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Oxford City Council joins 'Science Cities' in June


Market Street Oxford showing MICA Architects new buildings for Jesus College and entrance to the Covered Market


Amid the 250th anniversary of Oxford's historic covered market, Future Cities Forum is delighted that Executive Director of Development at Oxford City Council, Tom Bridgman, will be returning to speak about preserving heritage in the city for residents and visitors. Part of attracting new talent to this 'science city' is maintaining heritage and place.


The forum discussion will take place in MICA Architects designed Tower Room at Jesus College, Oxford, which looks over Market Street and the covered market itself. MICA wanted to breathe new life into Market Street, creating new openings onto the street and encouraging interest in the market.


The Covered Market is one of the oldest continually operating markets in the country, and older than the modern bicycle.  

To commemorate its 250th anniversary, the Council collaborated with local designer Big Top Design to create special edition branding, displayed throughout the market and on the collectable 250th tote bags, and is working with current traders to plan a series of celebrations throughout 2024. The events will showcase the market's evolution over its 250-year history and lay the foundation for a thriving future, attracting new visitors from far and wide.  


In 1771, the Oxford Improvement Act was passed and plans for a covered city market were proposed to bring disparate street traders under one roof and improve public health. A market committee was established, bringing City and University together, and John Gwynn, the architect for Magdalen Bridge, appointed. On 1 November 1774, The Covered Market officially opened in a way that we could recognise today, albeit smaller and with timber stalls. 


In the 1840s, there was a partial expansion of the market. During this expansion, the market transformed into its current form, and the Market Street entrances were added. The variety of traders also started to change. Originally thought of as a meat market, throughout the 19th century fruit, vegetables, fish and cheese joined the traders. By the end of the 19th century, cafes and other eateries, as well as non-food outlets, began to emerge. 


In more recent years, the market has remained a much-loved part of the city. It survived a post-war proposal to knock it down and move it, and in March 2000 it was listed as grade II. 


Throughout its lifetime, the market has always evolved to stay relevant and thriving. The Council continues to work hard to ensure it keeps up with the times whilst retaining its focus on high-quality traders. In 2021, a new Leasing Strategy was adopted for the market. The strategy focuses on ensuring there is the right mix of businesses and spaces available and emphasises attracting high-quality, specialist, locally owned or independent retailers. The market currently offers the widest-ever selection of specialist artisan produce, cafés, bars, gifts, experiences, fashion, and lifestyle products. 


As well as this, in 2023 the Council approved almost £7m of investment to revitalise the historic market, launched a trial of later opening hours and announced plans for a trial of pedestrian-friendly changes to Market Street.  

Since April 2023, footfall in The Covered Market has been consistently above 2022 and pre-pandemic levels. 


Tom Bridgman said at our previous forum in September:


'We are now due for a consultation on what to do next with the public realm in the city and this will be really important. The city centre action plan will make the city more relevant to local people. At the minute it is dominated by the colleges, who feed and water their students in-house anyway. We have put £7 million investment into the Covered Market to create more public space and also developed Market Street, enabling it to be open and alive in the evening. Gradually the University of Oxford is making its buildings more permeable and that is the case with the Weston Library building, now open to the community and that is part of a cultural shift that is slowing happening.'


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