Times Past: How South Molton centrepiece came to be
- Credit: contributed
Anyone going through South Molton must be impressed by the massive Square with the imposing Assembly Rooms and Market Hall.
These owe their existence to an enterprising Mayor J Riccard who, when he was voted into office, persuaded his fellow councillors to sell some corporation property for £5,200 and this, along with a government grant, allowed the buildings to be constructed.
Designed by Mr Goss of Exeter and built by J Cock of South Molton, the construction had not been without its problems with the southern end having to be considerably built up to gain a level floor.
The hall was 320 feet long, 100 feet wide and 40 feet high, being split into three aisles. The central one was for the sale of fruit and vegetables, the western for 'manufactured goods' and the eastern for butcher's stalls and a corn market.
At the southern end was a fish market and a large area for the sale of agricultural implements – and 70 gas burners provided artificial illumination to add to the natural light.
At the front of the Square on the first floor were the New Assembly Rooms the whole having cost £10,140 (some £1.3million at today's prices).
The actual opening on January 28, 1864 was a red letter day in the town's history and attracted a huge crowd who were greeted with peals on the church bells this being followed by a procession headed by the band of the South Molton Rifle Volunteers consisting of leading tradespeople, councillors and the local clergy.
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After they had all entered the Market Hall the Mayor made a long speech comparing the previous ramshackle market held in the open in the Square with the splendid new hall.
The civic party then sat down to a banquet in the New Assembly Rooms that had been provided by Mr Gould of the George Hotel.
Thus opened the Pannier Market which still continues today (albeit experiencing the usual Covid problems) hosting a wide variety of uses at the heart of South Molton.