Oxford History: The High


The Covered Market

Oxford Market

The Market in 1904

Oxford’s Covered Market was officially opened on 1 November 1774 and is still going strong today.

Originally its width corresponded to the elegant and balanced frontage of the houses (now shops) at 13, 14, 15, and 16 High Street (above), which were rebuilt in 1774. It then had three entrances: one in the middle, and one at each end.

In 1838 the market extended westwards to occupy the space behind Nos. 10, 11, and 12 High Street and a fourth entrance (now called Market Avenue No. 1) was cut through to the new part via the shop at No. 10.

On 24 October 1874 Jackson's Oxford Journal reported:

The fish market, adjoining Market-street, has been covered in with a glass roof by Mr. Walter, builder, Walton Road, at a cost of 200l., from plans prepared by Mr. G. Young. Several repairs and alterations have also been made in the stalls.


Market in 2018

Oxford’s Covered Market owes its existence to the following section of the Oxford Mileways Act of 1771:

And whereas the holding of a Market as heretofore accustomed for selling of Meat, Fish, and Garden Stuff, in the High Street and Butcher Row , in the said City, hath been found very inconvenient, by reason of the great Number of Coaches, Carts, and other Carriages, and Travellers, passing and repassing through the same, to and from the Roads above mentioned: And whereas, it is necessary for the Benefit and Accommodation of the Inhabitants of the said University, City, and Suburbs, and of all persons resorting thereto, that a Market should be still continued for the Ale of all Kinds of Meat, Fish, Poultry, and Garden Stuff; and the Chancellor, Masters, and Scholars of the aid University, and Mayor, Bailiffs, and Commonalty of the said City, are desirous to erect, hold and maintain such Market; it is hereby further enacted, That the said Commissioners, or any Fifteen or more of them, shall have full Power and Authority to view, set out, and describe such Plot or Piece of Ground, between the High Street and the Lane called Jesus College Lane [now Market Street], within the said City, as they shall adjudge most convenient and proper for holding the said Market, and to and for making proper Avenues thereto.

The Universal Business Directory of 1794 has this description of the market:

The old shambles in Butcher Row [Queen Street] are likewise taken away, and a new general market, upon an extensive scale, is erected between the High-street and Jesus College Lane; which market is universally allowed to exceed every thing of the kind in this kingdom. At the south entrance from the High-street it contains forty commodious shops for butchers. North of these are eight others equally commodious, occupied by gardeners, &c. between which are two spacious colonnades for poultry, eggs, bacon, cheese, &c. &c. divided into forty stalls; and beyond these, extending quite to Jesus College Lane, is a large area for country gardeners, fruit, and divers other commodities. There are likewise three avenues running through in direct lines, intersected by another in the middle, affording a free currency of air; and in the front, four elegant and commodious houses have been erected, which give an additional ornament to one of the finest streets in Europe. The open part of this market, fronting Jesus College, is inclosed by an iron pallisade; and the avenues opening upon the New Parade in the High-street are secured by iron gates. The whole extent of the ground appropriated to the purpose of erecting this market, is from north to south three hundred and forty-seven feet, and from east to west one hundred and twelve.

The layout of the original part of the market, described above, is very similar today. The original three avenues, each with its own entrance from the High (one at each end and one in the middle) still exist today as Market Avenues 2, 3, and 4.

Market at ChristmasOxford Market, Christmas 2002

The Market in 1903 by Matthison
The market in c.1903, painted by William Matthison

Short film about the Covered Market by Malcolm Graham

©Stephanie Jenkins

Last updated: 27 October, 2020

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