Walk 123: Market Harborough Town Walk: A wander around a lovely little gem

The ‘Needs to Know’

Distance: 2.99 miles (4.8km)

Time to walk: A town walk so depends how long you want to spend in the shops! Also in summer, we could envisage spending a couple of hours in Welland Park. So…it’s up to you. We’ve based this walk around the Harborough Trail leaflet

Difficulty: All on hard surfaces & flat & easy

Parking: Plenty of on road parking, but we used the Pay & Display near the river

Public toilets: Cafes etc en route

Map of the route:

Market Harborough lies just over the border of Northamptonshire with Leicestershire & is in an area which was formerly a part of Rockingham Forest, a royal hunting forest used by the medieval monarchs starting with William I. The town was founded by the Saxons between 410 & 1066 & is believed to have been called “hæfera-beorg”,(harborough) meaning “oat hill”

In 1086 the Domesday Book records Bowden as a Royal Manor organised in 73 manors. The population lived in three villages, Great Bowden, Arden & Little Bowden. The Manor of Harborough is first mentioned in 1199 & 1227 when it was called “Haverberg”. It’s likely that Harborough was formed out of the Royal Manor with the intention of making it a place for tradesmen & a market, when a new highway between Oxendon & Kibworth was established to help link Northampton & Leicester

A market was established by 1204 & has been held on a Tuesday ever since 1221. Eventually this market lead to the modern name of Market Harborough. The trades people of Harborough had large tofts, or farm yards at the rear of their property where goods were made & stored. Many of these yards remain, but have been subdivided down their length over the years to give frontage to the High Street

Harborough figured nationally in the English Civil War in June 1645, when it became the headquarters of the King’s Army. In the town, the King decided to confront Parliamentary forces who were camped near Naseby, but the Battle of Naseby proved a decisive victory for ‘Parliament’ led by Oliver Cromwell. Harborough Chapel became a temporary prison for captured forces. Cromwell wrote a letter from “Haverbrowe” to the Speaker of the House of Commons announcing the victory

We’ll find out more as we walk so…

Let’s Walk!

1. There’s only one place to start our walk round Market Harborough & that’s outside the church & old Grammar School

It’s a stunning area of the town & we’ll look at both properties later in the walk, but for now, walk behind the Grammar School towards Adam & Eve Street. On the right’s Market Harborough’s Theatre

Although it looks older, the property was only built in 1935, as a store & cycle shed for the local corset factory. A theatre company has been presenting plays here for many years & bought the freehold in 1969. The auditorium is extremely intimate with only 118 seats

2. Walk straight over into Adam & Eve Street passing the imposing Symington Building. This was once an iconic Victorian corset factory owned by Symington & Co

It’s now the home of Harborough District Council, a Museum & Library. The building also houses a cafe & Northampton’s own Gallones Ice Cream parlour. Look at the large windows, which were designed to maximise light

3. Follow Adam & Eve Street as it bends right. We’ve already noticed that the town is full of some very individual shops

Look up to spot a white plaque over an alley. This says that Thomas Cook (of travel agency fame) lived & worked here in the 1830s. On 9 June 1841 a 32-year old cabinet maker walked from his home in Market Harborough to the nearby town of Leicester to attend a temperance meeting. A former Baptist preacher, Thomas Cook was a religious man who believed that most Victorian social problems were related to alcohol & that the lives of working people would be greatly improved if they drank less & became better educated. As he walked along the road to Leicester, he later recalled, ‘the thought suddenly flashed across my mind as to the practicability of employing the great powers of railways & locomotion for the furtherance of this social reform’

At the meeting, Thomas suggested that a special train be engaged to carry the temperance supporters of Leicester to a meeting in Loughborough about four weeks later. The proposal was received with such enthusiasm that, on the following day, Thomas submitted his idea to the secretary of the Midland Railway Company. A train was subsequently arranged &, on 5 July 1841, about 500 passengers were conveyed in open carriages the enormous distance of 12 miles & back for a shilling. The day was a great success &, as Thomas later recorded, ‘thus was struck the keynote of my excursions, & the social idea grew upon me’

Thomas Cook Travel Agency had been born!

