Bath has a plethora of shops to suit everyone’s tastes, whether you decide to go and explore Southgate, Milsom Place, Walcot Street, Kingsmead Square or The Corridor; however do take some time to visit a shopping destination that has been in the city for over 800 years – the Bath Guildhall Market.
According to 15th Century records there has been a market in Bath since “time immemorial”. How true this is is impossible to prove, however what IS known is that the city certainly has held a market charter since 1189.
Originally the Market place was in the centre of the High Street, just outside the present day Guildhall, overlooked by the mighty Bath Abbey. Today the buses and taxis head directly through what would have been the original area. In 1627 a Stuart Guildhall was completed, but all that remains of this Guildhall are two headless statues, probably of kings, that now are located by the Thermae Spa entrance on Bath Street.
A new Guildhall was built in 1776 and it’s known that in 1818 there were around 438 stalls selling anything and everything from cloth to fish. The Guildhall Market you see today was erected in 1861 and has a beautiful cast iron and glass dome by Hicks and Isaac that was added in 1863. Part of this market was demolished in the 1890’s when the Guildhall was extended, but what we are left with today is a perfectly formed under-cover market area with over 20 different stalls.
There are two entrances to the Guildhall – either via the High Street, where you will see a lovely lit up lamp and an Art Nouveau entrance welcoming you in, or via two huge 19th Century wooden doors, studded with iron bolts, that face onto Pultney Weir and Pultney Bridge.
Inside you will find yourself walking around and in and out of the various shops, all independently run, and often by families. Most have been in the Market for at least 10 years, some 20 years, and a few over 30 years. The oldest business in the Market, and in fact one of the oldest family run businesses in Bath, is Gillard’s who are a Tea and Coffee merchant and have been serving the city since 1886. Here you can stock up on speciality teas and their own coffee bean roasts.
Gillard’s in fact supply the American style diner, Time Out, that is located opposite. Here you can perch on one of the many stools that surround the central serving area and enjoy a bite to eat, a milkshake or an espresso, while watching the bustle of the market. You might even be sat next to George Clooney or Marilyn Monroe!
If you want to experience a proper market cafe, where you can indulge in an All Day Breakfast, Jacket Potato, freshly made sandwiches or simply a mug of builders tea, then the Guildhall Market Cafe is where you want to be. They do take away if you so desire, so if it’s a lovely day and you want to sit outside, simply pop in to grab a tasty treat.
The Guildhall Deli is another food outlet that is best to head to for a takeaway lunch or decadent dessert. Here at the Deli you can pick up anything from Bhajis to Bath Buns. Selling traditional delicious cakes, homemade rolls, and fabulous deli meats and pies this stall is one you cannot miss. Handily it is one of the first stalls you see when you enter via the High Street entrance. Run by two sisters they still sell some of the traditional deli items, like haslet, brawn, chitterlings and a Bath special – Bath Chaps.
After all this food, you’ll need to walk it all off, so go and explore what else the market has to offer. There’s pretty much everything from screwdrivers to lightbulbs, courtesy of M & K Hardware and Electrical; leather goods and bags from Bath Leather Goods Ltd and Dufflebag; plus fabulous contemporary jewellery and vintage inspired pieces and originals via Utopia and It’s Not Cartier respectively.
You can pick up a second hand book for a few pounds at Skoobs who have a vast array of genres to venture through. Opposite their stall is Sew ‘n’ Sew, an incredibly popular craft and haberdashery place where multitudes of wool, buttons, needles and lace trim is sold.
If you’re planning a celebration, party or birthday, then the Bath Party Shop is the place to pop in and pick up a costume, decoration or card. Smarten yourself up for that night out with a trip to the Barber’s opposite who can do a Gent’s Cut from only £15.00; and freshen up later on with some natural body care and aromatherapy oils from Aranais around the corner.
Entering the Market via the High Street entrance, the first stall you come to is Dream of Olwen. Along the cream and brown tiled corridor are swathes of brightly coloured and patterned scarfs, bed-sheets, cushion covers and pashminas that catch your eye. Pick up a gift here for a friend or for yourself.
Nibbles in the centre of the Market has been in the Guildhall for over 25 years and sells over 90 different varieties of cheese. Other local treats are available plus they have a great French produce section if you want to indulge in some lobster bisque or pate.
Dogs are welcome within the Market area, which is a good job too as they aren’t forgotten with the Guildhall Pet Supplies, a stall that has been supplying the pets of Bath with food, bedding and toys since the 1980s. They even provide free delivery to addresses in Bath and the surrounding area.
Finishing your wander around the Market, it’s best to stop off for a few sugary treats at Bath Humbug Shop, where you can pick up any of your old school favourites from Lemon Bon-Bons to Rose Creams.
Opposite Bath Humbug Shop there is a relic of Markets long gone before – the 18th Century Market Pillar, or “Nail” as it would have been known. Here business transactions would take place. and once agreed over this “nail” one’s word was one’s bond. It is where we get the term, to pay “on the nail”.
During the Christmas Market period (26 November to 13th December 2015), the Guildhall Market also has it’s own festive market in a separate area, and again is worth popping in to see what one can buy as a gift to another, or present to ones-self.
Finally, one great idea created by the Market is that if you’ve got any spare change from your shop around, do pop it into the box located by the Grand Parade entrance, opposite Pultney Weir, where all monies received go towards helping Bath’s homeless.
If Bath’s Market really has been running since “time immemorial”, let’s hope that it continues to do so. There’s wonderful shops and food outlets within to enjoy, so make sure on your visit to Bath to take a look inside.
To find out further information and opening times of stalls in Bath’s Guildhall Market, please visit their website or call 01225 460808.
[Photographs Copyright (c) Catherine Pitt and Bath Guildhall Market ]