From a Pin to an Elephant

Posted by editor on September 21, 2009 under Community

Continuing his series on east Manchester markets, Len Grant takes a stroll around the stalls at Newton Heath where the traders have their sights set on better times.

Newton Heath MarketBraising steak, brisket, mince meat, rib-eye steak, boneless loin, it’s all flying out of Bernard Kelly’s butcher’s stall at Newton Heath Market.

“You’ll want a bit o’ fat with that, won’t you?” Bernard suggests to Mary from Collyhurst, one of his regulars.

“Oh, yes please,” she says, and then to me: “He’s taught me the secret of cooking beef, he has.”

Mary does most of her shopping at markets and prefers them over the high street shops, but she’s disappointed with her favourite market. “It’s gone downhill here since all the changes,” she says. “We used to have cobblers and a watch repairer, there were lots more stalls.”

To avoid the market closing, Manchester City Council took over the site last year with plans to refurbish it. Hoardings around the outside still proclaim a new, improved market. The whole place was closed down for a couple of months whilst old stalls were replaced but business never bounced back. Some traders left altogether and, most crucially, many customers changed their shopping habits and have not returned.

Ali Shafqat with his son: family-run for 25 years

Ali Shafqat with his son: family-run for 25 years

“People don’t like change, do they?” declares 25 year-old Moazum Ali, from the hosiery stall their family has run since Moazum was born. Judging by the number of customers on this damp Wednesday afternoon, it seems they don’t.

Well wrapped-up, local resident Rose is enjoying a cup of coffee and a cigarette with her friends in the café’s gazebo at the other end of the market. Rose has been a regular for 30 years.

“Back then every stall was taken,” she recalls. “The place was hammered, absolutely hammered.”

“What sort of things could you get?” I ask, although I’m pretty sure of her answer.

“Everything. Everything from a pin to an elephant. Now we’ve no shoe stall, no fruit and veg. We’ve only got one knicker stall now. Oh, we used to get our knickers off a lovely fella…”.

Dorothy Lees: "It'll be one of Mancester's best markets again."

Dorothy Lees: "It'll be one of Mancester's best markets again."

I leave Rose and her pals to their lingerie reminiscences and have a chat with the café’s owner, Dorothy Lees.  “I’ve been here for 20 years,” she tells me. “It was a brilliant market then. I used to queue up at 5.30 in the morning and was lucky if I got a stall even then. Gradually, over the last 18 months, traders have left and this is what we’ve ended up with.”

But now the remaining traders have agreed with the council to form a co-operative and, from this month, will be running the market themselves. “It’s the best option for us,” says Steve Hopwood, from behind the rails of his ladies’ fashions. “Then it’ll be up to us what we do. For a start we’re having a car boot sale every Sunday starting at the end of the month. 6am ’til 1pm. Put that in your article.”

Steve Hopwood: "We'll be having a car boot sale every Sunday morning."

Steve Hopwood: "We'll be having a car boot sale every Sunday morning."

“I will,” I promise.

Despite the upheaval, there is lots of optimism for the future. Tricia McElwee has been on Newton Heath for just three years and her handmade, personalised cards and silk flowers have been selling well. “I tried Hyde and Rochdale markets before here,” she says, “and this is the best place. What I do is completely different, and I’m very reasonable.”

“People love markets, don’t they?” says Dorothy. “They love a bargain and the personal service. I think if we can get the custom back then it’ll be one of the best markets in Manchester again.”

Tricia McElwee: selling well at Newton Heath

Tricia McElwee: selling well at Newton Heath

With all this determination and enthusiasm, I think she may be right, but don’t expect to see the elephants back again.

Newton Heath Market on Droylsdon Road is open on Monday, Wednesday and Saturday.
Car boot sales start on September 27th 2009 at 6am.

If you are interested in taking a stall call Dorothy on 07899 807697.