An inside look at Bideford's historic Pannier Market
PUBLISHED: 10:48 26 February 2019
Copyright Terry Mathews Creative 2017
Bideford's historic Pannier Market is fast becoming a cultural hub for local artists and craftspeople to showcase their talents, as CHRISSY HARRIS discovers
The sights and sounds coming from inside the glorious Victorian building in Market Place have certainly changed over the years.
At one time, the cries of traders peddling fish, meat, cream, fruit and vegetables would have filled the 1,000 square-metre hall.
Today, you’re more likely to hear the sound of a woodcarver creating a unique sculpture or be dazzled by the creations of a local jewellery maker.
Bideford Pannier Market and its unique Butcher’s Row shops is now home to an exciting array of artists and craftspeople who have set up stalls, galleries and studios in this now, much more creative space.
World-famous potter Harry Juniper sells his work here, woodcarver John Butler has a workshop nearby, as well as guitar maker James Millman (read more about James on page 56).
Elsewhere, you can find hand-made soft furnishings, toys, locally designed greetings cards, stained glass workshops, gifts and home décor.
This new wave of traders is helping to attract more visitors to a place that was struggling in a town that has six supermarkets within reach.
“The pannier market has become mush more oriented towards objects rather than produce,” says Peter Christie, Bideford’s deputy mayor and market stall holder since 1977. “Supermarkets and online deliveries mean that much of the food side has gone and the offer has changed over the years.
“But this is still a market where you can find the unexpected,” he adds. “Today you can see animal sculptures made out of scrap and watch artists working. This is a fascinating place.”
Built in 1884, the recently refurbished Grade-II-listed Market Hall has plenty of wow factor.
Its impressive roof and ornate ironwork loom majestically over the stalls with their distinctive red-and-white candy striped canopies.
Bidefordians set their watches by the market clock, which has been keeping good time for generations.
Running along one side of the market is Butcher’s Row, a charming-looking avenue of 24 shops now home to an eclectic mix of artisan traders.
Eight studio workshop units were added in 2016 to boost the arts and crafts profile and help make Bideford Pannier Market a top destination for locals and tourists.
Michael Dendle runs a Butcher’s Row gallery and shop selling his artwork, greetings cards and his wife Mary’s handmade knitwear, jewellery and needlecrafts. Like many, Michael believes a change in focus has been like a shot in the arm for the market.
“It had been a bit run down in the last few years but it’s on the way back,” he says, adding that there’s a strong sense of community among all the traders who want to see this place survive and thrive. “We feel that developing the market as a centre for excellence for arts and crafts is the way forward.
“It’s a unique Victorian listed building. Its quirky and eclectic feel is one of its main strengths.
“I overheard a tourist in here the other day saying, ‘Oh, I wish we had something like this in our town’. It just goes to show the value of what we’ve got here.”
The Pannier Market’s location at the top of a hill away from the main shopping street means it has to exert a strong pull factor to get people through the entrance.
“That’s true,” says Michael. “But visitors from out of town manage it all the time. We need to persuade more people in Bideford that the hill is worth climbing!”
It is hoped regular events and workshops will help bring in more people of all ages and backgrounds.
“It’s lovely when you look around the market on a Saturday or a late-night shopping evening and there’s lots going on,” says Michael. “It’s absolutely wonderful.”
Five things you should know about Bideford
Twin towns: Bideford is twinned with Manteo in North Carolina, USA and the French town of Landivisiau in Brittany.
Mast-erful market: Remnants of the mast from the Nymphen, a hospital ship docked near Bideford from 1893 to 1927, are now suspended in the Pannier Market Hall.
Industrial heritage: In the 16th century Bideford was Britain’s third largest port.
Fabulous flocks: Starling murmurations can often been seen here. In the winter months, they come in large flocks to roost underneath the Long Bridge.
Spanish firepower: The nine cannon surrounding the bandstand in the town’s Victoria Park are believed to have been captured from the Spaniards in the Armada.
Where to eat drink and visit in Bideford
Café Collective in Grenville Sreet has creative people and fantastic food. There’s also a great café in the Pannier Market.
Number Eight in Allhalland Street offers fine dining with locally-sourced ingredients.
Classic 1940s jazz and swing music awaits at the Mariners Bar and Bistro in the ancient and narrow Cooper Street.
More live music can be found at The Palladium in Lower Gunstone.
For a unique wildlife spotting experience, a ferry operates between Bideford Quay and Lundy Island in the Bristol Channel.
Much family fun can be found at The Big Sheep amusement farm park in Abbotsham.