The first official market was established in the 13th century, when the Bigod family still occupied the Castle. It was held on a Saturday but in 1382 Richard 11 granted permission for the weekly market to be held on Thursdays: and so it has continued ever since.
The Howard family, dukes of Norfolk, inherited Bungay Castle in 1483, and other property in and around the town. They also gained the rights and privileges of the market and received a regular income from them.
Originally, the market centre consisted of trader’s stalls clustered around a central stone cross, but by Tudor times, many of the traders had started to build permanent shops and dwellings around the market area, and the cross was replaced with a roofed building to provide shelter in bad weather.
In 1688, much of Bungay was destroyed or damaged by the Great Fire. The Market Cross was one of the first buildings to be replaced in order to re-establish trade as quickly as possible. Wooden steps inside the domed structure were provided where traders could sit and display their produce of butter, eggs, and cheeses, so it became known as the Butter Cross.
In 1754 a lead statue of Justice was placed on the top of the dome, as a symbol not only of fair trade in the market, but also because criminals awaiting court trials were temporarily imprisoned in a dungeon beneath the Cross, or in a cage above it. Other miscreants were put in the stocks on market day or received a public flogging. The wrist irons to which they were attached can still be seen on one of the pillars.
In 1871, the Town Reeve and Feoffees decided to purchase the rights and dues of the market from the Duke of Norfolk. They paid the sum of £40 for the privilege, and the Town Trust has managed the markets, and paid for the maintenance and repair of the Butter Cross ever since.
Although the market trade has declined in recent times, there is still a regular cluster of stalls, selling fruit and vegetables, nuts and seeds, fish, hot-dogs and other goods.
It adds bustle and colour to the street scene on Thursdays, and long may this ancient tradition continue.