The market town of Ashbourne is in the Derbyshire Dales, very close to the border with Staffordshire. It was first granted a royal charter to hold markets in 1257 and held regular livestock markets, plus horse fairs three times a year and cheese fairs four times a year. Current market days are Thursdays and Saturdays, but livestock are no longer involved here. On market days, stall-holders set up in the early morning and sell throughout the day; food and drink, clothing, electrical and media, jewellery etc etc. During the rest of the week, this upper section of the market place serves as a car park.
At the top of the Market Place, is the Wright Memorial, erected in 1874 in memory of Francis Wright, a local industrialist who owned the ironworks at Butterley and lived in nearby Osmaston Manor. Although a benefactor to the town, Wright was not universally popular, due to his attempts to ban the annual Shrovetide football match, which survived him and is still the BIG event of the town's calendar!Just in front of the Wright Memorial was the Bull Ring, which was used to tether the poor victim for the popular medieval sport of bull baiting. It was close to this spot that Bonnie Prince Charlie proclaimed his father, James, 'King of England' during the first Stuart rebellion of 1745. Unfortunately for the Bonnie Prince, his march on London was halted a mere 20 miles further south at Swarkestone and James never did claim the English throne. Ashbourne remains, however, the only place in England where a 'Pretender' to the throne has been proclaimed.
There has been a Christmas tree at the top of Ashbourne market place for as long as I can remember. As a child, travelling back through the town from my nanna's house, this was the part of the journey where I used to perk up and peer out of the car window, searching for the first glimpse of the brightly coloured lights. They were firmly switched off this afternoon though, waiting for darkness to descend.
Ye Old Vaults pub splits the market place into its two sections. This pub began life in around 1620 as a small timber framed building with the rather incongruous name of The Anatomical Horse and a skeleton of a horse as its sign. It was modernised in the late 19th Century, at which time it was given its present name. Maybe they figured that few people would want to drink in a pub which looked like it wanted to be a place for scientific experimentation.
From here, you can choose to go down the passage to the left (towards yet another pub - and mind the Peak Waste bins!)...
...or down the passage to the right (anyone for an ice cream?)
...to access the lower market place. This part of the market was The Shambles, where the animals were butchered and it was, for many years, known as Butcher's Row. Nowadays it goes by the much more regal name of Victoria Square and contains mainly 'independent' shops, an art gallery, the 'gas' lamp and a seating area.
The gas lamp dates back to the 1830s when a group of businessmen met to discuss the setting up of a gas company. Originally, the lamp was at the very bottom of the market place, but it was recently restored and moved to its current location. Now, it is powered by electricity.
Stand here on a busy summer day, and there will be buskers entertaining the passers by, drinkers sitting outside the pub and people stopping for a natter. Today, at a grey -4.5 degrees C, everyone was much more interested in hurrying on towards warmth!