The Cornmarket was for centuries the principal market place of the City. Besides commerce the space was used for all sorts of activities. The stocks and pillory stood there, and on occasions, at 2pm trading stopped and punishments administered. Public whippings took place in the Cornmarket well into the 19th century. For example, Francis Morris was publicly whipped for a space of 100 yards. In the early days a gallows stood in the Cornmarket and the severed limbs of the victims were displayed, as in the case of the Gunpowder Plot convictions. In the days of the Commonwealth, weddings were officiated in the open air. In the Cornmarket was the Pageant House, where costumes, armour, and parts of 'floats' were kept. They were used by the Guilds, and paraded through the streets on Saint's Day.
The Cornmarket has always been a public place. A legal market could exist only by reason of a charter from the Crown, or by Act of Parliament or by immemorial custom. An old inmate of Berkeley's Hospital gave evidence at an enquiry on the Cormarket, that in the 1870's brushes, brooms and baskets were sold in the open on the cobbles in front of Webb's. In the eastern corner of the Cornmarket was a postern gate in the wall, where a 'clap-gate' gave access to the fields. Old inhabitants still refer to the area now known as St.Martin's Gate as Clap Gate.