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First Posted: 29/08/01 Last Updated: March 2015
: John Freeman


The Assembly Rooms, Lancaster

Lancaster's Assembly Rooms market is one of the historic city's unsung and some say hidden gems, simply because it's at the edge of the main shopping centre. And yet for those who do turn in, you'll find even they are often surprised by what they discover - including a friendly cafe! (Scroll down for a full list of stalls).

Located on the one-way system on King St, beyond Atticus Books and Filbert's Bakery - that's the one with the knitted cover over the drainpipe... seriously (!) and nestling between Lancaster's historic almshouses and Just Kitchens / Crow's Hotel is the Assembly Rooms, an 18th-century building whose upstairs rooms now host the world-famous LUDUS dance company, while on the ground floor many different stall holders offer a wide selection of collectables, from books and jewellery to hand-knitted goods and period clothing.

The building was originally one of Lancaster's main public venues and was built by the trustees of Alderman William Penny, also responsible for the almshouses next door. The building fell into disrepair, but after refurbishment the ground floor became the venue for many of the stallholders who lost their pitches on the old Lancaster Market balcony, after that burnt down in the 1990s.

Now it is a venue of another kind - a meeting place for the collector and the shopper, the former seeking some unexpected vintage rarity among the many stalls, the shopper probably stopping off for a well-deserved cup of tea after battling the bustling crowds in Market Street.

After something of a lean period, the Assembly Rooms again has a host of stalls encompassing all manner of collectables and clothing.

Lynne of Accanthus
Lynne from Bebe Babette. "I love the individual style of the stalls," she says of the appeal of the Rooms.
Photo: John Freeman

"I love the individual style of the stalls," says stall holder Lynne Austin, whose stall, Bebe Babette Costumiere sells (and hires) vintage costume - everything from Victoriana to 1970s retro and burlesque. "There's more to life than the high street," she adds.

Lynne is perhaps one of the longest-serving stallholders. Her offerings of 20th century period clothing - dresses, hats, jackets and accessories - would surely make any costume or theatrical designer drool on sight. One wall of the Rooms is a stunning array of two centuries of fashion including many rare and sought-after items.

As the Rooms begin to fill up with lunchtime customers I can see what she means - from teenage goths to senior citizens, young mothers to students, everyone, it seems, is on the look out for something that little bit different. Addressing this need along with Lynne and her stall are the following eclectic mix:

All That Glitters - eye catching gemstones, and hand made jewellery created largely from recycled or pre-loved materials by Sue, all arranged in sparkling fashion

Assembled Books - a stimulating mix of new and second-hand books, jigsaws, and postcards, all at reasonable prices. Peruse at your leisure

Bebe Babette Costumiere sells (and hires out) vintage costume - everything from Victoriana to 1970s retro and burlesque. Dresses, hats, jackets and accessories - enough to make any costume or theatrical designer drool on sight. One wall of the Rooms is a stunning array of two centuries of fashion including many rare and sought-after items.

Bitz'n'Batz - a hidden cave of ladies and mens alternative and gothic clothing, shoes, accessories and gifts, including unique handmade items. Realistically, where else can you go to get wings in Lancaster?

Muriel's Hand-Knits - a keen knitter for over 40 years, Muriel set up her stall in 2012 specialising in baby and children's clothes, shawls, blankets, fun booties and hats. Why not let her make something unique for your little one?

Malcolm's Place - in a room of its own, sells clothes and fancy goods, ladies and gents vintage, modern, and more.

Assembly Tea Room - Topping it all off, right at the back of the Assembly Rooms is a friendly cafe. It's great for dropping in for a coffee or snack and Nicola, the new owner, is offering a range of tasty local produce most made by herself with various dishes of the day advertised on the blackboard. Why not pop in and try it for yourself? Vegans and vegetarians are welcome.

To find this little gem, enter 'Assembly Rooms Lancaster' at Google maps, or visit the City Council Assembly Rooms Facebook page.

Nb. First Age Comics have moved out of the Assembly Rooms, and can now be found in their own shop on Moor Lane, LA1 1QD, near The Dukes theatre.

Disabled The Assembly Rooms has a ramped entrance and is flat inside. Wheelchairs / scooters / rollators welcome.
The nearest disabled toilet (Radar key) is just across the road at the north entrance to the Marketgate carpark.




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