‘A Centre for Services and Rural Industry’
Thirsk has been the market town of the Vale of Mowbray for nine centuries, supplying and manufacturing a wide range of goods. Industries included linen weaving, leather goods, milling, brewing and malting, rope making and basket making.
The market used to supply poultry and dairy products to West Yorkshire dealers. The centre of the town contained covered butchers’ stalls or shambles which were demolished in 1857. A relic of the tradition of open air butchery that survives is the Bull Ring, marked out in the cobbles near the bus shelter. This was where medieval market laws required bulls to be baited by dogs before being sold for slaughter. There used to be also a Tollbooth or Market Hall which was destroyed by fire in 1834. The general appearance of the cobbled square has remained unaltered for over 150 years.
An ancient market cross was replaced by the clock tower, built in 1896 to commemorate the marriage of the then Duke of York. As well as the clock indicating the time, therewas a water trough for animals at the base and a drinking fountain for people.
The leather trade was for a considerable time the staple industry of the town and both tanning and saddlery were undertaken. Thirsk was noted for its fine ales and four breweries and thirty or more inns and public houses have existed over the years. One of these breweries, worked by the Rhodes family in the early nineteenth century, can be seen in Kirkgate. Though the building, now called Brewers Court, has been converted into housing, much of the external structure has been retained and the chimney is still a prominent feature.
Board 15 - Thirsk Market Place
‘The Stagecoach Era’
Thirsk is first mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086, where it is recorded as Tresche, meaning "The Dwelling by the Water". The names of the narrow streets leading off the Market Place are Norse. Their bends and twists had a defensive purpose and denied hostile forces a clear view into the enclosure of the market place.
The market place has buildings of many ages, its general aspect being a Georgian façade behind which is concealed much earlier timber-framed buildings. It also included B. Smith’s which was the oldest draper’s store in the country (demolished in the 1970s).
The development of turnpike roads in the mid-eighteenth century made coach travel much easier. Stagecoaches were a popular mode of transport and Thirsk derived great prosperity as a stopping place for coaches. There were three coaching houses of which two - The Golden Fleece and The Three Tuns - still stand today.
At one time the Golden Fleece had between fifty and sixty horses in its stables and the Three Tuns about twenty. Famous coaches that used to stop included Royal Mail, Highflyer, Wellington, Expedition, Shields Mail, Newcastle Union, Victoria, Phoenix, Times and Hero.
The average speed of stagecoaches was nine and a half miles per hour. In 1786 Highflyer created a record London to Edinburgh time of just over twenty- four hours.
Coach travel declined once the railway reached the town in 1841 and, although the mainline station is a mile or so out of town, there was a Leeds via Ripon to Thirsk line which terminated where Tesco’s supermarket is now located. The years that followed the arrival of the railways marked the peak of Thirsk’s industrial importance. Thirsk is still on national routes for modern coaches recognising its important location.