Boroughbridge Market Well History

The Market Well is the best-loved landmark in Boroughbridge – but how many people know anything at all about it? When was it built? And why?

Surprisingly grandiose for such a small town, the Market Well dominates the center of St James Square, a mock-Roman structure with wide steps leading up to it, adorned with columns, gables and all manner of architectural fancywork. To discover why it was built, we need to go back in time and understand how Boroughbridge developed in its early days.

As far back as the 13th century, Boroughbridge was a thriving village strategically placed on the side of the River Ure; as the years past, it became a convenient overnighting spot for drovers walking sheep and cattle in between markets in the south of England and northwards to Scotland. At one point more than 2,000 cattle per day passed through the town. Gypsies and horse traders journeyed through Boroughbridge too, and June saw the raucous two-week Barnaby Fair take place in the street now called Horsefair, amid much betting, petty crime and drinking.

With the advent of stagecoaches in the early 19th century, the town was one of the busiest in the north of England, perfectly placed halfway between London and Edinburgh on the Great North Road. In its heyday, there were 22 inns in Boroughbridge’s few streets, catering for the journeymen and the crews of the riverboats that shifted cargoes of line, wines and spices between Leeds and York. By this time, the Crown Inn – it’s one of the few still going strong – alone had stabling for 100 horses and the town had grown rich, with the pleasant jumble of Regency, Georgian and Victorian housing that we see today.

“With the advent of stagecoaches in the early 19th century, the town was one of the busiest in the north of England.”

All this livestock and all these people needed drinking water, which came from the artesian well in St James Square. At 256 feet deep, this was believed to be one of the deepest wells in England and for many years it was the principal source of water for the town. By the 1820s, in the late Georgian period, the well was covered with a single stone pedestal decorated with a stone urn and was flanked by flights of steps.

In 1875 the Lawson family from neighboring Aldborough donated the present-day fanciful sandstone and brick structure and the Market Well took on its present appearance, complete with its Tuscan columns and gabled, tiled circular roof topped with an elaborate cupola and weather vane. The Lawson coat of arms adorns the west side of the well, bearing the following inscription, “Erected 1875 by many friends in memory of the kindly virtues of Andrew Sherlock Lawson of Aldborough Manor Esq. Born 1st September 1824, died 22 May 1872.” And a brass plaque claims, “This pump was given for public use by Mrs Lawson of Aldborough Manor AD 1875. The well is 256 feet deep.”

In 1966 the Market Well was Grade II listed by English Heritage; its pump has long since been removed and today kids hang out on its stone steps on summer evenings; the well has become a meeting place and photo opportunity for walkers passing through on the Swale and Yore Dale walking trails, but it remains the most potent symbol of Boroughbridge and its lengthy history.