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The town probably owes its origin to the ford on the old course of the Nene, where the road between Ely and Wisbech, the two chief towns of the Isle, crossed the river.
With a long history of trading, in the reign of Queen Elizabeth the First, March was a minor port. In 1566 eight boats, capable of carrying one, one and a half, or two cartloads, were used in the coal and grain trades. A certain amount of traffic - in coal and other commodities, carried in barges, was observed by Dugdale in 1657. Local tradesmen's tokens of 1669, and a silver shilling token of 1811, have been noted.
Originally a Market appears to have been held near the original town (then village) centre, on land beside The Causeway. A Market Cross (now called The Stone Cross) points towards the existence of an early Market and this cross was erected in the early 16th Century. This site was very near to St Wendreda's Church.
In 1669 the people of the town successfully petitioned King Charles II and in 1670 he granted the Lord of the Manor of Doddington a Royal Charter endowing the right to hold a Market with two annual fairs, in spite of the opposition of Wisbech Corporation. This Market was held on Fridays. The Lord of the Manor of Doddington, who owned a large part of March, gave special permission to the townspeople to sell their goods on some of his land in the town centre. This site, now called the Market Place, was then known as Bridge Green Common and later named Market Hill.
In 1785 the tolls were assessed at £6 per year. Soon after this the Market appears to have lapsed, though the fairs continued at this period to be prosperous. The development of the Market was impeded by the absence of a covered hall and by the fact that Market day in March and several neighbouring towns fell on the same day (Friday).
In 1807 the Vestry decided that it was not hygienic for goods to be loaded or unloaded in the vicinity of the Market and ordered all saw pits, timber and other encroachments around the Market place to be removed. The Market was struggling during this time and an attempt to revive it in 1821 was not very successful. A Butter Cross, also known as a Market House, was erected in 1831. This building also housed the town fire engine and had an upstairs room that for a time housed the 'Clock House School' and later the Town Surveyor's office. This office was covered by a turret which housed the Town Clock (purchased by public subscription about 1750) and the Fire Bell. During later refurbishments this clock was re-housed in St Peter's Church Tower. The Town Stocks were also placed in the Market Place and local offenders (and those who refused to go to church) were placed in them.
The want of a Market House was remedied, in a make-shift fashion, by Sir Henry Peyton, 2nd baronet of the 1776 creation, (who was the current Lord of the Manor of Doddington). His building, however, was only 40 ft long by 17 ft broad, and provided only 14 stalls under cover
After the opening of the railway in 1847 another attempt was made to increase the Market. In 1851 the Market had been stated to be 'making progress'; and £150 was subscribed to give a treat to the poor at its re-opening. The difficulty of the clashing with other Market days was solved in December 1856 by changing the day from Friday to Wednesday 'by private arrangement and without any formalities'. The tolls were, however, collected in an arbitrary and haphazard way; they were assessed for poor rate purposes at £10.
In 1872 the Board of Health bought a Shand and Mason fire engine that was the town's first steam appliance that was to be housed in the Market house. During the same year the Vestry agreed to erect a urinal at the back of the Butter Cross for use by boys attending the Clock House School, but would not erect a water closet (toilet).
The Market toll-keeper in 1888, though he had no fixed scale of charges and kept no record of receipts, was said to be taking about £50 a year. The success and prosperity of the Market fluctuated over the years and an attempt by the Local Board to purchase the Market Rights to mark the Jubilee of 1887 was a failure. However in 1897 Sir Algernon Peyton ( the Lord of the Manor of Doddington ) agreed to sell the Market Rights, the Market Place and Market House to March Urban District Council for the sum of £800. At that time the Market was leased to Mr F B Phillips who agreed to surrender his lease in 1898 subject to his receiving the Market tolls for one year without charge. This was agreed and the transaction was completed.
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