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A Treasured History Of Market Harborough

Updated: Dec 18, 2023


This painting is based upon the idea that all these windows, walls, images, roads and letters would tell a story if we could only ask them.


Market Harborough is full of history and quite often overlooked or forgotten, I for one didn't know of half as many things as I now know.


'A Treasured History of Market Harborough' took me months to complete, each new idea springing into another. It started out as a mission to paint the Old Grammar School, the iconic building sitting in the centre of our lovely town. Knowing its history and era built in 1614, to put that into context, the town was a very straight forward road and perhaps a more simplistic way of living...


I wanted to source a map but this map had to be from the past, but not so far in the past that the roads we know, leading to the homes and businesses we love wouldn't be there. I found the perfect map in a local charity shop and with it found some stamps! These stamps had found their way to Market Harborough.... traveling just as much as the people! Being a very central location with direct links to London, it's very normal for people to visit our lovely town and travel out from it.


Did you also know... Thomas Cook began his travel venture from here in Market Harborough, running his first coach trips in 1841 costing 1 Shilling per person transporting people to Leicester and Loughborough.

Being A Buisness women myself it's truly inspiring to know this huge world wide known company has lasted so many years and all derived from a simple idea a man had once upon a time!


The Stamps and map seemed like a very appropriate way to show off the heritage and name to fame.


So sparked the other history elements. Within the stamps I had found locally was a stamp that reads:

'though bearly 16 years of age, Jack Cornwell - a member of a gun crew aboard HMS Chester - has been awarded the Victoria cross. One of the opening salvoes of the battle of Jutland had knocked out Cornwell's gun and caused many serious casualties to its crew. Badly wounded himself, he remained at his station, awaiting orders. Young Cromwell stood - the gallant lad stayed despite heavy shelling'


Although this wasn't a market Harborough relevant battle of bosworth story I couldn't help but feel for this 'lad' and his family. Remembering the chilling cannon fire of rememberance day to remember all those fallen in war! Then thinking of the very reason my home was built... to house those returning from war, that's just what we know about the world war, I didn't know about this Jutland war, how many others do I not know about... it nearly brought a tear to my eye to suddenly realise our people have been sufferers of war for so long, they say if we don't forget it won't happen again... but it keeps on happening.... so what can I do about it??.... I can dedicate some space to this chap and all like it that fort bravely for their loved ones to be safe.


The stamp couldn't be lost with the traveling royals and explorers so he had his own mini painting.



So then the consept of a collage painting began, the grammar school needed to be centre stage but when I went to town to picture the lovely building I noticed the other buildings... it looked like a version of diagon ally when I looked up at the sky line slightly wonky shapes curves and old fashioned windows greeted me with every turn, all these wonderful buildings dying to tell there stories of the things that occurred during their standing.



The buildings still contain markings from the company logos and advertisement, some have even been restored. This town was built by individuals with their own companies...! Chains and franchises didn't exist, people made their way with their own businesses and it was considered normal to be a sole trader. Some trading with the nearby rail or canal as their primary mode of transport, foxton locks has tons of history on its own but for me... it was the place I went to for the quiet as a child having grown up in a nearby village, it was the furthest place I could travel on my own or with friends, riding our bikes to the locks and viewing the surrounding farmlands from the view point above the museum. Officially connected to market Harborough through its vast locks and with the waterfront at the top of town.



I went searching for more information and found a history book also containing pictures and within these pictures I saw a different world... a world with a true community, women came together to join raise the young, the men worked together (and possibly the women too) to ensure they had enough to feed their families. I wanted to celebrate these businesses so included them in my art!


When speaking with other locals with long standing family lines I also discovered Market Harborough was home to a very successful corset factory, women and men worked in the factory for years, it was home to first jobs, best jobs and last jobs. I loved thinkin of the excitement of a young lady to be lucky enough to secure an honest paying job in the industry that bodes itself well to women of the day. 1 lady told me how her mother was enfact a model for the factory, starting as a seamstress and over the moon when asked to model the corsets and then became the bodes shape for future manikins.



Within my reasurch i descovered the connection with the royals... because it took weeks to travel the UK by horse and carriage and a day to get from Market Harborough to Leicester, royals and traveling people would seek restbite in Market Harborough. The traveling royals would often make the journey specifically for the Boxing Day hunt, which is still an event held to this day... don't try and pass the b6047 on boxing day when they are offloading the dogs and horses, it's quite a sight and magnificent to think it's been such a royal long standing tradition for our small town.



Most know market Harborough was indeed a very large bustling cattle market and most old photos and pictures are in black and white so it was my choice to keep the family of 3 cows colourful and small. We also play host to a couple of rare animals such as otters and our dear peregrine falcons nesting on the church.



So what of the hot air balloons?.....

As a girl I remember seeing the hot air balloon race in mid flow on a number of magical occasions and will always attribute them to those wonderful times of growing up, young and naive to the worlds troubles so I thought they deserved a place in this painting.


Remembering the noise of the flames rushing hot air into the balloon into the sky, looking up and realising there's a lovely colourful sight very close by followed by another.... and another... until the sky was full of hot air balloons as far as the eye could see, it was enough to even stop a toddler in her tracks. On another occasion I had moved away and when moving back home and on the drive I came over the brow of the A6 just after the A14 and floating across the valley right infront of me was a hot air balloon.... if the road didn't dip, I would of driven into it (as my imagination told me) it was a magical sight and on a beautiful day in the valley.


To finish it off I had been pressing some flowers picked from nearby, that found their home in the top corner forever more.



There are still many elements for you to discover in this painting and I will leave those up to you to interpret, it's truly like a treasure hunt with something to discover for everyone at every glance.


I hope you like it and if your not sleeping right now then I guess you may have enjoyed this history lesson from my perspective, Thank you for sharing this interest and I can't wait to descover more about our glorious town threw the very people that families grew up here - JJ Barrs Artist

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