Conservation Areas in Harborough district - Market Harborough Conservation Area

Record details

Title Market Harborough Conservation Area
Description (character statements)

The Conservation Area of Market Harborough covers the historic core of the county market town lying half way between Leicester and Northampton. Its location at the very edge of Leicestershire is explained by the development of a market at a crossing point of the River Welland. The market grew up in the late 12th Century north of the river in the parish of Great Bowden. A long market place was established tapering northwards towards Leicester. Gradually over the centuries the middle of this large space was infilled by market booths which became permanent and then were replaced by buildings, which in turn have been replaced or altered over the centuries. This gives the pattern of the present town centre.

Half way along this tapering space was built the magnificent Church of St. Dionysius. The spire is one of the finest in the country and dominates the town centre streets, it is also a major landscape feature seen from afar. The spire closes the view down the High Street from the Leicester Road. The boundaries of the Conservation Area roughly follow the boundaries of the ancient chapelry (the area attached to the Church of St. Dionysius) of Market Harborough, although extensions to the Conservation Area have been made to include some of the buildings along entry roads into the town. The first is south of the river and west of the Northampton Road to incorporate houses of all periods of the 19th Century including Brooklands, a former major residence; a second extension between St. Mary’s Road and the River Welland includes mid-and late 19th Century houses. The river itself now has a pleasant open walkway alongside, improved for the millennium.

The infilling of much of the space around the Church has left an area of narrow streets and lanes, notably Church Street. The 19th Century facades of some of the buildings conceal much earlier structures. The narrowing of the High Street north of Little Street occurred in Regency times as a result of earlier buildings as Nos. 62 and 63 being pushed out forward into the broad street. The last infill was in 1788 with the building, by the 4th Earl of Harborough, of the elegant Old Town Hall. This, on a narrow island site, was never a municipal building but served as Assembly Rooms above and as a covered market and shambles below. It is a prominent building in direct view from the Leicester approach to the town and forms the southern visual stop of the upper High Street.

The small area of the chapelry gave rise to a dense development of buildings and this legacy affects the present character of the Conservation Area. The tapering open space and main street was partially infilled. Behind the street frontage buildings the long narrow burgage plots were built on to form characteristic yards - a few of which remain - with unobtrusive access through buildings, covered passageways or carriageways. The yards ran back from the frontage buildings for up to 180 metres, their buildings, on one or both sides were used for dwellings and as workshops. Although many of these yard buildings have disappeared or become derelict, others have been refurbished for commercial or retail use, for restaurants and dwellings. Three Crowns Yard behind no. 52 has been refurbished for retail use. Further use of the Harborough yards would enhance the character of the town centre.  

The space of the original medieval market space and street can be considered in three parts:

i) the Square in the south; The southern area, now known as The Square, was formerly The Sheep Market. A market for livestock and general goods was held here until 1903. Many of the older buildings around it have been replaced or altered, but the importance of the area is the quality of its space bounded by close-standing buildings, some of special interest, but the whole enhancing the space. There is scope for improving the massing and design and features of some of the surrounding buildings which could give to the area a cohesion which was lost though demolition during the third quarter of the 20th Century. Both the Coventry Road and St. Mary’s Road exits are small in relation to The Square. The Peacock building by St. Mary’s Road closes the view to the east and has a good open space in front, now extending into St. Mary’s Place. This development of 1993 replaced derelict stables and a motley collection of outbuildings. It is now a pedestrian shopping street of intimate massing having at one end a footbridge over the River Welland with a corner building to the river having a conspicuous turret; the other end of St. Mary’s Place, the rear of the Peacock public house, now has a visual significance it never previously possessed. At the centre of  the open space of the Square is the War Memorial. On the south side of the Square No. 17-19 closes the view with a substantial ironstone former dwellinghouse facing up the High Street.  

ii) a middle section including the space around the Church (Church Square) and infill street (Church Street); The middle section of the original market space now comprises the lower High Street, Church Street, Church Square and Adam & Eve Street. This is the traditional retail hub of the town. It is an area of small-scale buildings of varying ages. Spatially it is an intimate area. The centre of this area is Church Square dominated by three buildings, the first two on island sites rising from the pavement. First is the great Church of St. Dionysius with its soaring spire of white limestone. The Church rises directly from the pavement without a churchyard, as it was until 1901 a chapel of the Parish Church at Great Bowden 2 miles away. Secondly, alongside the church is the former Grammar School of 1614; it is a small scale timber framed building with an open ground floor designed to "keepe the market people drye in tyme of fowle weather" and having above it the former school room. This building represents the close of the timber framed tradition of buildings in the area. The third building overlooking the Church and Square is the Council offices, Library and Museum. It is a 4-storeyed former corset factory of 1889 having a tall tower surmounted by steep roof and lantern turning the corner from the Church Square to Adam and Eve Street. This tower, through subservient to that of the Church is a notable feature of the town's skyline. The variety of small and specialist shops, the intimacy of the street and Church Square and the setting of these three major buildings are the characteristics of this middle section. Not only is there a great variety in the apparent age of these buildings, but their frontages have in many cases been added to earlier buildings, such that 16 Church Street has 17th and early 16th Century structures and 63 High Street has an early 18th century staircase, both defying the buildings’ external appearances.

iii) the upper High Street from the Old Town Hall northwards. The upper part of the High Street has an open character with many elegant buildings fronting the broad street on both sides and closing the street vista at either end. Almost every building facing this upper High Street is listed, including four listed grade II*;-The Congregational Church of 1844 which replaced an earlier church, and nos. 29, 41 and 42. Most of the buildings are Georgian or Regency in age or facade. The broad street was used as a cattle market until 1903 and had a narrow carriageway along its centre. Cast iron bollards, linked by chains separated the central market and vehicular area from the pavements in front of the fine buildings. This section of the High Street is visually closed to the north by the mid 18th century 41 High Street facing down the High Street, and to the south by the narrow end of the Old Town Hall, 1788 with its venetian window facing up towards Leicester and having the spire of St. Dionysius Church rising behind it. Many of the buildings in the upper High Street were substantial town houses and still retain the residential character. No. 29, has a mid 18th Century front range on an earlier 17th Century rear, Nos: 40, 41 and 43 are 18th Century in red brick whereas No. 42 is Regency with first floor balconies and stuccoed; and No. 51 has had elegant stone full height bow windows added in the later 19th Century. Nos: 53-56 is a late regency row of shops built across two yards. Refurbishment works to the streetscape in 1994/95 have aimed at reducing the impact of motor vehicles within the town centre, removing road traffic sign clutter, creating more space for people to walk on and giving new paving surfaces to the streets, squares and pavements. In addition the careful location of street trees aims to soften the angularity of the built environment and to relieve the vastness of open spaces.

Map of Conservation Area