A Change of Ownership
Notes on the purchase of Sheffield markets from the Duke of Norfolk, adapted from notes produced for Krys Zasada (1996) A history of Sheffield Castle and markets.
Dismayed by lack of investment in Sheffield’s markets, the Corporation of Sheffield (City Council) attempted to purchase the markets from the Duke of Norfolk in the late 19th Century.
The markets included in this deal were: Fitzalan Market Hall (meat, fish and game), Norfolk Market Hall (fruit, shops & stalls), Castlefolds Market (wholesale fruit and veg), Corn Exchange, Haymarket, Smithfield Market (cattle), and Victoria Station Arches. In 1876, the gross income from these assets was estimated at £10,000 per annum. The Slaughter Houses (Killing Shambles) were not included because they were going to have to be moved.
The Public Health Act of 1875 empowered the Council “with the consent of two thirds of their number, to purchase by agreement any existing market rights and to take stallages rents and tolls in respect of the use by any person of such Markets, and for the purpose of enabling Town Councils to establish and regulate Markets and Fairs, certain provisions of the Markets and Fairs Act 1847 are incorporated in the new Act.”
The Duke’s terms for the purchase were, however, too strict. While accepting the sum of money quoted, he refused the Committee’s idea of a 50 year mortgage at 3% interest, preferring a far swifter payment with a large deposit (10% of the total). He also stated that until the full purchase had gone through, the Corporation could not enjoy the profits of the Markets. Under these terms, the Corporation withdrew the offer.
Negotiations opened again later in the year (November 1876) and, in view of the possibility of an arrangement being reached, a Parliamentary bill was drafted for the transfer. However, the Duke wanted more money for the purchase than previously named (amount unspecified), and was reluctant to sell because of plans for the new Corn Exchange and improving the fruit market, which, his agents claimed, was all the improvement necessary to renovate market provision (and which would up the price). The Council disagreed – they felt that Sheffield was lagging behind every other large town in the country.
Again, no agreement was reached, the bill was withdrawn and negotiations ended.
In 1898, serious discussions concerning the sale of markets to the Corporation reopened, reviving memories of 20 years before when the Council had sought to make terms with the Duke of Norfolk and failed. The Mayor assured the Duke that there was `the strongest possible desire on the part of the Corporation to proceed with the purchase upon lines fair and equitable alike to the Municipality’ and to the Duke, and that there could be a cash payment of the purchase money.
There were dissensions at the time among members of the Corporation and some misunderstandings and antagonism arose. At first it seemed unlikely that there was any prospect of an amicable arrangement. Because of his family’s long association with the markets, the Duke was not satisfied with parting with the property on the terms of a valuation and a purely commercial basis. But, after some negotiating, the two parties eventually had confidence in each other’s good faith. The site of the castle upon which so many of the Duke of Norfolk’s ancestors had lived, and which had been held by the family continuously since around 1100, became for the first time the subject of a legal conveyance. Sheffield Council had taken control of the markets.