The Oxford Covered Market
It may be the aroma of fresh ground coffee that draws you in for refreshment
England has always been justifiably proud of its markets, most of which date back to medieval times. They tell the story of its cities, they reveal the soul of its people. The Oxford Covered Market, one of the oldest, has lost its medieval clamour but still retains a positively Dickensian air.
Oxford has probably had a street market since the late 9th century, when the town was fortified, or perhaps even earlier, but the first written account is found in 12th century records kept at The Bodleian Library. It started at Carfax Tower (the main crossroads) and spread along the adjoining streets.
Land at the town centre was expensive, and so the shops here had narrow frontages, barely six feet wide. This small size makes it easier to believe that there were, at one time, forty-seven tailors shops in Oxford. Shops then were also workshops where goods were made to order, rather than stores; except perhaps for the spicers and millers shops which were more like our grocers today.
In the Middle Ages, goldsmiths, mercers and tanners used to trade in shops on or near the site of today’s Covered Market. There were some academic halls here too. Butchers stalls were set up in the High Street and Butchers Row (now Queen Street). So many traders existed in and around the centre that travelling through the town must have become increasingly difficult as more and more people were attracted to the market, and in 1771 the Mileways Act condemned the remains of medieval street trading in the High Street and St. Aldate’s.
The Covered Market was officially opened on 1 November 1774 and is still very much alive today. Located in the heart of Oxford, the market was started in response to a general wish to clear “untidy, messy and unsavoury stalls” from the main streets of central Oxford.
John Gwynn, the architect of Magdalen Bridge, drew up the plans and designed the High Street front with its four entrances. In 1772, the newly-formed Market committee, half of whose members came from the town and half from the University, accepted an estimate of nine hundred and sixteen pounds, ten shillings, for the building of twenty butchers’ shops.
Twenty more soon followed, and after 1773 meat was only allowed to be sold inside the market. From this nucleus the market grew, with stalls for garden produce, pig meat, dairy products and fish.
The earliest stalls were in colonnaded blocks: the high-raftered roofs of today are the outcome of 19th century rebuilding. Some stalls are used as single units but many traders have expanded their businesses and taken over several tenancies.
Today the Covered Market is still home to numerous traders, around half of which are food retailers, including traditional market shops selling fresh local produce such as greengrocers and butchers.
There are also many new gift shops, bakeries and sandwich shops. Most of the shops are now quite a bit larger than the original stall sizes of their predecessors, and so the number of businesses in the Covered Market is smaller than in the past. It is a bustling area, especially on Saturdays.
The Oxford Covered Market is located to the north of the High Street towards the western end between Cornmarket Street and Turl Street. To the north is Market Street. Most of the entrances are from the High Street and Market Street (with four entrances from each street). It is also possible to gain access from Cornmarket via the Golden Cross alley, with its small up-market shops.
The Covered Market provides Oxford’s residents and visitors with an unequalled shopping experience.
With a variety of exclusive shops and restaurants this indoor shopping centre is fast becoming one of the most sought out destinations for shoppers looking for a refreshingly relaxed, retail experience. The square offers small arts and crafts outlets ideal for the visitor in search of a unique gift to take home for that very special occasion.
Many of the retailers in The Covered Market are long-established companies. The market is home to the original Ben’s Cookies shop, founded in 1983 by Helge Rubinstein, author of ‘The Chocolate Book’. After a false start in the King’s Road, London, the original store was moved to its present location in the Covered Market in 1984 and has since expanded to include 10 other stores in London, Bath, Brighton, Bristol, Coventry, Leamington Spa and Riyadh, Saudia Arabia. Today, American-style cookies are baked on the premises, sold by weight and can be bought individually or packaged in bags, boxes and tins, each bearing the logo created for them by Quentin Blake, the well-known artist and first ever children’s laureate.
David John Butchers, formerly two adjoining businesses, the Oxford Pantry and the Sausage Shop are one of the oldest butchers shops in the market and renowned as high quality suppliers of fresh meat, cooked meats, home-made pies and hand-made sausages for both retail and wholesale customers.
C.H. Brown & Son, the Oxford Saddlers Shop was established in 1890 and is a respected family run business. It is unique in the fact that very few saddlers have managed to remain as a city centre business for as many years. Today, they specialise in quality leather goods, including a large range of Radley handbags, country clothing and accessories, including gifts, and essentials for the equestrian enthusiast.
Haymans Fisheries are a high class fishmonger offering a huge range of fresh fish from around the world including frozen, smoked, salted and bottled varieties and regularly supply some of Oxford’s finest restaurants, College dining halls and pubs. The business was opened by Charles Hayman in 1928 who continued to work in the market until his retirement in the late 1960s. Haymans are always looking to expand their range and buy direct from the fishing boats in Brixham, Devon and the Cornish ports of Newlyn and Looe.
The Cake Shop has been trading since 1986 and now has two shops, one based within The Covered Market, the other in the market town of Banbury
They specialise in designing and creating celebration cakes for all occasions including wedding cakes, birthday cakes, christening cakes and even cakes for corporate events. Their Oxford shop is also a focal point for many of the guided walking tours that pass through the city as well as providing locals and tourists with an opportunity to watch their skilled cake artists at work.
John Lindsey & Son are high class university and family butchers, offering a wide variety of rare breed meets, including beef, pork, Oxford lamb, poultry, hand-made sausages, pies and dry cured bacon. Their reputation has been made on the quality of their produce and the excellence of their service.
