Archaeological remains within Market Rasen from the prehistoric period indicate that there was an extensive activity at this time. To the east of the survey area, flint tools from the Mesolithic and Neolithic periods are recorded suggesting local occupation and activity. On the same site, evidence from the Iron Age includes more industrial activity and evidence of domestic occupation. The settlement was located on a higher section of ground, between two paleochannels. Further industrial remains are recorded to the south of the town where a Roman pottery production site, corn drying area, and clay extraction pits have been identified. This site is recorded to have been in operation from the 2nd-4th centuries AD. A Roman settlement is likely to exist in the vicinity, however, its location is hitherto unknown.
Limited information is available regarding Market Rasen in the early medieval period. The place name ‘Rasen’ is believed to have originated at this time. The first mention of the town is recorded in a charter dating to the 10th century, however, there are no archaeological sites known from this period and only scattered evidence has been discovered. By the Domesday survey, Market Rasen was mentioned as a small settlement (although the prefix ‘market’ was a later medieval addition), included in an entry with Middle and West Rasen, at this time it was called East Rasen and was possibly part of Middle Rasen Parish. Middle Rasen and West Rasen declined in importance in the Medieval period with Market Rasen surpassing both as a town of growing importance. Market Rasen had a market by the early 13th century and records indicate that St Thomas’ Church dates to the 14th century, although the entrance arch is part of an older Norman church, which preceded the current building.
It was in the medieval period, possibly around the time when the market was established, that the town was purposefully planned, with rows of burgage plots extending to the north and south of the main east-west road through the town. These plots were defined, in this period, by the river Rase to the north and a smaller stream to the south, the latter of which is no longer visible. For much of the medieval and post-medieval periods, development took place to a large extent within the medieval boundaries.
There were major changes in Market Rasen in the 18th century: the main east-west route through the town was made into a turnpike road, resulting in new bridges and improved (although more expensive) trade links. The surrounding land in the medieval period was part of the open field agricultural system, comprising open arable fields, pasture and meadow. Some of the land was also divided into small private closes in this period, the boundaries of which endured into the 19th and 20th centuries. The open field system was enclosed through a Parliamentary Act of 1779-1780 which transformed the landscape, into rectangular fields, which are readily identifiable today. The town saw many changes in the late post-medieval period, older properties around the market place were replaced with new brick buildings with tile roofs.
The character of Market Rasen is that of a traditional market town. Historic Urban Character Area 1 (HUCA 1) is the medieval core of the town, which is built around the central market place and is predominantly commercial with some residential buildings. St Thomas’s Church dates to the medieval period. However, the majority of the local buildings date to the 18th and 19th centuries, which were a period of rebuilding in the town, the bricks for which were locally produced. The buildings are arranged perpendicularly to the main roads in an ad-hoc style, which is the result of post-medieval in-filling behind the street front. Chapels and warehouses constructed in the early-mid 19th century in ‘greenfield sites’, on the periphery of the town centre are common. HUCA 2 was also largely developed in this period and the building style and materials are similar.
Furthermore new industries and a growing population in the first half of the 19th century resulted in the need for new streets and amenities, including schools and churches. These were focussed towards the south and west of the town, although Waterloo Street was also built in this period. The 20th century has seen a transformation of Market Rasen with several large housing estates built on the periphery of the town. Some infill and redevelopments have taken place in the 20th and 21st centuries, such as on the west side of the Market Place.
The materials within these two HUCAs constitute red brick, with tile, slate, or concrete roofs, windows are traditional timber or modern replacements. HUCA 2 is less dense than HUCA 1 as the construction took place on green-field sites. HUCA 2 is predominantly residential, comprising several terraced streets. Post-medieval industrial buildings are also common throughout the HUCA as the industries grew into new areas of the town in search of more space. HUCA 3, Coronation Road and Churchill Avenue, represents the mid 20th century growth within the town.
The majority of HUCA 5 comprises residential growth that took place in the town in the latter half of the 20th century and the 21st century. Initially, this took place along the main roads as ribbon development. However, more recently new streets and planned stand-alone developments have taken place to the north and south of the town.
The building materials and style of more recent 21st century developments are not unsympathetic to the market centre, the buildings are predominantly red brick, with white modern uPVC windows, and are of 2-3 storeys. Resulting in a relatively mild transition from the 18th and 19th century architecture and street layout of the town centre to the modern developments. Some modern infill, 20th century residential architecture, and empty premises do detract from areas within the town.