Saturday, 30 March 2013

THE LIFE & TIMES OF SHREWSBURY'S INDOOR MARKET, as seen by Janet & Peter Heighway


'We have traded in Shrewsbury Market for forty-three years. We have always found it to be a very friendly environment, both for traders and customers. There is probably a publicly held impression of what a market trader is, as well as categorizing the sort of person that uses markets for their shopping. Whatever that is, Shrewsbury doesn’t comply. Over the years, our experience has been that traders are helpful and knowledgeable. We have made some good friends amongst them. In addition, we’ve  felt very privileged to have developed such a loyal and appreciative collection of regular customers.  They are mainly of one mind – namely to get a quality product at a fair price.  They also like to know that the source of the product is reliable, that is has no unnecessary packaging and involves the minimum number of food miles. There is no stereotype of people with these principles. In fact, it has become increasingly apparent to us over the years what a wide diversity of people come to shop in Shrewsbury Market.

Our Beginnings

'We spent our early married years in the Borough of Harrow, North London. We enjoyed our small garden and grew our own fruit and vegetables, developing a keen interest in acquiring more knowledge. For a few years we attended courses in horticulture and both passed the RHS examination. We also joined the local Horticultural Society, and soon Peter was urged to be on the committee, helping to arrange lectures by specialists and to organize four produce shows a year. We even entered classes ourselves – and won some, much to our surprise and the dismay of some of the old-stagers!

'After five years of living and working in London, we had an urge to move to a more rural setting, nearer to Peter’s roots and to his recently widowed mother. It was very exciting, although the realization of what we had taken on was quite challenging.  We both had ‘proper jobs’, but in our spare time we tried to develop our newly acquired house and land, both of which were in a parlous state and required a lot of reclamation and reconstruction.

'To our delight, we had inherited a large number of fruit trees, mostly old ones, but we had no idea what some of the varieties were. We arranged a visit from an adviser of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries & Food [as it then was], and he managed to identify most of them.  In addition to the apples and pears we had about a dozen damson trees that were very productive in those early years, and we were determined to pick as many as we could reach.  We ended up with boxes of them, but we found that nearly everyone in the locality had similar quantities and we didn’t know what to do with them.  As Peter’s work was in Birmingham, he decided to go in early taking the damsons, and he then toured the greengrocers’ shops in Harborne and Selly Oak.  Although at first there was a show of disinterest, it was obvious that they were desperate to have them, but they wanted to give the impression of ‘doing us a favour’.  The price we got for a 12lb box was four shillings [twenty pence in today’s currency], equivalent to less than 2p per pound, which didn’t reward us for all the picking, but it was better than allowing them to go to waste.

Within a year or so, we planted a lot more fruit trees, including plums, together with lots of gooseberry bushes and raspberries.  Many of the original trees have either died or blown down, as we have had some terrific gales.  On one occasion we returned home to find that a huge twenty-five foot damson tree had been lifted over the hedge without touching it, landing in the neighbouring field.  We have continued to replace trees, but at our time of life it’s not worth investing in more new ones.

Our Introduction to the Market

'In September 1970, we thought we would try taking fruit to market.  Peter’s mother was still living at the family home in Madeley, so Shrewsbury seemed the obvious place to go, particularly as Peter had memories of visiting the market as a child. In those days the market was really thriving and every stall was rented out for at least part of the day, but we managed to hire one yard of bench for a Wednesday afternoon, after the previous occupant had gone home.  We found this so satisfying that we continued doing it more regularly, but it was only possible to take the occasional day’s leave from work.  Then after a while we were allocated a permanent place on a Saturday with two yards of bench, so we started coming weekly, and have continued ever since.

'There will be many of our customers and fellow traders who remember the way the market was organized in those days. The man that collected the tolls and kept everyone in order was Bill Cooper – a very amiable gentleman with lots of experience, and he seemed to be quite fair and rigorous.  Everyone remembers how the market benches were arranged prior to the year 2003.  In the Pannier Market, there were rows and rows of benches, each marked in yards along its length so that every stallholder knew the boundaries of their pitch.  For many years we had two yards in the middle of a bench, and next to us on the one end was Mrs Morris who occupied one yard with her pannier in which she brought fruit, vegetables and flowers from her cottage garden.  On the other end of the bench was Mrs Duddleston with her eggs.

