The Nostalgia column with Margaret Watson: Marvellous market memories

Although there have been many changes in Dewsbury over the years we can always say that at least the Market has remained the same.

Tuesday, 2nd June 2020, 2:12 pm
The old market site: If you have ever wondered how Market Place got its name, just take a close look at this picture and all the market stalls busily doing trade. It was moved over a hundred years ago to its present position at the other end of town.
The old market site: If you have ever wondered how Market Place got its name, just take a close look at this picture and all the market stalls busily doing trade. It was moved over a hundred years ago to its present position at the other end of town.

Well, we could have said that until coronavirus arrived and forced it to close down 10 weeks ago.

But now there is a cautious move to lift the “lockdown” and Dewsbury Market will hopefully be re-opening next Wednesday.

There will be fewer stalls and the re-opening will be very gradual with steps being taken to ensure the safety of traders and customers

Margaret Watson.

However, there will be one added bonus which will please both traders and motorists – there will be free car parking for everyone!

During its 500-year history, the only occasions Dewsbury Market has closed down has been ironically because of deadly viruses.

The first time was in 1583 when the plague raged through the town until 1586 during which time many lives were lost.

It returned in 1625 and again in 1644, and once more many people died from the dreadful scourge. Still, the market kept re-opening and the customers kept coming back, as they will once again when all this is over.

No doubt it will be back to business for the hardy-breed of Dewsbury market traders who have always managed to survive turbulent times.

In 1913, the Secretary of Dewsbury Market Traders Association, Mr W Midwood, said he could not over-estimate how much Dewsbury owed to its wholesale and retail market.

There was not a market in Yorkshire where cheaper purchases could be made, he said, for on market day tens of thousands of people journeyed to Dewsbury by train or tram from nearby towns and villages.

Most people of my generation were introduced to the delights of Dewsbury Market from their prams because that is how young we were when our mothers first took us there.

Yes, Dewsbury Market has been with us all our life, and we will never forget those old characters who livened up the market with their patter.

We remember Harry ‘Arry the pot man and Lou Philips the stallholder from Leeds who sold everything imaginable.

These traders had the ability to attract a crowd which made shopping in Dewsbury an absolute delight.

We watched enthralled as Lou went through his usual market routine, holding up all manner of goods which he promised to almost give away.

He never sold his wares in ones or twos, not even in threes and fours, but often in fives and sixes, and if the mood took him, even in sevens and eights.

His patter was so convincing, people bought everything he threw at them, and throw them he did, right over their heads into the hands of his waiting assistants strategically placed at various points in the crowd.

We stood mesmerised as Lou piled his wares one on top of the other, watches and shaving sets, cigarette lighters and tea spoons, dinner services and table cloths.

Holding them up, he’d start naming his price.

Together the items on offer were worth £4, he told his prospective customers, but he wasn’t asking that.

No, he wasn’t even asking £3, not even £2, not even a quid – but 10 bob the lot!

Up the hands would shoot, and, if for some reason Lou spotted someone hesitating, he’d throw in a canteen of cutlery as well.

Harry ‘Arry’s style was different. He didn’t throw his cups and saucers around, but he did make us laugh because he had a ready wit.

Most of his customers were women – my mother was one of them – and he made them laugh until tears rolled down their cheeks.

There wasn’t a house in Dewsbury which didn’t have one of his huge brown mixing bowls, but he also sold tea services and dinner services, meat plates, teapots and jugs.

I remember getting a lot of dishes for my bottom drawer from him

Harry lived in Dewsbury and had a great love for the town, always playing an active part in local affairs and even becoming a local councillor.

Dewsbury Market was always ahead of its time, and never more so than in 1898 when the council decided to erect a covered market hall on Crackenedge Lane.

The thought of covering a market with cast iron and glass was a bold step at that time – but Dewsbury was never afraid of taking risks.

However, before they could erect it, they had to demolish a number of properties including the foundry of James Austin, iron and steel works.

Austin’s had to move to a site further down the road, later occupied by the Playhouse Cinema, and now occupied by Wilkinson’s, but again they were to move, this time to Thornhill Lees.

At this time Dewsbury held its markets in the Market Place in front of Yorkshire Bank, and many of the stalls stretched all along Crackenedge Lane.

The market traders, however, were not happy when told by the council that the market was being moved to where it stands now.

They said moving to the other end of town – which they described as the “frozen north” – would be disastrous because it was too far out of town.

They didn’t win their argument and for the past hundred years the market has been where it stands now.