High street market?

All lit up - lights in the high street - all it needs is the hustle and bustle of a seasonal market

This is the time of year when we hear of Christmas markets springing up in various towns. It seems to have been an idea originating from some European countries who have been creating these seasonal markets not just for a number of years, but reaching back into historic traditions. A colourful and happy addition to the mid-winter scene.

The idea has only very slowly been catching on in the UK and while, certainly, there have been markets with a seasonal theme springing up in the last few years, only a few have attempted to compete in variety, colour and general exuberance with those on the continent.

In pre-Covid times we have had “Christmas in Rye”, a highly enjoyable and successful event that has brought many visitors into the town. So why not combine this in the future with a proper Christmas market? The market could extend over at least a long weekend (say, Friday to Monday), the high street closed to traffic except as access for residents only to the upper part of the Citadel (via a two-way East Street) enabling the greater part of the high street to be pedestrianised and filled with stalls, maybe a central Christmas tree, existing shops, (with their Wanderland windows) and including tea/coffee shops and restaurants extending onto the pavements.

Rye, with its history and traditions is an obvious location for something like this. Other festivals have shown that visitors are quite prepared to travel significant distances to attend events here and there seems no reason to believe that such a market with quality goods, together with its associated events, should not be a resounding success, bringing much needed visitors and money into the town.

Of course something like this would require a dedicated organiser as well as funding to set it up and stick with it while its reputation grew as THE place to go to at Christmas.

But pedestrianising the high street for a few days would also demonstrate something else: namely, that it can be done. And if it can be done for a few days, why not make it permanent?

There will, of course be the usual cry from some traders that it will ruin their business if customers can no longer park outside their shop. However as few customers can do this anyway as existing parking spaces are invariably full, it is a somewhat spurious argument, particularly as pedestrianisation has shown itself to be a success elsewhere in bringing people into an area rather than driving them away.

Residents’ vehicles would be allowed access to transit the upper and lower ends of the high street (but not to park there) and delivery vans would also be allowed. The numbers of these movements would be relatively small and could be quite acceptable, as they are in many other pedestrian areas in towns around the country.

This could be a change that would benefit almost everybody. All it requires is the will to accept a change and, in the case of the Christmas market, an entrepreneur with the vision to get it done. A new year’s thought, perhaps for the town council and the re-vamped chamber of commerce.

Image Credits: John Minter .


  1. Marvellous idea! I worked in Munich for 8 years in the 1970s and the annual Christmas market – “Christkindl” or “Christ Child” – market was something to look forward to every year.

  2. It’s always struck me that much of the traffic that jostles pedestrians on the beautiful High Street has come up Landgate, because there’s a sign directing cars to the Town Centre there, and promptly goes down Market Road because they couldn’t find anywhere to park. I’m not a shopkeeper so can’t express a view about the trading value of welcoming vehicles on the High Street, but I can see that a pedestrianised experience would wonderful. Perhaps an encouragement for more visitors to come. And a Christmas market sounds great! Maybe specifically for locally produced goods? And an Easter market maybe? And pedestrian access only for the rest of the year would be wonderful – BUT only if there is adequate, well signed parking for people to leave their cars.

  3. What an excellent idea. Rye High Street would be an ideal location for a Christmas market. Living in Belgium I have taken advantage of visiting wonderful and varied Christmas markets in Belgium, Germany and Austria. If this idea takes off do take inspiration from your “continental friends” rather than copying some of the Christmas markets found in England that are distinctly tacky.

  4. There is late night shopping in Rye this year with window wonderland to promote visitors and residence alike.
    They have a Christmas market in Tenterden covering a few days.but they don’t close their high street. But there the paths are wider and support a Christmas Fair.
    There has been a Christmas market on the Strand where Reindeer were brought for children to see.
    If the high street were to be pedestrianised permanently how would the physical well being of the buildings be preserved but the decorators, builders plumbers electricians..how would the people who live in the area above the closed road get there and all those air B&B holiday lets.public houses.church services.funerals etc Fire and ambulance emergencies ..disabled visiting the various businesses .Town Hall weddings and other services. Would that mean cars would go up east st the. Have to go round the narrow cobbled streets to west street to the high street or go down Mermaid st..
    I am afraid we need the roads as well as paths..for all..so many needs..and the year is not made up of sunny dry days only..

    • Look at Hythe….I know it’s across the border in Kent, and for so many people around Rye, ohhhh sooo far away…but they have part-time pedestrianisation of the High Street. The movers and shakers in Rye (if there are any) should try thinking outside the box and looking at alternatives that will suit everyone and every situation. But pedestrianisation is a MUST!

  5. Personally I think you should ask the business rate payers of Rye whether they would tolerate such a market.Only Rye and local businesses should be permitted to have a stall at such events in my opinion.To bring in foreign traders at Christmas is like slapping local traders in the face.
    As for pedestrianisation of the high street etc it’s a yes from me.

