Log in to access the full article.
Abstract Retail markets were a notable feature of urban England in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth, particularly in the midlands and north. Market halls were the most visible manifestation of this, and were important public buildings. This article looks beyond the imposing architecture to take a more critical view of their function and justification. It argues that while most were well-managed and earned income in excess of current expenditure, very substantial investment in large and elaborate buildings was hard to justify in purely financial terms. The return on capital was often negligible. Food and drink traders were the largest group in almost all markets, but there were significant numbers of traders selling clothing, textiles, and household goods. There was some justification to complaints that local authorities were providing publicly financed miscellaneous shops in competition with rent- and rate-paying shopkeepers. Most retailers supplying basic necessities operated from shops rather than markets. Saturday night markets were important in working-class culture and as a source of cheap food, but most day-to-day necessities were purchased from local shops or street traders.