A History of Market Harborough

By Tim Lambert

Market Harborough was founded by the Saxons. They built a little village and we believe they called it haefera beorg, which means oats hill. In time the name evolved into its modern form. At the time of the Domesday Book, in 1086 Market Harborough was still a tiny village. However, in the 13th century, it became a town.

In 1204 a weekly market was started. (In those days there were few shops and usually to buy or sell anything you had to go to a market). Soon Market Harborough was a thriving little town. However, to us, it would seem tiny with a population of only a few hundred. In the town were the same craftsmen you would find in any Medieval town such as bakers, brewers, butchers, carpenters, and blacksmiths. Meanwhile, the tower and spire of St Dionysius Church was built in the early 14th century.

In 1614 a grammar school was built in Market Harborough. Then in 1642 came civil war between king and parliament. Royalist cavalry plundered Market Harborough but as they left the town they were intercepted by a parliamentary force. They were defeated and they fled leaving all their plunder.

The 18th century was one of quiet prosperity for Market Harborough and many people in the little town worked weaving cloth. It was also a stage coaching town and many passed through on their way to Leicester.


However, at the time of the first census in 1801 Market Harborough was still very small with a population of only about 1,700. Even by the standards of the time, it was tiny. Yet it grew much larger during the 19th century. By 1901 the population had reached over 7,700.

In 1809 a canal to Market Harborough was completed. The railway reached the town in 1850 when a line opened from Rugby to Stamford. In 1857 another line opened from Leicester to London and it passed through Market Harborough. Improving communications helped the town to grow. Meanwhile in 1833 Market Harborough gained gaslight. Then in 1890, the town gained a piped water supply. In 1895 Market Harborough was given an urban district council.

During the 20th century Market Harborough continued to thrive and by 1971 it had a population of over 15,000. A museum opened in the town in 1983 and in 1993 St Marys Place Shopping Centre opened.

Today Market Harborough is a flourishing Leicestershire town. The population of Market Harborough is 20,000.