Barnard Castle

The Story

The Butter Mart may be known to some as Market Cross to others the old Town Hall but it has always universally been known as the building blocking the road at the top of the hill in Barnard castle. Going back to its earlier days it was known as Break's folly. This is because it was not well loved by the people of the town. Young men then, as young men now loved to ride their horses (ok now its cars) fast up and down the high street, this building put a stop to that. It also was blamed for putting a stop to the natural flow of air down to the river. At the time there was a Shambles in the middle of the market place where the butchers lied their trade and piled heaps of offal that created a putrid smell. It seems the building held this smell back. Amazingly it was not even seen as an attractive building so why on earth did Thomas Break's build it at all?

It seems that before this building was constructed The farmers wives sold their fair (butter cheese and dairy products) in the shadow of the west side Castle walls looking toward the Market place. At this time it was forbidden to build against the walls. Over time the Castle lost power and by 1679 buildings sprang up. Along with them the Golden Lion was almost build on top of the very place where the women sold their fair! They were pushed out into the open market suffering the full blast of the North-eastern weather. In Thomas Breaks took pity on them and built a construction to provide them protection from the weather and somewhere to sell butter. The Butter Mart was born.


It was build in 1747 in view of Break's window, and was initially only the central octagon. The Tuscan arcade( which was very fashionable at the time) was added around 1774. But even a fashionable arcade could not redeem the building in the eyes of the locals. In 1804 two drinkers from the Turks Head got into an argument about who was the best shot. A soldier named Taylor who was part of the Teesdale Legion of volunteers and a Gamekeeper named Cruddas who worked for the Earl of Strathmore at Streatlam Castle took their argument outside. They challenged each other to hit the weather vain on top of Break's folly. Its not clear who shot first but whoever it was they hit the vain and spun it 180 degrees. The next man took his shot and spun it back.  If you look carefully you can still see the two gun shot holes in the weather vain. Unfortunately I did not look carefully enough and there are no bullet holes in the weather vain on my painting! This is a great excuse for me to come back to this iconic building and produce a second probably a daytime impression of the Butter Mart.

Around 1808 the Shambles were demolished. This meant no more smells. Along with the shambles the old toll booth and Town Hall were demolished. So the annoying building that got in the way was put to use and became the Town Hall. Magistrates held their court there on the second floor. in 1826 a gallery was built for the jury to sit in. Looking at the Butter Mart its easy to see that this must have been a very cramped room for such important proceedings and gradually these meeting were moved to larger buildings. But the buildings history does not stop there, it was used as a gaol, and when the town acquired its first horse drawn fire engine, it was stored in the cell of the jail. It probably was a sensible central point and the gaol cell made it secure.  

Saddly the building has no social function today other than provide a link to the towns long history and give us all something to love and cherish. Now it gets bashed by large vehicles that simply do not fit around the small turning that is provided. around 2020 I had just commented that the roof had been finally fixed when I witnessed a lorry carrying a large static caravan get itself tangled in the corner of the roof and tore the tiles straight back off along with damaging the caravan. Brecks folly can no longer be blamed its been there so long now it deserves it place, maybe alternative roots should be sought for inappropriate traffic. 

The painting itself was on wide weave canvas that I personally stretched. This was no arty plan of mine it was through necessity. I had no money to buy a canvas, so I used an old frame and some wide canvas I had laying around. Because of the wide weave I had to resist getting tied up in detail (no bullet holes) but I chose to use as limited a canvas as I could; blue purple and yellow being the three main colours. I will produce a very different image next time but I still love this old painting of mine and hope one day  some one out there will find a place for it in their home. 

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