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The History of Middelfart during 500 years – 1500-2000

A very short introduction

Translation. The original text in Danish is written by curator and archivist Kristian Buhl Thomsen, 2018.

1500-1750
The town of Middelfart was, from medieval times, an important ferry landing; its privileges as a royal borough were confirmed by King Hans in 1496. It is likely, however, that a town already existed here in the 1200s, during which period a church was built. Until the 1700s, harbour porpoise hunting in the Little Belt was an important source of income for the community. The town was tucked between the land belonging to the Hindsgavl Estate and the Little Belt, which gave little room for expansion. From 1650 the town faced growing competition from the new fortress town, Fredericia, and as a consequence, Middelfart long remained one of the smallest market towns – with only 756 inhabitants, for instance, in 1672.

Theme: Trade and fences
In this period the town of Middelfart was encircled by a fence that marked a clear division between the town and its surroundings. As a market town, Middelfart had a monopoly on trade and finer crafts. Peasants in the vicinity were ordered to trade their goods at Middelfart’s town square and at the semi-annual markets. At the city gate, peasants were forced to pay excise tax to the king from 1671. In addition to being a customs border, the fence and an adjacent moat had military significance during the wars with Sweden in the 1600s.
 
1750-1850
Middelfart has been described in this period as a stagnant market town. In spite of this, the town’s population exceeded 1000 inhabitants in 1801. Middelfart was at this time ruled by a town bailiff who was both mayor, judge and police officer. As a market town, Middelfart had the right to engage in fine crafts. To enforce this privilege, craftsmen were organised in guilds by profession. The porpoise hunters had their own guild, which emphasised their rights as whale hunters. Most privileges disappeared when the Free Trade Act was passed in 1857.
 
Theme: How did the town look?
In 1791 a violent fire broke out in the town, and 12 buildings in Algade and Søndergade were reduced to ashes. A new residential area was soon built, now with houses of brick. Brick patterns were painted on many of the remaining houses in Algade, as half-timbering was now low status. In 1800 the French-born land surveyor Nestor Bretteville was hired to build the main road from Odense to the ferry landing in Middelfart. Brogade was made wider, and a more even decline to the ferry wharf was constructed. In 1837, a real harbour was finally built, replacing the former ferry landing.
 
1850-1900
In 1855 there were 1,840 inhabitants in Middelfart - a number that grew to more than twice its size in the next 50 years. Growth came in particular in the form of strong industrialisation and construction projects, which overstepped the fenced-in town limits in force since the Middle Ages. In addition, a national psychiatric hospital was established in 1888 as a huge building complex just south of the town. To Middelfart’s great disappointment, Strib was made the central ferry berth and railway junction in 1866. The railway went east of Middelfart, and the town’s first railway station was built in an isolated location in the current industrial area.
 
Theme: Industrialisation
In 1853 Jørgen Svendsen Hess took over a small iron foundry in Algade 68. This marked the beginning of an industrial adventure. The iron foundry specialised in wood-burning stoves and cookers and in 1900 was the town’s largest place of work. The company existed until 1965. Another major industrial company was Nordisk Kabel & Tråd, which established a wirework in the town in 1899. The wire mill made copper and iron wiring for use in electrical cables. Since then the company has been acquired by new owners, and since 2000 has manufactured nails and screws.
 
1900-1950
Around the turn of the century, the town of Middelfart was in heavy growth, and by the 1930s the population of 4,446 had grown to twice its size, due mainly to industrialisation. In 1935 the first bridge over the Little Belt was opened and the current railway station was built. Middelfart was again a focal point for traffic between the different parts of the country. This was especially evident during World War II, when the German occupational forces set up anti-aircraft defence cannons to secure the Little Belt bridge, shooting down, amongst others, the British bomber MacRobert’s Reply in 1942.
 
Theme: The first bridge over the Little Belt
Plans for a bridge over the Little Belt were discussed back in the mid-1800s, when railways were being built on Funen and Jutland. In 1924, a specific plan for building a bridge was finally adopted. Initially designated to be only a railway bridge, pressure from car owners resulted in an expansion of the plan in 1927 to include a lane for cars. It took from 1925 to 1935 to build the bridge. The train ride from Copenhagen to Aalborg via the Little Belt Bridge was reduced from 10.5 to 6.5 hours. The bridge also served as an important link for car traffic until the inauguration of the second bridge over the Little Belt in 1970.
 
Middelfart from 1950
In 1950, Middelfart had a population of just over 11,000, a figure that remained almost unchanged in the following 20 years. The town’s physical development was limited by the county’s parish communities, which extended more or less to the city limits. Not until the municipal reform of 1970 was there room for new growth. At the same time, the construction of a second bridge over the Little Belt meant that Middelfart now had a good motorway connection to the ”triangle area” in Jutland. The population grew, reaching 15,044 inhabitants by 2016. Since the structural reform of 2007 Middelfart has been the centre of a new and larger municipality – which a new city hall, opened in 2017, clearly indicates.
 
Theme: Wealth and welfare
From the 1960s, increased prosperity and welfare brought about better living and housing conditions. Single-family houses were becoming the preferred form of living, and 1969 saw the beginning of Middelfart’s largest residential area in Skrillinge. At the same time, mass-produced consumer goods, such as clothing, music and TV sets, were becoming readily available, and food could now be bought in the town’s new supermarkets, such as Favoritten, Pryds, Kvickly and Vivo. The eastern part of Algade was transformed into a pedestrian street between 1975 and 1980.  

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