Celebrating 250 Years of Oxford’s Covered Market

Oxford's beloved Covered Market is about to reach an extraordinary milestone, celebrating its 250th anniversary.

This historic market, one of the oldest continually operating markets in the UK, has stood the test of time, evolving from its humble beginnings to become a vibrant hub of commerce and community.

To mark this momentous occasion, Oxford City Council teamed up with local designer Big Top Design to create special edition branding. This new branding, featured throughout the market and on collectible 250th anniversary tote bags, encapsulates the market’s rich history and dynamic future.

Throughout 2024, a series of exciting events will honour the market’s storied past and pave the way for a thriving future. Highlights include:

  • Anniversary Edition Easter Egg Hunt: Bringing joy to families with a special celebratory twist.
  • May Morning Celebration: In collaboration with The Market Tap by Tap Social, this event promises a festive atmosphere.
  • Birthday Event during Oxford Open Doors: Offering a unique blend of history and modernity, this event invites everyone to explore the market’s heritage.
  • Ceremonial Cake Cutting on 1 November: Marking the exact day the market opened in 1774.

These events will showcase the market’s evolution and attract new visitors, ensuring it remains a beloved part of Oxford for generations to come.

A Rich History

The market’s origins date back to the Oxford Improvement Act of 1771, which aimed to centralise street traders under one roof for better public health. The Covered Market opened its doors on 1 November 1774, initially featuring timber stalls.

The market expanded in the 1840s, evolving into its current form with the addition of Market Street entrances and a more diverse array of traders. By the late 19th century, it was no longer just a meat market but included fruit, vegetables, fish, cheese, and even cafes and non-food outlets.

Despite a post-war proposal to demolish it, the market thrived and was listed as a grade II site in March 2000. For a detailed exploration of its history, check out local historian Malcolm Graham’s video or visit the Council’s website.

Looking Forward

The market has continually evolved to stay relevant. In 2021, a new Leasing Strategy was adopted to ensure a diverse mix of high-quality, specialist, locally-owned, and independent retailers. This strategy has been instrumental in maintaining the market’s appeal.

In 2023, Oxford City Council approved nearly £7 million in investments to revitalise the market, including trials of later opening hours and pedestrian-friendly changes to Market Street. Since April 2023, footfall has consistently surpassed 2022 and pre-pandemic levels, indicating the market’s enduring popularity.

Here’s to another 250 years of history, community, and commerce!

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