The Uffculme Shambles

The Shambles in the centre of the Market Square in Uffculme is described by the National Monuments Register as: "Public seating formerly part of the old market. Probably C17, or earlier, much renewed and altered in the C19. Open work timber structure with gable and slate roof. End posts with tie beams supported by curved braces; pegged with some bolts. Decorative C19 bargeboarding and apex pinnacles and pendants. It originally contained a timber counter, but this has been replaced by double wooden seat. The building is similar to The Shambles in Shepton Mallet, dated by Pevsner as C15."

Dr C A Ralegh Radford (Uffculme a Culm Valley Parish 1988) describes Uffculme as one of a number of compact or nucleated villages found all over Devon, but more frequently east of the River Exe. They represent the earliest Saxon settlements of the late C7 or C8, when the rising power of Wessex conquered the land from the British. The characteristic plan is of a large square left open for meetings and markets with houses set along each side in front of yards or gardens.

In 1266, John Cogan Lord of the Manor of Uffculme obtained a market charter and markets continued to be held in The Square until 1916. Fairs were held on 29 June (3 days), 1 August (3 day), Good Friday, and the middle Wednesdays in September, eight days in all.

Robin Stanes (Uffculme: A Peculiar Parish 1997) describes The Shambles as a urban relic indicative of an older mercantile past where mediaeval fairs and markets were held and he quotes a reference from Lyson that a carpenter Richard Patch kept the "poles" in 1676. The illustration made by Peter Orlando Hutchinson in October 1847 shows a simple covered wood bench and a butcher selling meat. The word "shambles" is from the Old English and although generally now associated with the butchering of meat, had a more general meaning deriving from the latin "scamnum" which means a bench. It has been surmised that The Shambles was also used for trading woollen cloth for which Uffculme was once famous. However, no evidence has been found for this.

The current structure is clearly different from that shown by Hutchinson and the explanation given by Ernest Baker who was Parish Clerk for many years is that following celebrations at the end of the Crimean War in 1856 the old structure was damaged by fire and then presumably it was rebuilt. The Shambles along with the Market Square continued to be held by the Lord of the Manor of Uffculme until 1923 when William Talley Wood gifted the land to the Parish Council.

John Bell

13 December 2011