This pleasant rural settlement by the River Welland was developed as a market town by Henry II, around 1170. A general goods market became established in 1203, and by 1938 a large cattle and covered market was thriving just south of the old market square. This area was redeveloped in 1993 to create the modern St Mary's Place shopping centre.
St Mary's Place Shopping Centre © Travel About Britain
Although in much need of a bypass for the busy A4303, the town is a very pleasant place to visit with a generous central square (formerly the Sheep Market), surrounded by much fine Georgian architecture.
The centre is dominated by the town's 14th-c ironstone church, with its impressive broach spire. Alongside this stands the town's old Grammar School. A charming half-timbered and gabled building, gifted by local boy Robert Smythe, in 1613. The school is supported above the street on sturdy wooden pillars, under the cool shade of which a butter market was once held. The ornamental gables and pargeting date from 1869.
The town is a traditional hunting centre and social focus for the local area. Many of the lovely old Georgian buildings around the town square and along the High Street have been converted to shops. During the 19th-c the town prospered under the fortunes of the Symington family, whose corset factory still stands behind the church. An iconic Victorian red brick and glass windowed warehouse, which now houses the District Council offices, library and town museum.
Town Hall © TAB
The Grade II listed 18th-c town hall (on the High Street), is another imposing red brick affair with with fine stone dressings. Built in 1788 by the Earl of Harborough, is originally served as a market hall and assembly rooms. Opposite the hall stands the ancient Three Swans Inn, which dates from the 14th-c. The elaborate 18th-c wrought-iron sign hanging over the street is one of the finest pub signs in England.
Brooke House (1708), in Leicester Road, is noted as the oldest mansion house in town. Now a private college, the building was enlarged in 1807 and named after Lord Brooke who lived there in the 19th-c.
St Dionysius & Market Cross © TAB
The spire of the Church of St Dionysius is one of the finest in all England, rising to 160ft. The church bells are rung every November to commemorate the rescue of a merchant lost on the Welland marshes, in 1500.
Market Harborough became the headquarters of the Royalist army on the eve of their defeat at the Battle of NASEBY (1645). Charles I was later incarcerate here on his way back to London, along with over 4000 prisoners who where billeted in the church. The town is part of the Civil War Trail and a number of information boards can be found at key points around the town.
To the north lies the start of a branch of the Grand Union canal. Its restored basin is home to a number of red-brick warehouses, which have been converted to trendy waterside apartments and craft workshops. About four miles further north the canal navigates Foxton Locks - a flight of ten locks used to raise and lower narrow boats and barges up the steep hill out of the town.
A modest collection detailing the towns medieval and Victorian roots, with displays of social history from the earliest times to relics from the nearby Battle of Naseby. There is also a collection of Victorian corsetry and the famous 'liberty bodice' invented by Fred Cox at the local Symington factory.
Opening times: Tuesday-Friday:
10am-6pm, Saturday: 10am-4pm - Free Entry
Location: The Symington Building, Adam and Eve Street, Market Harborough, LE16 7LT
Tel: 0116 305 3627