The Square - Michael Tighe
SQUARE AND THE MARKET PLACE
We tend to think of the square in Mere as being the shopping centre but this is a fairly
recent trend. For most of Mere's history people where largely self sufficient and in
little need of retail shops. Originally it would have been the site of the agricultural
market, then the centre of the stage coach trade and not until the last two
centuries did shops proliferate.
In 1408 the King granted the right to have two week-long
annual fairs at Mere. But
more importantly, the charter provided for a weekly market which
established Mere as a market town.
A market house dominated the centre of the square and documents
from the time suggest that
he market house had a chapel, a shop and shambles - implying retail trade
including the slaughter of cattle and the sale of meat.
A 19th C
illustration of the Square
Showing the Market House in the middle of
the square (later replaced by the Clock Tower), The Talbot Inn
(the George) behind (rendered but without the later fake wood
framing), the White Hart Inn on the right.
Photo: Mere Museum
market house was a rectangular two-storey building
with with substantial buttresses at the four corners.
At ground level were open archways which suggests that the
ground floor may have been a covered market.
The first floor
has a chimney and a triple window with a highly decorative panel above
suggesting this may have been the chapel (later a school).
The fortunes of
the corn and cattle market varied due to competition
from nearby markets at Gillingham, Shaftesbury, Wincanton,
Warminster and Hindon. Perhaps
as an inducement to attend, in 1800 the Old Ship offered a good 'ordinary'
(for farmers?) lunch on market day at 1pm.
By the mid 19th
C the market house was a ruin and was demolished and replaced by the
present clock house.
1700-1850, the Square took centre stage when Mere became an important
stop on the coaching route from London to Exeter. In 1760
an advertisement stated : “A Turnpike Road now runs through Mere
and is the great road from Taunton and Exeter to London and is the
nearest cross road from Blandford and Shaftesbury to Frome and
Mere Market Place c. 1850
Based on an
image by Colin Anderson
We know from Pigot's Directory of 1830 that the
three coaches from
called at the Ship between 3 & 3.30 in the morning, and those from
at 10 pm & 1 & 4 am. Mere's position on the route was such
that this was inevitable if departures from the termini were to be in
daylight. As a result,
there must have been disturbed nights for those living in the Market
Place, with the bustle of arriving and departing passengers,
offloading of mail and the feeding and watering of horses and riders.
Four inns provided refreshment and accommodation
to travellers. The George dates from the the 17th century; only
recently has it acquired the mock Tudor facade we know.
The White Hart Inn was a hostelry on and off
between 1663 and 1860 (the site is now a Chinese takeaway).
The Old Ship Hotel dates from 1711 and has a
magnificent wrought-iron sign made by a local blacksmith and
The Angel Inn
occupied all the frontage from what is now the antique shop to the
corner of Angel Lane. The Angel closed
following the collapse of the coaching trade in the mid 19th C.
On the west
side of the square stood the village stocks and a lock-up for keeping people
This photograph, probably from the early part of the
20th C shows the cattle market with a weighbridge installed adjacent
to the clock house.
Photo: Mere Museum
increasing affluence traders forsook the simple weekly stalls around
the Tower for permanent shop-buildings, usually having their living
quarters behind and above. These
shops were naturally grouped around the original market area, and have
so to this day. The centre of Mere,
however, from 1815 to the 1950’s, came to be dominated by a
phenomenon almost unique for a small country town - the department
store of Waltons’, which gradually absorbed most of the different
shops in the Market Place.