Market Drayton, Shropshire

PUBLISHED: 20:11 07 February 2010 | UPDATED: 15:13 20 February 2013

One of the tasty morsels on offer

One of the tasty morsels on offer

Spiced confectionery, lively street markets and farm-fresh produce - just three of the reasons why the Domesday town of Market Drayton is worth a closer look, says Caroline Sargent

Spiced confectionery, lively street markets and farm-fresh produce - just three of the reasons why the Domesday town of Market Drayton is worth a closer look, says Caroline Sargent

Sandwiched between the River Tern and the A53 bypass and divided by the Shropshire Union canal, Market Drayton is a compact town of medieval heritage, perched imposingly atop a red sandstone precipice and best appreciated from the southern approach on the Newport Road.
Its lofty post has served it well in military manoeuvres through the years. In 1459 the first battle in the Wars of the Roses was joined at Blore Heath, on the road to Loggerheads. The Yorkist Earl of Salisbury trounced the Lancastrian Lord Audley, who had been sent to arrest him, and destroyed his army. The hill where Salisbury camped was henceforth christened Salisbury Hill. There followed several skirmishes in Market Drayton during the Civil Wars of the 17th Century, and Tern Hill Barracks have been in situ since the First World War.
One of history's great, albeit unlikely, war heroes heralds from a small village just outside Market Drayton. Moreton Say is the birthplace of Lord Robert Clive or Clive of India, as he was to become better known. A manic depressive and unruly tearaway, Clive was dispatched to Madras at the age of 18 to acquire some discipline working as a clerk for the East India Company. Quickly bored, he joined their private army where he fought and eventually won back the English East Indian Empire from the clutches of the French. After a distinguished career as soldier, imperial statesman and politician, he became MP and then Mayor of Shrewsbury in the mid 1700s. Clive of India met his end in mysterious circumstances, some say by his own hand, in his London home in 1774. Today he lies buried in an unmarked grave in the parish church of Moreton Say.
Besides its connections to Clive, Market Drayton's biggest claim to fame is being the home of gingerbread, a delicacy that has been produced here for more than 200 years and, according to the locals, is best enjoyed dunked in glasses of port. However, beyond the shouts of boundary signs as you drive into town, there is scant evidence of its confectionery credentials on display to visitors. On Shropshire Street there is a double fronted shop called The Ginger Jar displaying a range of sweet themed gifts such as baking kits, tea towels and fridge magnets and on closer inspection you notice that the street signposts have little gingerbread men pointing out directions, but the gingerbread theme is not exactly pushed down your throat, if you'll excuse the pun.
For all its modesty on the confectionery front, the town makes a big noise with its historical street market, attracting crowds of bargain hunters week on week. Every Wednesday Cheshire Street closes to traffic for the day and a miscellany of stalls stretch up to the Buttercross and beyond. Dating as far back as the 13th Century, the market is integral to the emergence of what was then the manor of Great Drayton into the bustling town we know today. In 1112 Great Drayton was given over to the enterprising monks of Combermere Abbey, where they sought to formalise Drayton's fledgling post as a trading station, assuring themselves in the process of a handsome, long-term income.
In medieval society, markets were highly coveted as a potential source of great wealth and were therefore jealously guarded. In 1245 Henry III granted Combermere Abbey a charter to hold a weekly market in Drayton each Wednesday. It became so prosperous that subsequent challenges from local towns such as Betton and Adderley to stage similar weekly events were unanimously over-ruled, leaving the path clear for the town to re-Christen itself 'Market' Drayton.
Once the Wednesday crowds disperse, the many attractive shop frontages and window displays that complement Drayton's architecturally diverse town centre are revealed. Centuries of building design is on display here, from black and white half-timbered inns to carefully preserved Stuart, Georgian and Victorian homes.
Although its retailers share the struggle of many neighbouring rural towns in competing for business against big name superstores, it appears there is enough residential and tourist trade to comfortably sustain the likes of Sherwood Wholefoods, T.O Williams delicatessen and Lloyds Interiors, a cornucopia of pretty homewares, hand-painted furniture, gifts and knick-knacks. Indeed one tiny sweet shop is positively thriving.
On launching Tuesday's Fine Confectionery, people told Nicola Tuesday she wouldn't last six months, but four years on she has a loyal local customer base and regularly mails consignments of Belgian chocolate, Scottish fudge, Turkish delight, Parisian truffles, German marzipan - even sugar-free sweets - to hooked holidaymakers who have long since stepped over the threshold. In summer, queues snake out on to the street to try her 14 flavours of Italian ice cream and sorbets and she sells more than 500 home-baked cakes each year.
Duck down adjacent Wilkinson Walk and you'll find another little gem. G.P Snape & Sons, organic bakers of Woore, have been making bread, pies and cakes using organic and spelt flour for 65 years and are enjoying something of a renaissance among today's green and health conscious public. At just before midday the shelves are almost bare. As their A-board sings, 'You can buy cheaper but you can't buy better!'
Food and drink plays a big part in attracting thousands of visitors a year to Shropshire and in agricultural areas like Drayton, farm produce is in abundant supply. The popular shop at Buttercross Farm in Red Bull, just off the A53, is the place to head for home reared free range pork, bacon, hams and sausages. Fordhall Farm, famously the first community-owned land initiative in England following Ben and Charlotte Hollins's national campaign to fight closure of their late father's organic farm, is a burgeoning visitor attraction with a picnic area, nature trail and farm shop selling organic beef, pork and lamb and an array of local produced eggs, vegetables, honey, cheese and ice cream.
Fordhall stages regular country fairs and fun events designed to educate children about food, the environment and organic farming. By inspiring a new generation of young farmers, the town's prosperity as food producer and rural trading post should be assured for years to come.

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Market Drayton Museum has been open for just a year but has already attracted more than 1,000 visitors. Situated at 53, Shropshire Street, it is packed with artefacts which tell the story of Market Drayton. There's everything from an old hearse to ancient mangles. Recent additions include a chaff cutter made in the town and a Victorian shower head, which came from a house just a few doors away. The Museum is open from April until the end of October between 10.30am and 1pm on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. Admission is free and there are many opportunities for volunteers.

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