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Mixed blessings

17 January 2014

hampshire chronicle

THE Christmas market in Winchester Cathedral Close, once a space of strictly preserved tranquillity, was hugely successful again this year - so much so that there were concerns in the Hampshire Chronicle about overcrowding and traffic congestion.

The market, with its accompanying skating rink, is open throughout Advent until just before Christmas; and, on the last Saturday in November, for instance, no fewer than 37 coach-loads of visitors arrived in the medieval city to shop among the 90 chalet-style stalls in the Close, or to skate on the rink in the middle of them.

The three entrances to the Inner Close are all constricted, and crowds were such that there were queues to get in. One City Councillor, Ian Tate, said that he had no problem with the number of people, but he thought that the market would do better running along The Square, at the bottom of the High Street.

There were, however, mixed feelings among the local shops about whether the cathedral enterprise was damaging their businesses, and some blamed their poor sales on competition from the market, while others rejoiced at the extra crowds.

Restaurants and coffee shops in the lower part of the town did particularly well. "Coach parties have been brilliant for us," one of the managers said, "because they get off and have a cup of coffee and some breakfast before they hit the stalls."

Meanwhile, there were special "highlights tours" of the cathedral for the visitors, which, the communications officer, Simon Barwood, says, proved very popular; and, as usual, the cathedral was packed for each of its three carol services. The Chapter see the market as an outreach into the community, bringing many people to the cathedral, and also as an important source of income: there are 90 stallholders, some of whom can pay up to £10,000 for their chalets, not to mention extra sales from the gift shop.

But they are also adding to the Christmas festivities, not least with the skating rink, which stayed open through Advent and for the holiday week of Christmas, despite the appalling weather. "It's surprising how people don't mind skating in the rain," Mr Barwood said.

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