Most people used to say, “See you at Sneinton Market, Saturday morning at the shoe stall.” It used to be really great because you’d be holding one of the shoes and across the stall you’d see someone else holding the other shoe, and it was like a challenge to see who’d put it down first. The shoes came from shops like Chelsea Girl and Ravel in the Victoria Centre, which were expensive at that time. They were rejects, which of course made them far cheaper – it was the prospect of getting a bargain that made people fight for them. You had to be really early or you didn’t have a chance. There would be rows of women – you’d have their arms coming over your shoulders reaching out for the shoes and you’d go, “That’s mine! I’ve got that!”
During the rock and roll era in the fifties I used to go to the Locarno – the dance hall on St. Ann’s Well Road. I’d go down the market to find outfits for the dances – you’d hunt among the clothes and sort through the stilettos to find something you liked. Often the shoes weren’t in pairs, so you had to forage through piles to find the one that matched. I got through stilettos so quickly because the heels wore down – that’s why the market was the best place to go because the stilettos were so cheap.
We used to get some great bargains from the second hand shoe stall, which was run by a lady called Wendy. The pairs of shoes would be bound together with elastic bands and the size and price would be written on their soles in silver pen or Tippex. You would rummage through the shoes and I remember my mum would get all our school shoes from there. She would take them home, polish them up and stuff them with paper to get the creases out. On a new school day in September we’d look like we had brand new shoes. There was no sense of shame in searching through the second hand shoes and clothes – people would even fight over them. I think today people are a bit more self-conscious, but in those days everyone was poor, they were all coming from the same perspective.
I can remember buying a pair of leather Chelsea boots and I was so chuffed. They were the business – leather soles, leather tops, but when I got home I realised I’d got two different shoes. They were the same size, but slightly different colours. Over the years I kept polishing them until they almost looked alike! I wonder who’s got the other pair?!
The shoes were tied together with some string round to try and keep them in pairs, but of course if anybody wanted to try them on they’d struggle because they couldn’t get them on their feet. So when they were putting them back on the stall if they didn’t buy them, they didn’t tie them together again. That meant this big heap of shoes and if you saw one you really liked it took ages to find the other one.