St Austell Market House

A Short History

Origins of the Market House

In 1804 St Austell had a population of only 1,400 however with the discovery of china clay the town grew quickly.

In 1828 the town of St Austell was described as a “considerable market town for corn and other articles.”

The site on which the Market House stands was previously used as a Market Place, and records show that in 1791 a small market building stood on this site.

The St Austell Market House Act 1842

As the town grew, in 1842, an Act of Parliament was given Royal Assent by Queen Victoria to permit the people to build a Market House.

This Act allowed the people of St Austell to raise funds to build the Market House, but it was restrictive in other ways.

The construction of the Market House

 The Market House was designed by Cope & Eales of London and built by Oliver Stone and Sons of Falmouth.

The issue of 60 £100 Bonds to local business people largely met the cost of the building. These bonds paid 5% annually and some are still in existence.

 On 24th April 1843 Charles Brune Sawle Esq of Penrice laid the foundation stone.

The site of the Market House was acquired on a 999 year lease from Sir Joseph Sawle of Penrice, but in later years the Commissioners purchased the freehold.

The granite was delivered from local quarries by horse and cart, the finely decorated front façade is most likely Carn Grey granite.

In 1847 at a cost of £7,000 the Market House was completed and opened the same year.

The roof construction of the building is notable. The massive roof trusses are all of yellow pine and at the time of construction it was the widest expanse of this type of roof in Europe.

The main roof is covered with the famous Delabole slates, which were brought from Delabole Quarry by wagons and a team of horses

Fire Station

The Upper Gallery on the second floor is level with the road on the north side of the building and a part of this area was used as the first local Fire Station. The old Fire Engine was a horse drawn vehicle with a hand pump.

Town Hall, Police Station and cells

 In front of the building on the right hand side there is a separate entrance with granite steps leading to the Town Hall on the first floor. This room was originally used for public meetings. Above the stair well there is a smaller room that was used as a Council Chamber and Clerk’s office.

At the bottom of the stairwell, on the ground floor at the back one can still see the original St Austell police cells.

19th Century grey water system

 St Austell has long embraced eco-friendly practices. Rainwater from the roof was collected via the pipes that run from the roof above the first floor down into the space below. At first sight they look like the other pillars in the same space, but closer inspection will show that some of the pillars are in fact pipes within the pillars.

The rainwater was collected in a reservoir beneath the first floor, at the back of the ground floor. Once the Market had finished this reservoir was opened, the water flowed out in to the lower market hall to enable cleaning up after the animals. The dirty water was then brushed into Market Street.

The Market

 In the early days the market was open on Fridays and Saturdays for general trading, and on special occasions for other events.

The centre of the ground floor main hall was originally a meat market and the alcoves around the sides were used for the display of live animals, calves, pigs and sheep.

The main entrance hall was used for the sale of farm produce.

Farmers’ wives used the first floor for the sale of eggs and other goods. It was also used for the sales of other goods such as boots and shoes.

All the people displaying goods for sale were required to pay a toll. These toll lists are still in existence in the Market House today.

Special events through the years

Teetotal Festival 21st June 1848

A teetotal parade through the streets of St Austell culminated in the Market House where an ancient tea was provided. A further Teetotal tea took place in early 1858 but was poorly attended.

William Gladstone addresses the people of St Austell

 June 1889 was a memorable day when the Liberal statesmen William Gladstone addressed a mass meeting of a reputed 8,000 people in the Market House.

The Grand Indian Palace Bazaar 25th – 27th September 1894

 This took the form of a fancy fair and exhibition of electric light. Organised to raise funds for the building of a St Austell Young Men’s Christian Association in Vicarage Place. The Great Western train line even put on special train fares from all stations across Cornwall from Penzance to Plymouth.

Fat Stock Shows

The first fat stock show was held in 1908. A silver cup was awarded by the Hon TC Agar Robartes and was awarded to the owner of the champion beast. The root crop show was held in the town hall and there was a butter making competition.

Winston Churchill January 1910

Winston Churchill visited the Market House in January 1910 and gave a contentious speech about free trade.

First Word War

 During World War One the meat market was closed and the town hall was converted into a cinema. The projector was hand operated, the films silent, black and white with music provided by a pianist.

After the war ended the meat market never re-opened. The stalls were re-arranged to display household goods and garden produce.

The Market House has continued in much the same way for the last 100 years. Today it is still home to a wide range of small shops.

The 21st Century

St Austell Market Act 2008

 In 2008 the Market House Commissioners applied to have the 1842 Act repealed and for a modern Act to replace it. Hence, in 2088, the new St Austell Market House Act was passed. This allowed the Commissioners to form a Community Interest Company and this in turn has enabled the Board of Directors to move forward with the Regeneration Project.

The St Austell Market CIC now owns the freehold of the land and the building and is charged with its continued operation. The CIC Board of Directors are also Members of the Company, a non-beneficial structure that means that the building belongs to the Community by way of the CIC.

Can you help? This is only a short history of the Market House. Do you have any stories or facts to add? If so then please let us know at

Thank you


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