  6. I think a Christmas Market over a weekend would be amazing. I believe it would bring in visitors from near and far and increase the footfall for our shopkeepers too, hopefully bringing in that bit of extra revenue for them before Christmas.

  7. John, I think it’s a wonderful idea. Rye high street is perfect for a Christmas market. Reading briefly though the comments. It was obvious that folk have different outlooks on it. ie: ‘foreign’ stalls coming in.
    That had not occurred to me not foreign as from abroad butI had presumed local craft makers etc. I would love to take part in organising such a wonderful event.

  8. Surely the high street from Adams to the George should be pedestrianised, it will benefit all,without cutting off access to the Citadel, time the powers to be woke up to the 21st century,and implemented this.

    • John, your pedestrianised suggestion : do you mean from Apothecary coffee shop to Bennett’s. So East street and Lion street are still legal roads for the use of vehicles So the George will not be included.
      Thus meaning deliveries to the two pharmacy shops will be able to be continued , but longer route via Town Hall..this increasing time and pollution until electric vehicles are used.

    • John I would be surprised if the two pharmacy shops only have one day a week deliveries..
      But there are all the other shops in Lion street.
      And see Jen Sinclair comment experiences .

  9. Maybe there aren’t enough of us to make a difference, but disabled folk need access too. It is difficult now – the High Street is very rough and the pavements are full of slab stones either broken or at funny angles, trip hazards.
    Why not have a longer than a weekend Christmas Market on The Strand? There used to be a Farmers’ Market there, and it would be noticed by folk coming into or through the town.

  10. One thing is for sure, our pavements are too narrow on the high street and pedestrians constantly have to walk into the road and dodge vehicles. And there’s no point talking about widening pavements. Rother cannot be bothered to maintain our appalling pothole ridden roads despite the taxes we pay, so they are not going to shell out for widening pavements. I also wouldn’t want to see the cobbled part outside The George taken away. And let’s not forget the amount of dog owners in Rye, we are a dog friendly place. Many dog owners politely walk into the street to not block up the pavements to window shoppers and strollers, and don’t need the stress of avoiding cars. Do cars really need to park on the high street ? Sure, allow deliveries and some disabled bays. But able bodied drivers can easily walk from the car park on the Cinque Ports and the train station. It’s pure laziness if they cannot.

  11. As one of the organisers of the Rye Christmas Festival this is an idea we have considered many times. We have come across many obstacles or reasons not to do so. When we close the road, even just for the day, we have to allow access for the postal vans (lots of large parcels Xmas time!) and the community minibus (those less able to walk to the top who need things!). Also, there is the consideration and respect to those who have business premises in the town- to pop a stall in front of an existing shop, potentially blocking their window display could be a tad rude!
    Tenterden may have been successful with their market but there are 2 things to consider here-1: Tenterden has VERY wide pavements and so there is no need to close the road. 2- the Xmas market I believe was run by market square group (not every year) who are an ‘out of the box’ commercial company who travel the country chucking out these markets for a profit without much consideration for those who reside there all year round. There are both practical and emotive reasons for us having not done so in Rye to date but ultimately I don’t think Rye needs it so long as the choice of goods in the resident shops continues to improve. Rather a better idea would be to create the atmosphere and bustle of a Xmas market by simply asking the shopkeepers to bring their own goods (and Xmas spirit) out into the street in front of their shops for the night/weekend.
    Definitely something that should be up for discussion to find a fair and appealing solution for all!

  12. Sad to see the old Edinburgh wool shop, is going to become another Art Gallery, another retail shop lost to the local population of our town, and people wonder why people do not shop local anymore.

  13. John, it’s a photographer moving from one end of the High Street to the other so nothing gained and nothing lost, all he’s doing is moving to a bigger premises and wasn’t exactly killed in the rush by locals wanting to have it.
    Rather that than yet another bygone days or similar shop.

  14. Why have a street market in the High Street would it not be an idea to use the appropriately named Market Street, was this not used as a market in times past. One could pedestrianise East Street ,Market Street and Lion Street. This action would not block the High Street it would not upset traders in the High Street and it would leave vehicular access to the town. If it required any extra space the Gun Gardens and even some of the grass verges in Church Square could be utilised with the good will of the residents. This would be a win win situation for the small shops in the area an opportunity for the Museum and Church to join the festivities.

  15. What a great idea! The high street would be an amazing backdrop for a Christmas market, it would bring more visitors into the town, provide a more COVID SAFE way to shop and existing shop owners could also spread out into the street too! Hopefully Father Christmas could also wander around seeing the children rather than stuck in a room and queuing/booking etc! as previously said it would take a considerable amount of organising but would be well worth it! Bring on the Christmas Market!


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