I love markets. I used to sell fabric on them with my cousin David Ryecroft from the age of about 12 to 16, getting up at about 4am and driving to various towns in Yorkshire and Lancashire. We would unpack our fabrics – most of them seconds and feints and arrange them on a table, or sometimes on a groundsheet. We sold the fabric by the yard putting the cash into the zipped up pockets of our aprons. We would have cups of tea, bought from other market traders, and a bacon sandwich at lunch time, and be packed up by 2pm, earlier if it was raining.
My mother comes from Bury. She was brought up in Greenmount and lived there until she married. Her father had a factory that made slippers called Albion Mill.
Until last weekend I had never been to Bury Market, which has been voted as Britain’s finest market.
It is very popular with its 400 different stalls, inside and out. I spotted a stall that sells headstones for your grave, and a solicitor who sits in the open air (it was 1 degree C and snowing) trying to get business writing wills. There is lots and lots of food. Bury is home of the traditional (and quite delicious steamed) black pudding. They sell lots of hot, cooked meat – lamb, roasted chicken, pork (that is not yet pulled, but similar), sausages and kebabs. You can also buy many varieties of Lancashire cheese, black peas (which I love and just cannot buy anywhere else), wonderful local fresh fish, a wide array of vegetables, baked goods, cakes and biscuits. You can eat there – sitting at a table or standing up – lots of hearty, rib-sticking choices.
Apparently, one stall holder told me, there are at least a dozen coaches arriving daily, from “as far away as Southampton”, attracted by the variety, the keen prices and the Lancashire vibe. He told me there is not a stall free at present – which is interesting. The rest of the town is decidedly run down, and compared to its heyday, a bit sad. Many shops are shut and people are quite poor. But the market is full of life, providing a wide range of good produce and products at the lowest possible price – “soft and comfy” knickers at a pound a pair, for example.
But I was there for the fabrics, and trimmings. I did buy some things, but the prices are not competitive, sadly. I bought wool with polyester which in Brixton would be £5 or £6 a metre, for double that. The cotton was £8 – again Simply Fabrics would be half that. But I wanted to chat to the man who ran Annis which has been on the market in Bury since 1945. It is a family business set up by Michael, now run by David and his son Simeon – both were very chatty and informative.