The Market Towns Research Group

Research Briefing

Small towns (current population 3-10,000) have long played an important role in the economy of Rural England. Their initial function, as Market Town, was often established by Royal Charter in the 15th or 16th Century or even earlier. Their prime role was as a market centre to serve the needs of their locality. There was a close working relationship between businesses and households within the town and in the immediately surrounding countryside. The Royal Charters, in an early example of Town Planning, often established a minimum distance of 7 miles between markets to ensure that they would not compete with each other.

Over the years, these towns developed other functions. They became the base for the administration of local and national government, they formed an increasingly important focus for social activity, and for the location of charitable institutions such as almshouse, hospitals and schools. And associated with all these developments they grew in importance as centres of employment.

Over the centuries, as the national economy developed and increasing numbers of people left the land these Market Towns, as well as the major industrial cities, became increasingly important centres of employment and population.

The evolution of economy and society in the 20th century (and particularly the rapid increase in personal mobility based on car-ownership) has tended to undermine these traditional functions. In an important sense, many of these small towns are becoming "dysfunctional".

The overall aim of the research activities of the Market Towns Research Group at the University of Plymouth is to increase our understanding of the present-day function of small towns within the rural economy. The research concentrates on the "physiology" of the town - how it functions - rather than its "morphology" - its physical layout and infrastructure. By increasing our understanding of how they function we seek to inform the debate over the future of England's Market Towns.


This leaflet describes a number of projects recently completed or currently underway within the Market Towns Research Group at the Seale-Hayne Faculty of The University of Plymouth.

If you want any further information about this work, please contact Ms Julia Dawson, The University of Plymouth, Seale-Hayne Faculty, Newton Abbot, Devon TQ12 6NQ.


The Baseline Studies

Often co-funded by Local Authorities and economic development agencies, these baseline studies provide a pen-portrait of the settlement and its surrounding area (usually a 4-5 mile radius). Each covers the following topics in a standard format:

• the demographic profile

• where the resident population work and how they get to work;

• the use they currently make of local facilities and what they think of those facilities;

• a profile of local businesses - what they do, who they employ and how they see the town, its future and their own.

While the analysis of this data is allowing the University of Plymouth researchers to build up their understanding of the functioning of the New Rural Economy, the individual reports provide each town with a solid bedrock of information upon which the various ideas for community regeneration developed within the town itself can be firmly based.

The following reports have been completed and are available (price 2.50 + 1.00 post and packaging, cheque with order, made payable to "The University of Plymouth") from Ms J Dawson, Seale-Hayne Faculty, University of Plymouth, Newton Abbot, Devon TQ12 6NQ.

Errington, A.J. (1994) The Lambourn Mix: A Baseline Study of the Lambourn Valley, Newbury: Thames Valley Enterprise 20pp. OUT OF PRINT

Dawson, J. and Errington, A.J. (1998) The Bude Study: A Baseline Study of the Bude Area: Summary Report, Seale-Hayne Faculty, The University of Plymouth, ISBN 1-84102-007-9, 17 pages.

Dawson, J. and Errington, A.J. (1998) The Liskeard Study: A Baseline Study of the Liskeard Area: Summary Report, Seale-Hayne Faculty, The University of Plymouth, ISBN 1-84102-006-0, 17 pages.

Dawson, J. and Errington, A.J. (1998) The Holsworthy Study: A Baseline Study of the Holsworthy Area: Summary Report, Seale-Hayne Faculty, The University of Plymouth, ISBN 1-84102-012-5, 17 pages. 

Research Projects and Papers

The following research projects are currently underway:

Paul Courtney: "Small towns and the rural economy: Death of the Market Town?"

Bryan Mills: "Economic linkages within the rural economy: The case of producer services"

Julia Dawson: "Seasonal variations in rural travel patterns and their environmental impact"

The following articles and conference papers have been based on data from the baseline surveys and these projects:

Errington,A.J. (1997) "Rural Employment Issues in the Peri-urban Fringe" in Bollman,R.D. and Bryden,J. (Eds) Rural Employment: An International Perspective, Wallingford: CAB International, ISBN 0 85199 198 X, 205-224.

 Courtney, P., Cullinane,S.L., Dawson,J. and Errington,A.J., (1998) Rural Travel Patterns: A Comparison Between Two Market Towns, Paper presented to the 30th Annual Universities Transport Study Group Conference, Trinity College, Dublin 5-7 January 1998.

 Courtney,P., Errington,A.J. and Cullinane,S. (1998) The spatial pattern of rural economic transactions: The case of the English market town, Paper presented to the annual conference of the Agricultural Economics Society, The University of Reading 25-28 March 1998.

 Courtney,P., Dawson,J., Errington,A.J. and Cullinane,S. (1998) The present-day functions of the English Market Town: A Comparison between ‘Remote' and ‘Accessible' Rural Areas, paper presented to RICS Research Conference, Roots98, Cambridge 14-15 April 1998.

 Cullinane,S.L., Errington,A.J., Dawson,J. and Courtney, P. (1998) Travel Patterns of Rural Residents and the Effect on the Environment, Paper Presented to 8th World Conference on Transport Research, 12-17 July 1998, Antwerp, Belgium.