From easter eggs to paper mache dustpans

12 03 2011

In our Drawings for Stories exchange last December I met Marion who has sent some descriptions of Lancasters traders and the market. Like many people she remembers a time when you could find all kinds of unusual and specialised things among the traders.

When we came to Lancaster, we only went to independent traders, and I was pleased to see, for example, that Galbraith’s features in one of your pictures.   Gorrills had two shops, and there were about four that sold nothing but birthday cards and Easter eggs. Postlethwaite’s, the baker, was also a favourite destination, in premises now occupied by Gregg’s. An important feature of the Covered Market before the fire was the fish market, but upstairs on the balcony was a treasure trove of interesting things, particularly several traders who sold old postcards (all of which got burnt),  and even the kind of brush you use for sweeping crumbs off tables which, with its paper mache pan, I still have. On King Street there was a wonderful toy shop for some years, as well as one for jewellery and ceramics, both of them owned by  people with links to the university. The Rocking Horse Shop, near to C. E. Barrow, was much loved by everyone.  We still use as many as we can of such traders, including for meat, flowers and even our pharmacy.





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”.”





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..





Lancaster market

1 10 2010

Trading in Lancaster has been centred around the local market for decades. Independent retailers coming together under one roof to supply the community with good quality, fresh produce. To discover more about this, one way is to speak directly with the stall owners themselves, asking questions including, is shopping in a market still popular? Is it easy to compete with large supermarkets? Where does all the produce come from? Do they have a secure customer base? If yes, how have they built it up? And finally, why do they do it?!

The market place can sometimes be seen as the centre of a community. A place for people to meet, shop and trade. Lancaster’s historic market has changed considerably over the years but is still a place you can trust for fresh produce and friendly faces. From fabric and jewellery to meat and fish, a range of locally sourced products can be found within the markets walls. Even though the market today isn’t in its original location due to a fire in 1984, tradition and continuity are still apparent in the way the stall owners trade and communicate with the customers. When speaking with many of the traders a dominant theme is apparent; customer service. Building up a rapport with the customer is very important to the traders in the market. A relationship of trust must be established so the customers will come back time and time again for good quality food.

With the rise of more commercial food outlets and chain stores offering cheap deals on produce, traders in the market have pushed through with their customer service skills and in some areas have come out on top compared to major supermarkets. In the current economic climate supermarkets have had to lower their prices to keep their customers. Stall owners are continuing to provide good quality food and a warm welcome to customers to ensure their regulars don’t go elsewhere.  Now more than ever people want to know where their food comes from, when it was caught/harvested and how long it’s been on the counter for. All these questions are easily answered by the traders in Lancaster’s market. When answering these questions the stall owners are helping to keep the importance of buying locally alive and stimulating the local economy. A study completed in June 1985 assessing the potential for increased intra-regional trading in the Lancaster area, stressed the importance for local buying, one resident of Lancaster stating ‘ we must do what we can to stimulate the local economy’. When speaking to the fishmonger (R&P Shaw) and butcher (The Bacon Stall) both stressed the important of their customer base and listening to what consumers want. Knowing what the customer wants before they know themselves is an important attribute a good trader must have. This enables the market to keep up with the demand and tailor their stalls to the consumer providing an overall more personal shopping experience.

After the second fire in 1984 some market stalls were moved into a beautiful heritage building; The Assembly Rooms on King Street. Originally meant as a temporary residence for haberdashery and clothing, has now become a permanent site for vintage clothing, antiques and curiosities.  Again these stall owners value their customer base and the importance of local trading.  Each stall owner, like the butcher and fishmonger, have also built up a relationship with customers tailoring their products to their needs. Due to the intimate relationship between stall owner and customer they had been able to listen to what customers want and could keep up with demand.  Even though big department stores and supermarkets have opened and become ever more popular in the last 20 years, local produce and customer service are still proving popular within the local community. Keeping local independent traders open in Lancaster is also important to the community and closure could be detrimental to the local shopping atmosphere and economy.

So, with their passion for the job and traditional values, stall traders in the market and The Assembly Rooms should be praised for keeping the local economy alive and their excellent customer service skills. Without them, Lancaster could lack the charm and community atmosphere which distinguishes it from other major cities.





Researching Lancaster’s trading history

17 09 2010

When researching a topic on social history, one can only get so far with books, newspapers and photographs. It is the experiences of others that help to paint a picture of life in bygone times. Talking to older Lancaster residents tells us a great deal about shops and retailing in an earlier era of the city’s life. We can also learn a lot from written and photographic records, and from other sources such as contemporary newspaper adverts.

The Lancaster City Museum provides the public with important bites of information about local history. This is the first port of call for anyone researching into Lancaster’s retailing past. The walls are crammed with information relating to a wide range of relevant topics, such as transport, housing, shops and pubs. More in-depth information can be found at the Lancaster community history library, which should be the next stop on the historian’s journey. Books, photographs, adverts, bills and newspapers can all be found there. These provide a more personal account of Lancaster’s trading history. The photographs illustrate the changing shop fronts in Lancaster’s town centre, while the adverts and bills tell us which items were popular to sell and buy. From these we can start to discover what Lancaster was like years ago; this gives us a better understanding of the daily lives of shop keepers.  Photographs also tell us how Lancaster has changed from a thriving market town to a more commercial centre including chains such as Sainsburys and BHS. These sources combine effectively with the residents’ personal experiences to give a comprehensive picture of life in an earlier era.

The St Thomas More Centre hosts a local history group and it is at these meetings where history comes to life through members’ stories and shared experiences. Goad maps laid out on the tables are there to provoke conversation between the participants, but it is the adverts from local shop windows which create the greatest response. Memories are sparked by vintage adverts and discussion leads to the layout of Lancaster town centre and the shops which have since closed down. Tripe shops, clog shops and hardware stores were common in Lancaster town centre. There were no supermarket chains and everything was tailored to one’s personal needs.  Everyone knew everyone else, where they shopped and what they wanted. The shopkeeper’s relationship with the customer went beyond that of vendor and purchaser. The shop keeper was likely to be a friend, neighbour or even a family member. The sense of community Lancaster used to have is a hot topic among the history group.  The shopkeeper treated the customer with respect rather than just seeing him as a source of revenue. One member of the group referred to a major shopping chain as a ‘conveyor belt of customers’.   The group also commented on how we now live in a throwaway society- consider the excessive amount of packaging which comes with anything you buy. All products are now standardised and no longer come with any kind of personal touch as they used to. Each supermarket has its own range but underneath all the packaging, it’s all the same.

In earlier times much less food was thrown away than is the case today. What we would now regard as scraps were kept and reused to provide further meals. One older resident said ‘we used to ask the butcher for a bone for the dog. Everyone knew we didn’t have a dog, we just needed something to eat’. The end of market day was also a time to gather food for a meal. Local traders would give scraps to children from poor families rather than just discarding them. Whywas so little thrown away in earlier times? Because people couldn’t afford to discard potentially usable items of food.

What does all this add up to? So far as retailing is concerned, the past really is ‘another country’. They did things differently there. Was it better in earlier times? The residents we spoke to thought it was, many no longer shop in Lancaster but go further a field.