The Shambles

Bradford on Avon, Wiltshire


The Shambles from the Silver Street end

A rare moment of quiet -on a Sunday a few years ago

The triangle of buildings between what are now called Silver Street and Market Street are almost certainly on the site of the original open Market Place. In the early Middle Ages this would have been an open space, except on market days, when those who were entitled to could set up their stalls. Gradually the stalls became permanent structures and then were replaced by buildings, some of which remain. Market infill like this has, to some extent, taken place in most of the old towns of England.

At the eastern end, at the junction with Coppice Hill and Silver Street is a late medieval building with a 15th century doorway that was formerly the Tolsey, the house where market tolls were collected. Attached to this was the old Market House, which was open on the ground floor for market stalls with a chamber above. By about 1820 it had become derelict and was demolished. The High Cross and pillory stood opposite. The pair of houses with timber fronts on the other side were also built in the 15th century, with the present façade added in about 1600. Their cellars were once the town’s gaol and connect with the cellar of the Tolsey.

The Shambles is today a short pedestrian shopping street that formed the northern side of the triangle. The name, derived from an Anglo-Saxon word for stall –scammel (sc was pronounced sh), is relatively recent, perhaps borrowed from other towns such as  Stroud, Worcester, Shepton Mallet, Bristol and York. It was previously known as High Street.


Medieval doorway in the Shambles


Southern side

The former Post Office at the western end of the Shambles, was built in two stages, in 1899-1901 and in 1935-1936. The rare monogram of King Edward VIII and date 1936 were in fact carved into the older part!

The Tudor newsagent and butcher shop, previously Shambles Café, is a pair of timber-framed buildings of about 1600, but the party wall between them, as seen from a buttress, and the timbers of their roof are more than a century older.

The Tolsey at the eastern end, now Strawberry Blue, was by 1731 the Old Royal Oak pub, later becoming the electricity board shop and a hairdresser and was recently Tillion’s china and kitchen shop.

Northern side

The building containing Ex Libris bookshop and the Dorothy House shop was built by Bradford’s Co-operative Society in 1930 and still has its name in mosaic at the entrance.

Currently (2019) The Bolthole coffee shop, the double-fronted shop in the middle was previously a greengrocer and preserves the name Davis on its doorstep and a sign high on the wall.

Bathrooms at No. 5 was previously the Halifax estate agent (and before that Quartley’s)

At the eastern end, Karen Bloomfield’s greengrocer shop, retaining a look of a market, closed during the Covid Pandemic in 2020, but re-opened afterwards under new management.