Brentford Market began life in 1306 with a Royal Charter to the nuns of St Helen’s in Bishopsgate. They were also allowed a fair for six days from the eve of St Lawrence’s Day on August 10th. Both the market and the fair were in existence in the town for more than 600 years.
At the beginning of the 17th century the market lease was held by Jerome Hawley whose family was involved with its fortunes through several generations. They were engaged in a lawsuit for several years with Lady Anne Gresham, the widow of Sir Thomas Gresham of Osterley who had inherited the manor of Boston from her husband.
It would seem that at this time the Hawleys had not been paying the rent for some years so King James I abolished both the market and the fair. Many people in the area had livelihoods that depended on the trade it generated as did the prosperity of the town. They therefore petitioned the king for its restoration and a new lease was granted to James Hawley in 1610.
The Hawley interest in the market seems to have been sold in 1619 to Valentine Saunders of Chiswick for £3,350. On his death it was inherited by his 15 year old brother and shortly after was taken over again by the Hawleys. Their charter was granted by Charles II who also gave permission for the holding of two six day fairs from 1st May and 1st September. The site was also enlarged as it was too confined for the sale of cattle and sheep.
In 1666 (the year of the Great Fire of London) a Market House was also built and this appears on many old prints of the town.
The market flourished through the 18th century being sold in 1768 by the last generation of Hawleys to Charles Woodcock, Robert Wallace Johnson and others including the Reverend Horne Tooke of St Lawrence’s Church.
By 1890 the informal and illegal trading by at least 60 wagons around the fountain was becoming a nuisance, causing congestion and blocking the road. The Brentford Local Board planned a purpose built market and bought 2 acres of land from the Rothschild estate east of Kew Bridge and north of the road at Gunnersbury to provide a market site. The traders were consulted about the facilities they would require and all the stalls were taken before the opening on 24th May 1893.
Business increased and in 1897 a newly appointed surveyor, Nowell Parr, was instructed to prepare plans and estimates for laying out an extension next to the original site. Leopold de Rothschild laid the foundation stone on 18th September 1905 and the work was finished six months ahead of schedule. The Middlesex Independent described it in 1906 as ‘the latest and most palatial market in Britain’. In 1927 a report by the Ministry of Agriculture and Fish on fruit marketing in England said that there were 700 buyer’s carts entering the market every day. It pointed out that the fruit and vegetables being sold were all from market gardens in Middlesex and that any choice and expensive fruits required were obtained by buyers at Covent Garden, the main market in the country at the time.
By 1929 when the freehold had been taken over by the Brentford & Chiswick Urban District Council there were 260 growers regularly bringing produce from Middlesex, east Surrey, east Buckinghamshire and east Berkshire. Most of the transport, by this time, was motorised but there was still stabling for 200 horses.
In 1968 the site included a bank, restaurant, barbers and clothing shops, a blacksmith, an eel stall, a florist sundries stand and one selling the equipment required by retailers. There were casual stands for the sale of seasonal goods such as Christmas trees.
A 1968 report concluded that the site was ‘completely unsuited to the needs of the modern pattern of trade and its associated problems’. A site atNorth Hyde on the borders of Southall was identified that could provide the improved links with the road network that were necessary for the expansion and improvement of the market. At a ceremony in 1972 Jack Nash who was thought to be the longest serving porter cut the first turf of the 36acre, £2million plus site. The new Western International Market opened in 1974 thus ending nearly 700 years of market trading in Brentford - for a while at least!
In 2005/6 there was an initial attempt to relaunch a market in Brentford. Due to a lack of resources and support from quality traders the initiative sadly floundered.
In 2011/12 Brentford High Street Steering Group piloted a series of themed markets with support from London Borough of Hounslow and The Mayor's Outer London Fund. These were a great success and the weekly market launching in Spring 2013 builds on the lessons learned from this experience.