In the sixties Sneinton Market sold melons long before the Mansfield markets did. There was so much choice – if you didn’t like the look of one stall’s cabbages, you could go to another. Apples and carrots were unbelievably cheap – carrots were about three shillings and sixpence for a twenty-eight pound bag. The only stuff that wasn’t cleaned in them days was celery – you used to have to take that home and wash it. The reason for that was it seemed to be colder then, and once celery’s frozen it’s no good. When it thaws out it goes all wanky.
My family, the Coxons were known as the Celery Kings of Nottingham for a while. They’d buy it by the train coach load. All the fruit and veg people had to come to them to buy it – they’d buy the lot.
I remember coming to Sneinton Market when I was a child in the sixties and it was so full of life. Seeing as my mum was Italian and my dad was African, the fruit and veg stall appealed as they was the only place where you could get foreign produce, such as okra for my dad.
When I first moved to St. Ann’s in 1983, I discovered Sneinton Market. I used to go more or less every Monday and Saturday. I was a single parent with young children, and needed to get things cheaply and easily. I’m vegetarian, I have been since I had children, and I wanted to be able to get plenty of fresh fruit and veg. You either went early and got quality stuff at bargain prices, or went towards the end when they’d be giving stuff away free. They’d say, “Anybody want a full bag for 50p?” and you’d frown and laugh, and sometimes if they saw you regularly and knew you had children they’d say, “Take this bag with you!” That made me feel quite emotional.
I remember the introduction of mangos in the seventies. I’d never seen a mango before, but once when I was poorly my nana brought me them as a treat. I recall smelling them and thinking, “Ooh, it’s a huge apple,” but then inside it was all fleshy like a peach. Nana said she’d got it off Sneinton Market and I remember thinking how Sneinton had gone up a notch.
While the women were getting the stock in, my dad used to go up to his allotment where he kept rabbits. He’d send us down to the market when it was closing, when we got old enough to go on our own, to collect stuff for the rabbits. When the fruit and veg men was throwing the boxes out and closing up, me and my sister got these carrier bags and we used to fill ’em up with bits of carrots, cabbages and lettuces. Nobody was bothered, quite a few people used to do it. My granddad used to say, “You want to have a look on the floor – if there’s any money it’ll be on the bloody floor, it’ll not be up there.” And it was true!
At the end of the day, the fruit and veg traders wouldn’t just throw stuff in the bin, they’d try to sell it cheap in a carrier bag. If they knew you and you shopped there regularly, they’d give you a nod and say, “Take this!” You’d get a mixed bag of veg and you didn’t know what was in it until you got home. You’d give them a nod a quick thank you – you had to be discreet about it because they didn’t want everybody knowing.
I don’t know whether the food was rotten or whether they put spoiled food out for people to take, but there would be boxes and boxes of food at the end of the day that poorer people would rummage through. It was a bit like skipping, but it was the seventies and the eighties. It served part of the community that didn’t even have the money to shop on the market.
These days you can go anywhere in England at any time of year and buy whatever fruit and veg you want. Back then it was different – you only had what was seasonal and there were shortages. You’d go down the market and the first thing anybody would say to you was, “Lettuce is short, tomatoes have gone up!” and it was like a stock market. Fruit and veg used to go up and down like that. It’s more stable now.