Sneinton Market used to teem – from the Market Square all the way down to Hockley there was a constant flow of people coming down. My grandmother Maud always used to say that she would make more money on a Saturday morning on her clothing store than my dad made in a week at Raleigh! I’m not saying that’s true, but I think she probably made a lot! My grandmother stayed on that market and worked on that stall until she was eighty-five. She had a good healthy life – she died when she was ninety-nine.
The market was absolutely vibrant in the sixties and seventies – so many people turned up on a Saturday morning that some couldn’t even get a pitch. I don’t think there was any other markets comparable in those days – Sneinton was the leader, the one that had got the edge.
The market had a theatrical feel to it. It’s not there, then a load of people move in and they put up sets, individual booths and then they do a show for a couple of hours and then they take it all down and it’s not there anymore – that’s theatre.
The market was full of people of all different ages, cultures and backgrounds – it was a melting pot, like a soup – all of Nottingham melted into this one happy ball.
It was quite an experience going to Sneinton Market. There’s something very special about it that Nottingham people loved.
Visiting Sneinton Market was like a ritual. Nearly everybody around that area went to the market on a Saturday morning and a Monday morning. You could walk down St Ann’s Well Road and over Bath Street onto the market – on Saturdays especially it was a tradition, like a family day out. We never went on the bus – we always used to walk. You could spend a good few hours down the market – you always saw somebody you knew down there. The heyday for me was when I was small in the 1950s – when there was a lot more stalls. It was always the women in the family who went to the market. When I was young my grandma or mum would take me down in the pushchair. As I got a bit older, my sister and me used to hide under the stalls for a bit of fun. We weren’t supposed to, but that was how kids were.
I liked the showmanship of the guys on the corners with their plate sets. The crowd around those stalls was massive because it was like watching a piece of live theatre. The poet in me enjoyed that – the rhythm, the banter, the monologue, the interaction between the performer and the audience. It was proper interactive theatre, which was amazing.
On the old market we had what we used to call “tuzzing” – a lot of leg pulling and winding up. You’d have a go at people and they’d have a go at you, “Oh you blond haired, four-eyed so-and-so!” I was known as the Milky Bar Kid and the great white shark! Nobody ever took it personally – you just gave it back or walked away, depending on how shy you were.
In 1962, when I was seventeen, I passed my driving test. It was real bad winter, solid frost and snow, the air thick with fog. I used to have a wagon, go to Hull, load the fish up and bring it back. I would chain the fish and me hands would be frozen. They used to have real big freezers in them days full of 168-pound halibuts shaped like double bass’s. They had a big push out thing on the fridge door so if you got shut in, they could tell outside. I hadn’t passed my test very long and I’d got this white van – I went out, and my customers were all looking at the side of it. I thought, “What’s going on here?” When I got back, I realised they’d put a headless fish on it!
On the odd occasion there were a few scraps, but nothing was meant by it. You’d probably go out and have a drink with the same people that night and it was all forgotten about – we were like one massive football team, all playing together.
I really enjoyed going to Sneinton Market – it was definitely the best in the area. I would drive down there and do most of my shopping for the week. It was a social thing for me too – I knew quite a lot of the people by name and even now I’m like, “Are you okay?” and they say, “Oh, ’ey up Jeanie.”
It wasn’t so much the things they sold, but the atmosphere that was so good. You knew if you went you were going to have a laugh – that something or other would crop up.
My family did the majority of their shopping on the market. To get the best bargains, we had to get there at 7.30am. My nana would get up at ridiculous hours. It would still be dark outside and we’d be up, eating porridge. If you didn’t go to the market on the Saturday that was it – you’d have no food for the week. Shopping itself would probably take an hour, but the adult’s conversations would go on and on. My nana would stop and start a million times because she’d bump into people she hadn’t seen for so long. There was lots of gossip, “This person’s died, that person’s died.” Back then they called Sneinton Dale death row because people always seemed to be dying.
As I got older, moved around and went up a bit in society, people got a bit snobbish about Sneinton Market – “Ooh, you don’t go down there, do you?” But it was a part of my life growing up, so I never got snobbish about it at all, I used to love it.