4. Walk to the end of Adam & Eve Street, where straight ahead’s Pizza Express. The building was originally the Peacock Inn, which opened in 1872

The Inn got its name from the peacock sculpture on the building’s chimney.  When the original Peacock Inn was demolished, to enable St Mary’s Road to be widened, the new inn was joined to the dwelling next to it & formed the Peacock Hotel. The archway beside it was pulled down & is now the entrance to St Mary’s Place

5. Cross the road & enter St Mary’s Place shopping centre…

This area was once the cattle market, bus station & indoor market. They were all combined in 1993 into what we see today. The area straddles the River Welland via a pedestrian suspension bridge

6. Cross the bridge & walk to the left passing Sainsburys…

At the end of the precinct is a large car park which was once the town’s cattle market. All that now remains is a large red building in the middle. This was once the Settling Rooms where all the bills from the market were “settled”

7. Walk back to arrive at one of the town’s gems…the Indoor Market…

Now…we love Indoor Markets & were excited to see what Market Harborough’s offered as it had won Britain’s Best Small Indoor Market 2016. There’s been over 800 years of market trading in the town, which is where it gets its name from

It even has an excellent Dim Sum stall / cafe!! As you wander through the market, it opens up into a larger area with dining chairs & tables, plus quite a few smaller stalls. It’s really varied as there’s a Vintage, Retro, Collectables Market on Wednesday, a Craft Market on Thursday &, on Sunday, an Antiques Market

We thought it was really lovely & wouldn’t mind taking a stall there ourselves if we lived in the town. What’s really encouraging is the local Council gives great incentives for people to take stalls, something that other towns could learn from

8. Come back out of the market & turn left walking along the side of the river to the road…

…crossing over at the pelican crossing. You’ll notice a large wooden signpost showing that you’re now on the ‘Millennium Mile’, which is a cycle & footpath created in 2000 along the river & passing through Welland Gardens which we’ll see shortly

9. The next part of this walk’s rather lovely as it follows the river. It was along here that we met Lucy & Meg, a pair of gorgeous Westies!

A sign tells us that we’re now entering Welland Park & this is a place we’d come back to at different times of the year as it will be ever-changing. Apparently the cafe is well worth visit…

10. Slightly further on’s the rose garden, which in January wasn’t looking at its best, but we bet it’s rather spectacular in the summer

Walk through the garden & continue in the same direction past the huge, & very impressive children’s playground

11. At the end of the playground, turn right & then right again to walk down the other side…

The path starts to follow the Welland again…

…& eventually rejoins the one we came into the park on, so continue back to the footbridge leading into the car park

12. So, we’re back in the town once more, heading to the end of the car park & turning left into ‘The Square’, where straight ahead’s the war memorial

Slightly behind you, occupied by the Market Harborough Building Society, is Welland House, which was originally two separate properties. It was still a family home at the turn of the century & was later used for the town’s library

Staff at the building society have experienced eerie feelings of being watched, accompanied by unusual sounds & glimpses of things out of the corner of the eye. However, the strangest tale concerns the sound of a lone typewriter (before the introduction of the computer) heard in an upstairs office late at night by a mystified cleaner, who discovered that all the typewriters in the room had their dust covers firmly in place. The typewriter was often heard typing when the building was empty & continued years later until recent times

13. Cafe Nero currently occupies Catherwood House & a green plaque tells us that William Henry Bragg, who shared the Nobel Prize for Physics with his son William Lawrence, lived here during his early life. They were awarded it for their work on x-ray crystallography

14. It’s time to have a look at the High Street…

We’ll be flitting from one side of the road to the other. The first building we come to is the fabulous Old Grammar School again, which was built in 1614, using funds donated by a local benefactor, Robert Smyth. It was originally used as a school to educate poor boys from the town, & to provide them with bibles. The building continued in use as a school until 1908, when what is now the Robert Smyth Academy, was constructed

