THIS month marks the 150th anniversary of the opening of Newtown Market Hall.

While Newtown’s original market hall was demolished in 1852, the desire for a new facility for the town had not been realised for a further 12 years.

Opened on Tuesday, December 20, 1870 the construction of the market hall would prove divisive from the start and even led to violence on the streets of Newtown.

The story of Newtown Market Hall begins two years earlier when Capt Wastel Brisco of Newtown Hall instructed his agent Thomas Sturkey to have some of his High Street and Market Street properties demolished to make way for a market hall.

Liverpool architect David Walker drew up plans and the building works were completed two years later at a cost of £4,000, with the doors opened for business in front of a large crowd by Mr Sturkey’s son, Owen.

Many people descended on the market hall for its opening day of business and were delighted with stalls selling butter, eggs, cheese, bacon, fruit, vegetables, cakes, hosiery, haberdashery, grocery, ironmongery, saddlery, shoes and crockery.

Mr Edmund of Newtown Gas Works made the first purchase, buying a plump goose for his tea.

Controversy began soon after when Captain Brisco offered to sell the market hall to Newtown Local Board for £5,000 – £1,000 more than the building had cost to build.

It would represent the start of a bitter row, known as the ‘Market Hall Question’ which would dominate Newtown for the remainder of the century.

The Newtown Local Board commissioned a valuation of the building which reported the building was worth £3,860, significantly less than Capt Brisco’s asking price.

Despite Capt Brisco reducing his price the feeling among the Newtown Local Board had remained that it was too high.

As debates continued more townspeople spoke out against the decision to build the market hall, citing it had been done without consultation with the town and in particular the location, size and cost of the now completed hall.

As 1871 continued the town divided into two camps.

There were those who felt Capt Brisco had been generous in building the market hall and had been a benefactor of the town in the past, while others were convinced Capt Brisco was only out to make a profit for himself.

Throughout February the camps mobilised ahead of a proposed vote of the town’s rate payers.

The ‘Market Hall Question’ came to a head on March 28, 1871 and led to violence on the streets of Newtown.

A poll of the town’s ratepayers took place though both sides accused the other of cheating during canvassing, though the opposition party had been most vocal on the streets, proclaiming: “We have them whipped and will give them a greater whipping yet.”

Such confidence had been misplaced and when the promoters of purchasing the market hall were announced winners by a majority of 151 votes the town erupted.

It was reported: “For some time the streets were in the hands of the crowd who spent their fury in shouting and speech making before the residences of the principal promoters were visited but in only two instances were forcible means resorted to, the first being an attack on Mr Davies of the Crown Vaults whose friends had to hurry him off the streets for fear of personal violence, while another malignant fellow put a stone through the window of Mr Richard Francis’ home on Park Street.”

The police were called and streets were emptied.

However the victorious advocates were to be disappointed in their efforts to purchase the market hall as Capt Brisco refused offers of purchase or rent and the ‘Market Hall Question’ would continue to be waged on the streets of Newtown for the next 50 years.

The market hall became a venue for all number of varying activities, from political meetings to roller skating and dances.

Meanwhile business continued and in 1878 a local man was whipped 12 times and jailed for a month for the first recorded theft at Newtown Market Hall.

Despite still being a controversial building to some the market hall remained popular among others and in 1881 more than 400 people were treated to an afternoon tea with entertainment provided by the town’s brass band.

The great ‘Market Hall Question’ was back in the news in 1913 when the Brisco family once again offered the sale of the building to the town, though only for more than it had cost to build in 1870.

This time the offer was refused outright with the Urban District Council describing the offer as “outrageous”.

However following the end of the Great War and facing mounting debts, the Brisco estate had decided to finally reduce its asking price for Newtown Market Hall which was finally sold for £4,000, less than their asking price 50 years earlier, with the purchase completed in 1919 to finally end the ‘Market Hall Question’.

By 1939 and with war once again breaking out across Europe the town of Newtown had been asked to play its part.

Newtown Market Hall and several other buildings in the town were taken over by the Admirality of Victualing Depot.

A partition was built to divide the market hall in two with half the Royal Navy’s rum supply stored until the end of hostilities in 1945.

However with the country on its knees after seven years of bloody war the market hall remained under Government control and from 1946 the facility employed more than 150 men for the Ministry of Food.

It was not until 1959 the building was finally restored to its intended use and Newtown Urban Council undertook refurbishments following three decades of Government use.

For the remainder of the 20th century the market hall served as an important centre of local trade and meeting place for each passing generation though by the start of the 21st century the town had come to call for investment in the dilapidated hall.

By now the market hall had been in the hands of varying local authorities for more than half a century and in 2010 the building was taken over by the Mid Wales Food and Land Trust and two years later grant aid from the Heritage Lottery Fund, Big Lottery, Community Asset Transfer Programme and Welsh Government saw work commence in restoring the building to former glory.

Restoration began in 2014 and the market hall now stands proudly at the heart of Newtown life, just as it has for 150 years.