IN THE late 1870s an ambitious man named Samuel Dugdale pioneered Accrington’s first market hall in a bid to grant the town borough status.
Mr Dugdale, the director of the Board of Health, wanted to create the architecturally extravagant site to bring prestige to the town.
By having a town hall, advanced infrastructure and a market hall the Victorians could be proud of, the borough of Hyndburn was created.
Move on more than a century later and Hyndburn Borough Council is working on a £1.5m construction project aimed at injecting life into the listed building.
A visit this week to see how the project was coming along unveiled how the council and the ‘No Limits’ programme are transforming the market hall into an exciting 21st Century business hub.
And while they have been careful to restore some of the site’s original Victorian features, some interesting discoveries have been made.
Donning my hard hat I joined Jonathan Owen, of Quarterbridge, who is behind the construction work.
From the gallery of the market hall which has not been used for many years, Jonathan, and Aileen Evans from Hyndburn Enterprise Trust took me on a tour to explain how the hall will be transformed into a modern and bustling hub for traders.
Jonathan said: "This is a fine example of a very traditional Victorian market hall and during the construction, the original features will be altered very little.
"We started with securing the Victorian iron roof and the last job will be restoring the Victorian floor.
"We are on target to complete the first two of the three phases by December.
"We hope to have the enterprise plan up and running in January."
As part of the restoration, construction workers made a surprising discovery of an original Victorian floor which has been covered up for years.
Jonathan said: "We are taking advantage of the original stone slab floor which was covered up in the 1960s and we will put a colour resin on it to protect the red asphalt."
Aileen added: "The gallery also hasn’t been used for years and years.
"For a lot of people, this is the absolute town centre as far as Accrington people are concerned.
"People want to see it brought back to its full use."
During the tour Jonathan tells me how the currently vacant gallery of the market hall was once used for local people to use as reading rooms in the days when Accrington did not have a library.
Hard at work this week, builders were busy transforming the gallery rooms into what will be shop fronts.
Jonathan tells me these will be home to a number of less mainstream traders.
He said: "We hope the gallery will be used for manufacturers such as jewellery makers, picture restoration, furniture repairs, tapestry and embroidery."
At the hub of the newly refurbished upper level will be the all important ‘Enterprise hub’.
Aileen explains how the service, currently homed in Accrington’s Globe Centre will be there to provide business support, marketing advice, book keeping services, mentoring, and general support for new and existing traders, with funding help from the No Limits Programme.
A brand new staircase in keeping with the Victorian design will lead up to the hub where they hope to provide an internet cafe, wifi services and even launch a brand new website for Accrington Market Hall where traders can advertise their business.
Jonathan said: "In the current economic climate, trading conditions are very tough indeed.
"But we have 40 existing traders in the market hall and only six empty units and that’s better than most.
"We hope to get a further 20 businesses in once the project is finished.
"With the help that will be available on site, I would say this is actually one of the best times for new entrepreneurs."
Aileen added: "They’ve been getting support from the town centre manager to keep them going during these difficult times and by working closely with traders I think it will really take off and make a difference to Accrington."
From the top of the market hall’s gallery, the intricately-styled iron pillars can be seen in detail which tower over the green grocers, butchers, record stalls and clothes stalls below.
Each of pillar is finished with a blue emblem at the top, which Aileen says has a local significance.
"The colour schemes," Aileen said, "are very much in keeping with English Heritage.
"And the colours of the badges are very similar to those of the Accrington PALs regiment."
When work is complete in 2010, Andy Morris of Quarterbridge Project Management hopes they will attract interest from businesses wishing to launch the internet cafe and craft stalls.
Jonathan says the more mainstream traders such as the butchers and greengrocers will have have a complete revamp where their open top stalls will be in view from the gallery above.
He said: "We are very keen on promoting local food produce in the market hall.
"We think it’s a great opportunity because there’s a very good producer base in Lancashire."
So while retaining the original Victorian features once spearheaded by Mr Dugdale, it seems Accrington has an exciting shopping experience to look forward to.
It’s something of which Samuel would be proud.
For more information on the retail space available, contact Andy Morris at Quarterbridge Project Management on: 01787 479798 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org. For business expertise and support contact Aileen Evans on: 01254 600625 or email: email@example.com.