with lines of gas from the vane. It contained altogether 400 stars and fir-tree jets, the stars containing nine sprays and the fir-tree jets 16 sprays, making a total of 3344 sprays of light. The gas consumed was estimated at about 1500 feet per hour, and the effect of this pentagonal and ancient structure when viewed from the bottom of the town was exceedingly fine and impressive. Upon closer gaze the effect was more suggestive as the blaze threw a halo of brightness around the dolorous visages of the statues of a bishop, St John, the Virgin and child and other mutilated figures.
By 1900 the new statues had decayed badly and were replaced by the original figures. Additionally, new steps and a new parapet with pinnacles at the corners were added.
In 1910 the upper main pinnacle was restored. Also, around this period the iron palisade was taken down.
The Cross was the location where the Proclamation of the Accession of King Edward VII was made in 1901, and again in 1910 for George V.
The first temporary war memorial was placed by the Market Cross on the anniversary of the first Armistice in 1919.
The town’s local custom which takes place on Rogation Monday sees All Saints Choir and the Trustees of Wilkes Charity process up the High Street to the Almshouses in North Street. Here, an extract of Wilkes’s will is read out while a member of the choir stands on their head. After the ceremony, the custom is for the choir members to be treated to a drink and a currant bun around the Market Cross.
After the death of Princess Diana in 1997, residents of the town placed floral tributes around the steps of the Cross.
Research information and sources
Historical information provided by James Collett-White – Bedfordshire Archives – October 2011
1086 At time of Domesday Book Manor belonged to the King, mention is made of £7 of annual tolls
Market always belonged with the Manor (Victoria County History Volume III page 401)
In 1164 King Henry II made a grant of the Manor of Leighton to the Abbey of Fontevrault
1200 Confirmed from King John Charter Rolls 2 John part lxxiio, m , 28 no5 [National Archives]; Additional Charter 16861, Harleian Charters 58 I, 34
1201 by Pope
Placito de Quo Warranto 3, 39 gives previous history (similar to Dunstable’s one)
1256 Grant to Abbess of fair, three times a year
Because it was an alien house the Abbey had to lease the Manor for lives around Feast of St Dunstan (Quo Warranto 3). 1630 grant of Fairs in January and July, changed dates by 1792
The priory at Leighton Buzzard was suppressed along with all other Alien Houses in 1414. The Market House is mentioned in a deed of 1582-3 [BLARS reference KK 14] The Manor was transferred to The Dean and Chapter of Windsor in 1480.