This post was most recently updated on June 27th, 2018
English market towns are an important part of the country, and its history.
Traditionally the center of a region’s life – where farmers would go to sell their produce and locals go to shop – they still form a key role in rural life even now.
Larger than local villages, smaller than a city, they support a thriving community whilst still being rooted in the local area.
In recent years they have become popular places for the English to live due to their ‘best of all worlds” feel. They are therefore often lovingly preserved – any attempt to develop these towns are often fiercely fought off – which makes them great to visit too.
Here we present 14 great examples:
The Best English Market Towns
1. Sherborne, Dorset
Situated in Dorset – Thomas Hardy country – on the River Yeo, this pretty market town is also home to Sherborne Abbey (pictured).
It’s distinctive buildings are built using a local ochre colored stone called ‘ham stone’.
The town’s a great base for visiting the West Country being near the border with Somerset.
2. Framlingham, Suffolk
A pretty town in the middle of Suffolk in East Anglia.
It contains Framlingham Castle, home of the Howard family who were partciular influencial during the tudor era (the Duke of Norfolk, a powerful player in Henry VIII’s court was as Howard as was, of course, Catherine Howard, Henry’s fifth wife).
This would a be a good base to explore the southern part of East Anglia including Great Yarmouth and the pretty villages around the town.
3. Ashbourne, Peak District, Derbyshire
Known as the gateway to the Peak District – a rugged area south of Sheffield mentioned in Pride of Prejudice – it’s a good place to base yourself if you want to explore this gorgeous area.
Ashbourne is also famous for its Shrovetide football match. Two teams from the north and south of the town (the Up’ards and Down’ards) play a two day long match.
Each team is huge and the goals are 3 miles apart and so few goals are scored. Scorers retire from the game and are carried to a local pub to celebrate.
4. Lewes, East Sussex
Lewes is situated on the South Coast of England, near the popular seaside town of Brighton.
It’s also home to the Lewes Bonfire – one of the largest 5 November celebrations of the thwarting of the 1605 Gunpowder plot and one of many strange English rituals.
5. Ludlow, Shropshire
Situated in the ‘Welsh Marshes’area of England – the border between England and Wales – Ludlow and its surrounds have a bloody history.
The area is a great place to explore castles , including the magnificent Ludlow Castle.
Ludlow is now famous for being a foody haven – at one time it had 3 Michellin stared restaurants – and is the home to one of the UK’s largest food and drink festivals.
Particularly recommended is the ‘Sausage Trail’, tasting sausages made at the many local butchers.
6. Moreton in Marsh
One of two Cotswold towns we’ve included in the list – although we could have added several more – this is the quintessential Cotswold market town.
It’s also well positioned on the various road and rail links to London and the rest of the UK, making it a great base for a Cotswolds vacation.
7. Cranbrook, Kent
Cranbrook is situated in Kent in the far south-east of England.
It’s famous for its Windmill (Union Mill) which is still in working order.
A lovely place from which to explore the countryside of Kent, or visit as a day trip from London.
8. Skipton, Yorkshire
Skipton is known as the ‘Gateway to the Dales’, referring to the popular – rightly so – Yorkshire Dales region in the north of England.
However, just like Ashbourne and the Peak District above, it’s worth a visit in its own right.
It’s particular lovely below Skipton Castle, near the Leeds-Liverpool canal which passes through the town.
This was once the main way to transport goods over the central mountains called the Pennines – a massive feat of engineering now lovingly restored.
Again, it’s a great place to base yourself for a vacation in the Dales.
9. Devizes, Wiltshire
Situated in the center of Wiltshire – just to the East of the ‘West Country’ this is the archetypal market town.
It boasts over 500 ‘listed’ historic buildings (protected by Government) and an 11th century castle.
More importantly, for the Editor at least, it is home to his favorite beer brewed by the Wadworth brewery based in the town.
10. Stamford, Lincolnshire
Stamford is situated in Lincolnshire, near Lincoln in the East of the country.
Lincolnshire can be a little overlooked – a little like nearby East Anglia – and hence Stamford is a little less busy or touristy than some of the other more popular places.
11. Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire
It is a center for the sport of rowing and is home to the world famous Henley Regatta.
One of the main events on the ‘Society’ calendar, this week long event is a place to see and be seen – women in flowing summer dresses and men in suits and straw boaters.
Outside the Regatta it’s bustling market town with several lovely riverside pubs and restaurants.
12. Alnwick, Northumberland
Situated in Northumberland – the county bordering Scotland – Alnwick was the scene of many conflicts between the local Percy family and the Scots.
It’s also home to Alnwick Castle, which dominates the town, home to the Percys (ie the Dukes of Northumberland).
Popular with movie makers it was most recently the location of several scenes in the Harry Potter films.
13. Shepton Mallet, Somerset
A sleepy Somerset town right in the heart of cider country.
A great place to base yourself for trips to Bath, Bristol and gorgeous Somerset countryside.
14. Stow-on-the-Wold, Gloucestershire
Our second Cotswold market town.
Like Moreton-in-Marsh it’s full of the honey colored cottages and buildings that make this region one of the most popular with visitors.
Another great Cotswolds base (see also Burford which also could have made the list).