What is a Market Town?

Posted : Thursday 8th October 2015

The term 'market town' is commonly used today as a generic term to refer to all smaller rural service centers and not just those that host traditional agricultural markets.   According to the Countryside Agency, market towns are:

Are primarily defined by their capacity to act as a focal point for trade and services for a rural hinterland.

Will usually have a population of between 2,000 and 20,000 people  (but population size is less important than the town¹s potential to act as a hub for its local rural economy).

The above definition will include many rural centers that are not traditionally thought of as towns by their inhabitants.  Below is a list of rural centers in Berkshire, which have been identified by Countryside Agency sources as fitting the market town criteria. 


The challenge!

Traditionally market towns have been at the heart of life in rural England, acting as focal points for commercial and social activity ­ places in which to find work, to buy or sell goods, or to find valued specialist services.

Over the past 50 years however, various economic and social changes have forced new pressures and challenges upon our market towns and many have seen a decline in fortunes as a result.

Traditional livestock markets, which many rural towns relied on to draw people in to them, are falling victim to economic changes and disappearing, as are other traditional sources of employment, such as dairies, breweries and manufacturing businesses.  The pressures BSE and the Foot and Mouth Crisis have placed on those connected with the farming and tourist

Industries have been widely publicized and have brought into question the future of agriculture in its current form.

Car ownership has increased dramatically in recent years making many consumers far more mobile.  People are now prepared to travel further and have higher expectations of the services they use, which have put tremendous pressure on small high street retailers who have seen their customer base dwindle.  Increased mobility has also meant service industries are now tending to concentrate in cities and larger towns, again often to the detriment of smaller rural centers.

Vacant high street properties, a diminishing range of available goods and services, traffic congestion, inadequate public transport and increasing levels of vandalism and crime are some of the challenges facing many small rural towns today and are all factors that deter businesses, town centre living and visitors.  Some rural towns are overcoming such challenges,

Adapting to changing demands and thriving, but there are many which are not faring so well and continue to experience a general decline in vitality.


The Vision!

Problems facing small rural towns in England today were acknowledged and addressed in the Government¹s Rural White Paper (published Nov. 28th 2000). A vision of England¹s market towns as the basis of sustainable rural communities was revealed in this document, a vision that has been taken forward by the Countryside Agency.

In this vision 21st Century England¹s market towns are places where people from the town and surrounding countryside:

  • Can buy most things they need
  • Can obtain a range of basic services, such as legal advice and libraries.
  • Can find housing of all types and sizes ­ rental and for purchase.
  • Have a choice of jobs, particularly in businesses related to the products of the surrounding countryside.
  • Can obtain the training and education they need.
  • Can enjoy eating out, cinema, theatre, or musical events. 
  • Have good public transport, which enables access to the above for everybody.


The way forward?

Many individuals and groups have been working to support the social, economic and environmental well being of rural towns for a long time.  Town and parish councils, chambers of commerce, schools, churches, residents associations, youth and community groups, countless other voluntary organizations and various other groups have all been doing their bit to address one aspect or another of their communities¹ needs.

Some rural towns are now taking things a stage further and are developing a more coordinated approach to tackling the challenges facing them. Partnerships including representatives of groups such as those mentioned above and others too are forming in order to exploit mutual opportunities and address local issues from a more holistic perspective.   

There are various avenues of support open to such local partnerships and groups representing the interests of market towns.  Some of this support comes direct from government, mainly through the Countryside Agency and Regional Development Agencies, but there are also a variety of charitable sources of funding available for a range of social and environmental projects.

comments powered by Disqus