The space beneath it was earmarked for market stalls & is where the old butter market used to trade. The intention for this space was to provide some shelter to traders from the weather

15. Next door’s the medieval church of St Dionysius, the earliest parts of which date from the 13th century, with most features dating from 14th & 15th centuries. The church was originally a chapel to St Mary in Arden, near the station & was a church for pilgrims

We liked the inscription on the sundial on the tower…

You’ll note that it’s just built on the square & has no graveyard. The church was open when we visited & is well worth a look inside…

16. Over the road’s Clinton Cards which now occupies the building where James & Sarah Symington started their corset making business, before it grew & moved to the much larger Symington building we saw at the start of this walk

Slightly further on’s a restaurant that occupies a building that was once one of several coaching inns in the town

17. Continue up the High Street past Barclays Bank which was previously the Harborough Bank…

Next door’s another of the town’s old coaching inns…the Three Swans Hotel which has been a haven for travellers for at least 500 years, & was especially important & vibrant during the coaching era of the late 1700s & early 1800s

Like most old inns, The Three Swans has become the subject of a number of legends, passed on with varying degrees of accuracy. One is that Charles I visited the inn on the night before the Battle of Naseby in June 1645. According to surviving records made at the time, the king actually retired for the night two miles down the road at the private house of Lubenham Hall. He was raised from his bed at 11pm by reports of the unexpected arrival of the Parliamentarian army just eight miles away at Naseby. He rushed to Market Harborough to meet his senior General, his nephew, Prince Rupert of the Rhine, who had established his military headquarters in the town

At midnight they met with several other commanders for a council of war. The venue for the meeting is unknown. It could have been The Swan, or it could just as easily have been anywhere else in the town. We know that the troops at Lubenham were roused at 2am, & by 7am the entire royal army was mustered at Market Harborough, from where it marched towards the enemy for what turned out to be a disastrous defeat

18. Like many coaching inn towns, as you head further up the street it tends to open out…

Turn left into Abbey Street…

19. The large building, above on the right, now a Travelodge, was once the headquarters of  Golden Wonder crisps & snacks. What we liked though, slightly further on, is the old fire station, now a chinese restaurant, but still with its original station doors

Walk back to the High Street & turn left. The large building on the left’s the former Manor House

20. There’s another old coaching inn, slightly further on…this was once the Angel Inn which used to have stabling for 90 horses. Today it’s DJW House (Donald J Williams) & is student halls for Brooke House College

Again, it’s worth walking through the gap to see the former stables…

21. Now cross over & come back down the other side of the High Street. The imposing building with the columns is the Congregational Church which was built in 1844

Isn’t it funny how a town looks completely different when you’re walking in the opposite direction & Market Harborough is one of those towns…

22. The building straight ahead in the middle of the road’s the old Town Hall. The local website tells us it was built as a gift to the town by the Earl of Harborough in 1788

Let’s get back to some of the older, narrow streets, so head down the left side of the town hall along Church Street…

The King’s Head on the left was built in 1828, at which time it was known as The Grapes, after which it became known as ‘The Harborough Lounge’ for some time before adopting its present name

23. Church Street’s rather delightful & full of independent shops…

Turn round to get a better view of the Town Hall

It was built in 1788 by the Lord of the Manor, Robert Sherrard on the site of the Butchers Shambles. The ground floor was used for the butchers’ stalls on market days, whilst the first floor was reserved for the cloth dealers

24. Unsurprisingly, at the end of Church Street, we’re back at the church once again…

Turn left to find a rare treat…a fishmongers…Hobbs Fishmongers which have been in Market Harborough since 1890. Long may it continue!

Walk round the corner & here we are again outside the Old Grammar School where we started this walk

So it’s been a while since we visited Market Harborough & then we only really knew the town centre. So it was a delight to visit Welland Gardens & that’s a place we will come & visit again in the summer

Plus…what’s not to like about an Indoor Market, but we recommend visiting on one of the “speciality” days

Loved it & go & make your own mind up, so…

Go Walk!