Its the knowledge

19 02 2011

For everything we sell we provide a back up service which isn’t what many people do nower days… but at the current time its very hard…Independent shops are going to be a thing of the past and I think everybody, once they are gone, is going to realise how important they are but its going to be to late.

The third of my posts on the things that local people and traders told me about is on knowledge and skills, with quotes from traders in the Lile Tool Shop, Fabrix, R&P Shaw the Fishmonger.

Whilst I was drawing I tried to work out what were the tools of the trade, and what were the unspoken skills of the independent traders. I surmised that the obvious tools were not necessarily the only or main ones, and that there were many unspoken less obvious tools – things about how people talk to customers, their body language, how they use their hands, their knowledge of the tools, food and produce they sell and their experience.

Its the knowledge, you go to B&Q and you just pick it off the shelf but if you come here you can ask and we’ll tell you about it… you can come here with a description of what you need and we will disappear into the back shop and reappear with one single screw.

There’ll be a shop full of people laughing their heads of cos of something we’ve said to one of the customers…its an important part of business, you’ve got to bring out the sense of humour sometimes.

We had a lovely hardware shop but he has gone. They cant compete with the chains, but you go into those places (chains) and ask for help and they are running away from you, they don’t want you to ask “what size screw?” or “what kind of glue?”..

He’d go, “Just a minute…” and he’d go in the back where he had hundreds of drawers and then he’d come out with it and you’d go, “Thank you so much how much?” and he’d go, “5 pence please”.”

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Lancaster’s old market hall

18 02 2011

It was absolutely phenomenal in the old market (before the fire) you couldn’t walk through the aisles and get past people, there wasn’t a supermarket.  Lancaster itself, the town, was where all the food was; in the market and around about. It was so good to go to work there, it was really busy, people could by fresh all the time and you didn’t overbuy what you wanted.

We have survived through the loyalty of customers buying local produce, its the quality of cheese that we sell. We sell Lancashire off the truckle and you don’t normally get that in a supermarket.

The second in a series of posts recounting the things people have talked about during the project is about the old Lancaster covered Market Hall and the quotes and images in this post come from Ron Wood, the Marsh History Group and traders in Burgess Cheese, The Bacon Stall, Bebe Babette and D Gregory the butcher.

There was a single floor victorian market hall that tragically burned down in 1984, a new market was built and opened almost 10 years later but it has been a controversial venture as its architecture is very different (on two floors, with steps up to most entrances and defined stalls rather then flat and open plan) and its new position takes it away from the natural flow and movement of people through town. Far fewer people pass through its doors than did in the old market, as someone said to me;  If it was all on one floor and we were all together it would be a much better market. But despite this there is a great rapport between traders and customers, an a real sense of care about the produce traders sell. I always came home with a huge bag of market purchases from homemade ham, to local honey, Lancashire cheese to local kippers, and I wish I was much closer to use the market more often.

The market has been threatened with closure to which many people have reacted strongly, participating in protests that raise the issues of how important a community, social and civic space the market is. People I spoke to remembered that because the old market hall was on ground level they often walked through the market on their way somewhere, something they would be unlikely to do now.  The market now faces financial difficulties that must be exacerbated both by the aftermath of the fire and by radical changes in shopping habits, however in many of my projects people have told me that it is the more informal, ‘human’ scale places like markets (rather then chains or superstores) that give them a sense of community. It seems also to be one of the places where people feel they can easily find out where their food has come from, and markets are often one of the places where food can be bought economically and with waste rather than in set packages – so if you only want one tomato, you need buy one tomato.

The Markets are meeting places for people, so long may they reign – the  big chains and supermarkets are making the high streets like ghost towns.

A lot of the customers rely on us and without the market there would be a lot less character in the town.

On his blog, Ronnies Rambles you can see some of  Ron Wood’s films about Lancaster local life, the market, the protests against the threats of closure and the fire including his films:

From Out of The Ashes about the fire in 1984 and

The Stall Holders of Lancaster Covered Market March to Lancaster, about the recent protests against closure – below





There will always be a place for independent traders…

17 02 2011

We’ve talked a lot about independent shops and this is the first of a series of posts recounting some of the things that both traders and shoppers have said to me during the project. This post has quotes from members of the the Marsh History Group, and traders in D Gregory Butcher, R&P Shaw Fishmonger and Fabrix.

You could go in and you could smell what kind of shop you were in, with your eyes closed you could tell what kind of shop it was, the cobblers, the grocers, the coffee shop…

When it was independent shops you went in and you picked what you wanted and how much you wanted, not all in packs that have to be sold within a certain length of time, and there was more variety, you could pick and choose between shops as well.

People will come and buy one or two slices of meat at a time cos they don’t want to waste any money…. Its local producers selling to local retailers, the people who come in are regulars, they know the traders and its more of a partnership than just a commercial transaction, they are not just coming to buy their meat off me, they are talking to me about their family, I’m talking to them about my family, community… there is a rapport between the customers and traders that you just cant get in a supermarket, and I think that is why there will always be a place for independent traders.


We can keep our things a lot fresher than supermarkets, because we are buying direct we know when they’ve come in, how many days we can keep them. They (customers) trust us with our knowledge of fish… you’ve got to know where it has come from, how it was caught, how to cook it…

I think you get honest advice… because they (independent traders) are interest in what they are selling…

In the old shops life was a far far different pace… a different pattern…





A few Brews with the Marsh History Group

28 11 2010

During the project Ive been lucky to meet with and work with the Marsh History Group of local people who meet to remember and record the history of Lancaster and have been involved in books, publications and adding to archives.  I joined them a few times for a chat, a brew, many laughs and a revealing walk around Lancaster  on a very rainy day. We talked about the independent shops, food, saving for christmas, making a little food go a long way, a ‘bone for the dog’, how much more food waste there is with packaged food today and other aspects of local shops everyday life.

In the old shops life was a far far different pace, life was a different pattern.

You could go in and you could smell what kind of shop you were in, with your eyes closed you could tell what kind of shop it was, the cobblers, the grocers, the coffee shop.

When there were more independent shops you went in and you picked what you wanted, and how much you wanted, not all in packs that have to be sold within a certain length of time. And there was more variety, you could pick and choose shops as well.

In those days they spent a lot of their income on food, today they spend less on food and more on other things.

You used to get food on tick…in town it was quite high class and they didn’t give you food on tick in town..





As It Comes Events

5 11 2010

Next week on Wednesday 10th I’ll be hanging large scale works on cloth in the windows of 18 New Street, you’ll be able to see it after 5pm and thereafter till mid/late December.  I’m having a series of works on paper and the drawings of traders at work printed on to cotton poplin which will then be embroidered with cotton before hanging. If you are in Lancaster and want to come to the informal reception in a local pub on the 10th please get in touch with me at alice(at)proboscis.org.uk or call Lucy Green at Mid Penine Arts on 01282 421986

On the 4th December I’ll be leading an informal walk around of parts of Lancaster talking about the issues of local trade, some of Lancaster’s retail history,  the future of high streets and viewing my work – you can reserve a place with Lucy at the number above.





Tools of The Trade

5 11 2010

In all of the shops, market stalls and workshops I notice the tools people use – from computers and tills to specialist handtools. There are some tools that almost everyone has a version of like scissors and sellotape or computers and tills and others that are highly specific. But when you ask traders what the tools of their trade are its not really the physical things that matter its the knowledge, the skills and the ability to talk to customers.  All throughout Ive been making drawings of people at work and in conversation to try and understand more about peoples knowledge and how they use it and pass it on to other generations.

Alice