The market was held in the High Street. “At the west end was the fish market, and next to it the corn market, where the corn was pitched”. Then came the butchery (occupying the greatest space), in what is now Middle Row, where may still be seen on the gable-head of one of the old houses, carved in oak, a butcher’s cleaver, with “1659 J. H. S.”; and, lastly, there was the butter market, which stood near the entrance to St. John’s Lane 1. A market hall is believed to have been part of what is now 1 Middle Row.
By the 1780s, local farmers had begun to hold informal livestock markets, and advertised the town’s ideal location between London, Chatham and the Kent Coast. The market was held in the lower High Street until 1856. The livestock market is illustrated in the above engraving by Thomas Garner of a picture by George “Sidney” Shepherd, a copy of which can be seen in Ashford Museum.
On January 8th 1856, a meeting of agriculturalists, with Robert Furley, Clerk to the Justices of the Peace, was held at the Saracens Head Hotel and chaired by James Amos. The outcome of their deliberations was the formation of the Ashford Cattle Market Company. A newspaper article stated at the time “The Ashford Stock Market has assumed an importance which is not surpassed by any Market in Kent; it is at present scattered from one end of the Town to the other, and at seasons of the year Stock can scarcely obtain standing. The holding of it in the town is at variance with the sanitary and other regulations now enforced by the legislature; and the free and quick communication between the Buyer, Seller and Salesman (most important in a good Stock Market) is so much impeded as to convince every unprejudiced mind that time has arrived when the Market ought to be removed to a convenient spot of ground close to the Town, to be set apart exclusively for that purpose.” The company was formed under the Limited Liability Company Act of 1855 and was incorporated on 25 September 1856 and remains the oldest active company recorded at Companies House The land in Elwick Road the East of what is now Elwick Place was leased to the Company by George Jemmett. The South Eastern Railway Company built dedicated sidings to allow transport of livestock by train directly into the Market site.
Ashford Market remained on the site until the 1990s, when the Cattle Market Company took advantage of the purchase of the land for the construction of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link to move to the outskirts of the Town, where better road links were available. The brick wall that formed the boundary of the Town Centre Market site was used as the ‘canvas’ for an artwork that was one of a number of public realm pieces created as part of the Ashford Ring Road (Lost ‘O’) Project in 2008. Artist Cathy Streeter carved cattle into the length of the wall and installed speakers which play audio recordings of cattle, recalling the site’s former use. A cinema and restaurant complex with parking is now being constructed on the site. Part of the wall will be retained as the boundary to the car park.
- Furley, R., 1886, The Early History of Ashford, Archaeologia Cantiana – Vol. 16, Kent, Kent Archaeological Society