'Between the rows of benches was a very sturdy rail, which stallholders could lean against, obviously back to back with the people on the bench behind – so, being in such proximity, you soon got to know each other. Behind our neighbour Mrs Morris there was Mrs Morgan, also with a single yard for her pannier.  Both of them left during the morning to catch their respective country buss back home, and at different times Peter was called upon to carry their baskets to the bus station on Barker Street.  This was not too inconvenient for us because our stall was not as busy as it often is these days.  Also backing onto us were Mr and Mrs Griffiths from Ford with a selection of items from their extensive garden, and they too became good friends.

'In those days, the Saturday market was exclusively produce [including flowers and plants], plus poultry and eggs – except for the four corners, which had other people such as Midda’s clothes, Dave with his carpets and Angela Butler with cakes and biscuits.  The competition from all the large stalls with fruit and vegetables must have been immense, but everyone seemed busy as there were more customers then, before the supermarkets started to draw them away.

Becoming More Established

'Eventually Mrs Morris and Mrs Duddleston gave up due to age and infirmity, so we were able to expand from two yards to four.  We kept in touch with Mrs Morris and joined her to celebrate her 90th birthday in June 1992, but sadly she died the following year and we went to her funeral at Alberbury Church in December 1993.

'Across the aisle from us we had Mr and Mrs Crowther from Nesscliffe and, some years later when they finished, we also took over their few yards of bench.  This was particularly useful because by that time we were selling small bay trees, of which we had over a thousand, as well as a variety of other pots of herbs that we grew both from seed and cuttings.  These proved very popular, but eventually we decided to scale it down rather than compete with other plant stalls, for whom it was their main occupation.

'That part of our bench backed on to paul and Roger Amess from Hemford, with whom we have always had a very happy association.  In the other direction, close to us was Ken Walters from Ford, who will be remembered by many who are trading today.  A characteristic of his still was that he usually had one or more of his many children helping out, and we were privileged to be invited to the wedding ceremonies of some of them.  His poultry and vegetables were much sought after, and he always seemed to be busy. Sadly he died soon after giving up the market and we attended his funeral in January 2008.

'There were many unique individuals in the market – as perhaps there always will be – and there are too many to mention, even if we could remember them all.  We do clearly recall the legendary Nora Lee because she happened to be near us, and she had a fairly large stall consisting mainly of produce she had bought in from a variety of suppliers. Her stall was somewhat untidy, and she never appeared to be unduly busy, so she could often be seen trimming vegetables and fruit that were past their best, to make them look more appetizing.

'In the permanent stall near us, now devoted to Gluten Free Living, we have had a variety of tenants.  But for very many years it was the Pet Stall run by Gwen Parkes, and following her sudden death it was continued by her daughter, Annette, whose memories of the market go back a long way. Fortunately we still see her, as her involvement now continues when she serves at Corbetts near us.

'As we all know, the appearance of the market changed markedly in 2003 when the management was temporarily taken over by the company LSD, with Tony Davis as the local manager in charge. All the old style benches were discarded together with the solid rails that separated them, and traces of these are still visible in the floor. The present canopied stalls were introduced and we all had to apply for a place. The change and upheaval was very controversial at the time, and we were fearful of the effect it would have on us because we discovered we had been allocated less than half the length of bench that we had previously. However, on the day of the changeover we came in to be told that we could have some extra space after all, and this was a great relief.

'Everyone in the market will recall many ups and downs in their fortunes, and many landmark changes. One such occasion was in 2004 with the introduction of the Saturday Street Market occupying most of Claremont Street, Mardol and Roushill.  Many of the existing traders viewed it as an unwelcome threat with more competition, whereas others embraced it along the lines of ‘if you can’t beat them, join them’. The disruption to traffic was another unwelcome consequence of that scheme, with those streets being closed off from the early hours.  Making those streets pedestrianised had been tried many years earlier, disrupting traders loading and unloading, but neither of these schemes proved to be successful, and soon were abandoned.


'Unfortunately we are unable to remember the names or faces of all the traders that we have seen over the years, and in any case it’s impossible to mention them all. Therefore our recollections are very sketchy and incomplete, and there are many other people in the market who have more detailed memories.  After all these years, however, it is the friendliness and sense of family that stands out. Many of our customers already know each other, or have become friends through regularly seeing each other at the same stalls week after week. Many come expecting to meet family and friends, and it’s always pleasing to see how much time people will be prepared to spend enjoying the atmosphere and the wide variety of things on offer.

'Having occupied our stall for over forty-two years, the decision to retire does not come lightly.  We hate the thought of disappointing loyal customers, who are also our friends. We will miss seeing you all on a regular basis, but intend to continue visiting Shrewsbury, so hopefully we will be able to keep in touch.  Thank you for your unswerving support and for being such good and faithful friends.'

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