A medieval market is being staged in Northallerton later this month to mark the end of a three-year programme that has boosted cultural and heritage programmes in the town.

The Historic England-funded Heritage Action Zone programme has also seen a ‘heritage hub’ open, led by North Yorkshire Council but supported by a team of volunteers, and the impressive ‘Ballad of Sophia’ sculpture installed on the site of the Northallerton’s former prison.

The programme brought a host of community events and activities to celebrate Northallerton’s rich heritage and history designed to stimulate community engagement, community cohesion, instil a sense of civic pride and help people to engage with the High Street and its heritage, both from the town and the surrounding area.

The medieval market, which will be held on Saturday, March 23, and Sunday, March 24, is being hosted by a renowned re-enactment company, Conquest Living History, and will give visitors an idea of how Northallerton’s market would have looked between 1066 and 1307.

The nearby Heritage Hub will play host to a medieval armourer, a coin striker and the award-winning Brompton Bankers wargaming society. Market traders on the Town Square will include a medieval baker, pie-maker, surgeon and leather worker.

The hub was opened by the former Hambleton District Council in early 2022 to act as a base for a range of community engagement activities and inform and deliver elements of the wider High Street Heritage Action Zone  and cultural programme.  It has included the delivery of reminiscence sessions, a collection of oral histories exhibitions on ‘Transport Through Time’ and ‘The History of Cinema in Northallerton’ and a ‘curated multi-media portal’ which formed part of the Cultural Programme.

North Yorkshire Council’s executive member for culture and the arts, Cllr Simon Myers, said: “The first six months of the hub was a massive successful – footfall was high and volunteers came forward to help run it. As a result, it was given another two years to act as a catalyst for a longer-term project, which we hope will see volunteers take it on.

“It has brought something unique to the High Street, providing a new focus and a link between the traditional retail and catering options, helping to bring vitality and enlivening the townscape. The team has established strong and valuable relationships with families who have historic connections to the town. For these families, contributing to the project and knowing that their story has been captured for the digital archive for the long term, has been an incredibly rewarding experience.”

The stories of Northallerton and its residents have been brought to life with a rolling exhibition programme, including oral histories and reminiscence projects. Workshops have been staged along with school visits, an archive of more than 20 oral history recordings and almost 1000 historic images have been preserved for the future.

And a unique online hub resource has been created – so far more than 4,000 people have accessed the www.northallertonheritage.uk website.

By the end of January, 2024 the hub had been open 266 days, had more than 3,700 visitors, held 18 workshops, benefitted from 431 hours of volunteer support and delivered 26.5 hours of volunteer training.

Hub volunteer, John Parkinson, said: “The advantage of being retired, between jobs or seeking first employment is the opportunity this provides to engage in useful voluntary activities.  It means that existing interests and experience can be developed and extended and new skills acquired.

“Many organisations and authorities already rely heavily on volunteers and it is likely that this will not only continue but become increasingly necessary. For me the Heritage Hub has incorporated exchanging a lengthy knowledge of the town with new information from local residents and visitors.  It has been a pleasure to enjoy many fascinating conversations and even utilise a few old technical specialities.

“Working with the qualified personnel and wide range of volunteers has been very productive and hugely satisfying.  Together with many others I have long cherished the establishment of a fully functioning Heritage Centre so seeing this happen is very exciting.”

The Ballad of Sophia sculpture was unveiled in October last year on Treadmills which has been developed on the site of the prison – it depicts the prison’s youngest ever inmate who served time for stealing a loaf of bread.  It was created by renowned North-East artist, Ray Lonsdale.