During the early 1990s, Heathfield, like many Wealden market towns, was having a tough time with many empty shops and the local traders were barely struggling to survive. By late 1996 there was a desperate search for new ideas to breathe life into the town to sustain economic viability.
At that time Waldron’s Councillor, Valerie Chidson, was also Chairman of the District Council and amongst the social events that she attended was a “vendange” at a Wealden vineyard where French Traders were invited to bring produce across the Channel. The vineyards barn was packed with English people fighting to buy baguettes and cheeses, and the idea was born for a similar event for Heathfield.
With nothing more than a strong feeling that this might work in early 1997 she pulled together a volunteer committee of local traders and local residents and councillors who all played very important roles in bringing over French Traders to create the start of Le Marche.
The pattern of the event – taking place on August Bank Holiday Monday, equal numbers of French and English traders, entertainment with Street Theatre and jazz on the bandstand, story-telling in the library – was set in that year. In the wake of the event the Twinning Association was set up and thereafter has played an important role.
With sponsorship from Wealden District Council, Sussex Enterprise, Heathfield & Waldron Parish Council and a number of local businesses. To the amazement of many it drew crowds of around 10,000 on a wet August Bank Holiday, when Heathfield was normally quiet.
Since that point in time Le Marche has grown to become one of Heathfield’s major attractions of the year.
This is all down to a great deal of hard work by many people, businesses and organizations over the last 19 years, but most of all the residents of Heathfield, Waldron, Horam, Broad Oak, Punnetts Town, Horam and the surrounding districts who support Le Marche on the day.