There was a breed of market trader who looked at it as a business with minimal fixed costs and good margins. They would build a really good thriving business. I like to count myself as one of those. Other traders went on the market purely because they weren’t capable of doing anything else. Some went on to do really big things. In terms of setting up a business, it was minimal cost. With markets, you had to have public liability insurance. The cheapest way was through the National Market Traders Federation. I became Chairman of the Sneinton branch.
As I set up shop I’d be whistling all sorts of things and people would know what time it was, because I always set up shop at 7am. Nowadays if you whistled people would stare at you – it’s a lost art.
Back in the seventies we’d be at Sneinton Market for probably half seven. The market rules was, you’d got to be there before eight o’clock in order to get your stall. If you were late, the toll man, who allocated the stalls and took your money was allowed to let someone else take that stall. So you had to be up early, otherwise you could lose your pitch.
The markets used to be very crowded. There was a big casual list and every week I put my name down but often I got turned away because there wasn’t enough room. I was on the waiting list for six months before I got a permanent pitch. Nowadays, no stallholders go there, even if the rent is free.
Traditionally the Market Superintendent was known as a toby – I never knew how the term originated. Going back years, they considered themselves to be pillars of society. They usually dressed in suits, always very smart, and they seemed to think that they were superior to the traders – they thought they were kings. It was their duty to ensure there was a balanced market – if there were loads of casuals selling clothing and someone came along selling sweets they would get preference.
You would go to the market and the toby would call the list out, but he wouldn’t say, “Mr. Barnes!” he’d say, “Barnes! You – you go there!” They were little Hitlers!
The irony was that the traders they lorded it over were probably earning five times their wage! Very few modern markets now have a casual list and the attitude is totally different. In those days the tobys worked towards a professional qualification with the Institute of Market Officers – that organisation doesn’t exist anymore. These days a lot of the Market Officers are community support workers with little knowledge of markets who simply go round collecting the rents.