Established in 1948, Cardew & Co (Oxford) Ltd, the celebrated Coffee and Tea Merchants joined The Covered Market in 1965 and offer an extensive range of teas, pure ‘Arabica’ coffees and accessories for commercial and domestic use, providing tea and coffee lovers with friendly advice to help them enjoy an Aladdin’s cave of the traditional and trendy. They are extremely proud to boast that many of their customers have remained loyal, from student days to retirement, even though some now live in the far corners of the globe. They are the oldest established supplier of freshly roasted coffee and fine teas in Oxford, and supply to customers worldwide.
Macsamillion of Oxford have brought together an amazing collection of classic shoes from around the world. With the likes of Church’s, Loake, Cheaney, Crockett & Jones, Tricker’s, Sebago, Zook! Timberland, Rockport & Sancho Boots. They are proud to offer a shopping experience second to none.
Ansari is a unique and very individual shop, where the latest London fashions and jewellery arrive weekly, and at prices that will tempt you to just keep shopping.
And whilst we are on the subject of fashion, Fresh Clothing has made their mark in a relatively short period of time. Their unique range of Vintage style clothing and accessories is inspiring.
The Oxford male is in for a treat as Burrows and Hare bring their range of timeless modern classics to Avenue 1. A combination of quality materials , meticulous detail and superior finishing means each garment is built to last. It is without a doubt, investment shopping at its best.
The Oxford Engraver offers quality engraving, accurate key cutting, bicycle locks, padlocks and other hardware sundries at affordable prices. Jewellery and watches can be engraved if required. Trophies and logo engraving are their speciality and they welcome both private and commercial commissions.
M. Feller Son & Daughter, the Organic Butcher, is dedicated to organic British meat products. Their shop is Soil Association Certified, which bases its certification on 25 years of experience in inspecting organic producers and retailers throughout the UK. Their traditional British sausages are made daily so you know you’re receiving the finest, fresh sausages available in Oxford. Why not visit the shop and meet the family and their friendly staff? They can make the meat up to your requirements and even give you tips on how best to cook your meat.
Established in 1976, Two Foot Nothing remains Oxford’s most colourful shop for children, selling clothes (for ages 0-10), hats, toys and presents for even the most demanding children. Their staff are friendly and attentive, and will welcome you with enthusiasm.
Jemini Flowers Ltd, the leading Interflora Florist, are professionally trained designers specialising in bespoke floral arrangements to celebrate all occasions – births, anniversaries, examinations, graduation, sympathy and corporate functions. Fabulous fresh flowers and plants at extremely competitive prices, and same day delivery for champagne, wine and chocolate.
A visit to Red Opia is a must. Specialising in oriental home products and gifts that have been individually fashioned and carefully chosen to enhance each room of a beautiful home, including textiles, woodcraft, exotic silks, sculptures, lamps, incense and candles.
Covered Arts & Framing Services are Oxford’s leading bespoke picture framers. They also sell art from a variety of local artists, and normally have a wide range of pictures of Oxford and the surrounding area.
They stock quite a number of frames for pictures and prints, and will make up frames to your own specifications and in a number of materials.
The Oxford Cheese Company are renowned Purveyors of Fine Cheese, specialising in farmhouse cheeses – mostly unpasteurised and sourced direct from the producer, wherever possible. They are also the sole producer of the Oxford Blue Cheese. First introduced in 1995, this creamy semi-soft blue cheese is made in a Stilton Dairy to their precise specifications, and matured and distributed solely by an affiliated retailer, The Oxford Blue Cheese Company Limited.
Helen & Douglas House are the only charity shop in The Covered Market. They are a registered charity providing respite and end of life care for children and young adults in Oxfordshire. They stock a mix of donated goods (hand-made cards, books, china, jewellery and knitwear), and also a wide range of wooden toys, Oxford souvenirs, and their own promotional goods.
There are quite a few eateries located within the Covered Market including Mortons, The Oxford Sandwich Company, the Alpha Bar, Sofi De France, Sasi Thai and Ricardo’s. They are excellent for breakfasts, and serve a wide range of hot and cold food, ranging from Grilled Panini’s, Ciabatta’s to Hot Roast Pork and Salad Boxes, not to mention Pieminister, who are renowned for creating the most delicious and wholesome pies the British public have ever tasted. Or if it is a sweet treat that you are after then iScream ice cream parlour offer something to stimulate even the most discerning palette.
In common with many of England’s finest markets, its smells are part of the ambience. It may be the aroma of fresh ground coffee that draws you in for refreshment, or it could be the attractive displays of the traders’ flowers, fruit, vegetables, or freshly baked cakes that tempt you to stay.
In April 2013 Oxford City Council appointed an independent specialist market consultant – The Retail Group to work with The Covered Market traders and other stakeholders to define a future vision and strategy for the market. They have since created a detailed report outlining their key findings and how they would improve the market which has been met with some criticism, for one of the most controversial proposals included a substantial increase in the rents currently paid by the traders.
So if you share my passion for history and enjoy the atmosphere of a bustling market, then I suggest you visit The Oxford Covered Market before it changes forever.
Monday to Saturday | 8.00am-5.30pm
Christmas Opening Times
Monday to Saturday | 8.00am-5.30pm
Sunday | 10.00am-4.00pm