The Shambles Community Space

The Shambles is Barnstaple Council’s new and exciting community space. Located on Barnstaple High Street, The Shambles is a self contained space with kitchenette, that can be used by a wide variety of community resources.  The Shambles also lends itself as a “pop-up” retail space, allowing users to lock the premises between days trading, leaving stock in place.

So if you are looking for a town centre base for just a few hours, the day or a few days, look no further as The shambles will give you that prime location.

Shambles Logo Website

A Brief History of the Shambles

The term ‘Shambles’ comes from Medieval times and refers to a meat market, or an open-air slaughterhouse where butchers would kill and prepare animal meat to be sold. Many other towns and cities in England have Shambles of their own, including York, Swansea, Manchester, and Worcester. The first reference to the Barnstaple Shambles, or ‘Shamells’ as they were sometimes called, is from around the 14th century and says that they were located beneath the old Guildhall near Maiden Street.

During this time, either the mayor or an elected councilman took on the title of ‘Keeper of the Shambles’ and was responsible for the running of the market. These duties included cleaning the work surfaces and maintaining the trestles and boards where the meat was prepared. These responsibilities were taken very seriously; the Keeper of the Shambles had to swear an oath to uphold their duties and keep the Shambles clean and safe:

The oath of the keeper of the Shambles.

“I shall truly serve Mr Mayor, Alderman and Burgesses of the Borough and parish of Barnstaple in the officer of Keeper of the Shambles truly to see the trestles and boards to be set forth to them that shall bring flesh or fish to this town and market and to see the trestles and boards safely to be kept and all belonging to my power. Soe help me God.”

During the reign of Edward IV, records show that 11 shillings and 8 pence was paid to the Keeper of the Shambles to maintain its upkeep. Throughout the time of Easter an additional 2 pence was designated for cleaning; the Shambles had to be kept particularly clean during this period, as no meat was allowed to be sold during Lent.

Sometime between the 15th and 16th century, the location of Barnstaple’s Shambles was moved to underneath the second Guildhall at the entrance to the church yard on the High Street. Many commercial stalls did business here, and it was a particularly busy area considering its vicinity to the church and the Guildhall. Shop-owners such as John Bede in 1574 had to pay 2 shillings to run their business on the Shambles.

However in 1598, the Shambles underneath the Guildhall was demolished, and instead the meat market was moved to the High Street. Phillip Wyatt, the Town Clerk of Barnstaple at the time, records that “The posts and all were plucked down, and the place paved, and a new bench set by the north wall, and so ‘tis appointed a walking place.” Still the Shambles maintained a good flow of trade for the next few centuries; in 1850, William White recorded that all but 3 of the 35 Barnstaple butchers were located within the Shambles. Nowadays the space is used by Barnstaple Town Council as a venue for community events.

Resources Used:

  • Wood, 2006. From Shambles to Pannier: A History of Barnstaple Markets, Barnstaple: Barnstaple Heritage Centre.
  • Lamplugh, 1983. Barnstaple: Town on the Taw, Barnstaple, Phillimore & Co.
  • White, 1850. History, Gazetter and Directory of Devonshire, David & Charles Reprints, Newton Abbot, 1968.
  • Phillip Wyatt, Town Clerk of Barnstaple Journal, B.Rec., Vol. II.
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