The livelihood of stallholders is on a knife edge as they wait to be thrown off Skipton High Street by bosses of one of the biggest UK mutual life and pensions companies.

The six traders, who have a total of almost 80 years on Skipton market, are also facing huge demands for compensation from Royal London (RL) which manages the Rackhams building.

They have revealed their plight on the Help Skipton Market facebook site and are urging people to bombard the company with their fears that if the move goes ahead it could see the ruin of the centuries-old market.

Almost all the stallholders were presented with notices to quit by April 14 after which they were told proceedings would be taken for damages and compensation.

Russell Marsden, who has run a flower stall on the setts outside Rackhams for 12 years with his business partner Jean Unwin, says he has been presented with a demand for £27,000.

He and his colleagues have not paid rent for a number of years after receiving letters from Rackhams saying the company no longer managed the setts and they must deal with the London firm.

About seven years ago, RL demanded rent but, after the stallholders requested to see proof of ownership, the issue fell dormant, said Mr Marsden.

“We used to pay rent and we’re happy to do so, but this is not right. The money they’re demanding will break us. We can’t fight them - they are a company with billions of pounds in assets. We hope people will support us on the website.”

And Ms Unwin said: “This is a threat to the market. Do they realise what damage they’re doing?”

Next door selling vegetables, Zummand Hussain - Jack to his customers - has been running his stall for 28 years and is facing a £46,000 bill.

“This came as a huge surprise - I nearly had a heart attack,” said Mr Hussain, who employs his son and four other men. “I can’t afford such a huge amount of money.”

Richard Lawrence’s family have been on the site since 1957 and he has been selling pottery three days a week for 27 years and faces a demand for £46,000.

“It makes me angry that we can hear nothing for all these years - nobody gets in touch about the rent - then this arrives out of the blue. It can’t be right,” he said.

A spokesman for Royal London said he was restricted by how much he could say because it was subject to legal proceedings and a court case was expected.

However, he said Craven District Council had presented the company with a demand for payment of rates on the setts having not done so before.

“It is reasonable for us to pass the cost down the line. We are not trying to be heavy handed but simply trying to equalise the situation,” he said.

Gina Lazenby, of Cononley, who has been using Jack’s vegetable stall for 16 years, said: “I couldn’t believe it when he told me what was happening.

“This shows a lack of joined-up thinking. We have a High Street which is alive and thriving despite the poor economy and people are doing something to damage it and to jeopardise its future.”

And her neighbour, Morel Fourman, boss of a high tech software company, said it was a David and Goliath situation. “This is insane. It contradicts all that this Government is championing and the work of Mary Portas to revitalise and create bustling town centres.”

Craven District Council deputy chief executive Paul Ellis said: “Property owners fronting Skipton market setts are liable to the national non-domestic business rate and the district council is required by law to collect payment. Decisions on whether to charge a rent and at what level are entirely at the discretion of the property owner.”