Congleton Market in the 50s and 60s
Dear Sir, — On entering the market, you walked past the fire station, which had large red doors and housed two fire engines. They were either Dennis or ERF motors. The building had all the equipment to deal with any fire emergency of the day. Next door were the stinky lavatories with brown ceramic-tiled walls.
The public mortuary was located at the bottom of the yard on the right-hand side and also it was where you took your cats or doggies to be put to sleep. There was a fee to pay, but it was done by the council.
The stallholders were real characters of the day, all out to sell and make a shilling or two.
The first stall was Cheeky Charlie the knicker man. He sold ladies’ underwear, bras, Airtex knickers, suspenders and nylons.
The ladies loved him; he was such a charmer.
He used to say, “Let me know when your husband is not home, and I’ll deliver them, and I will knock you a shilling off if you let me see you wearing them.”
You can imagine the giggles.
The plate man would have an abundance of plates in his hand and arms, all clattering, and throw them in the air and catch them all without dropping a saucer and shout: “I don’t want 30 shillings, I don’t want a pound or even 15 shillings; the first one to give 10 shillings can take the lot.”
Hands would fly up in the air and 10 shilling notes would be exchanged. Where else could you get a full dinner set for 10 shillings?
He would even throw in a gravy boat.
After you got them home there was not one of them that matched in patterns, but who would know when they are covered with gravy, and who would care.
The cheap stall had a wonderful display of all sorts of things, wax crayons, colouring books, plastic toys and a mixture of things that you didn’t need – tea towels with the print of a pound note, chalk ornaments and tin openers.
Somehow dishcloths were popular – the open weave type almost like a scrap string vest.
Small packs of Omo, Persil and Daz washing powder. Vim, Brasso and scouring pads. He was there every week come rain or shine. Always had the same fingerless gloves on when counting his money.
The fruit and veg stall was always busy. Oranges, apples, pears and a lot more.
The stallholder was from Bury, Lancashire (well, that is what it said on the side of his big Bedford van).
He was stout in stature – always wore a long wool coat and styled himself with a flat tweed cap.
He had a few local people working with him serving customers. He would shout and move up and down the stall: “Oranges thruppence a pound, apples tuppence a pound. Get them now while still fresh off the tree...”
At the end of the day the empty orange boxes and fine paper that wrapped the apples and pears would litter the whole area.
Children who worked on the stall during the day would help cleaning up as well, and could earn 2s 6d.
That was more than enough to go to the Capitol Pictures and see a film and have sixpence of chips from Harry’s on Lawton Street, on their way home.
Curly the rug man always had a Tom Thumb cigar in his mouth and sold all kinds of carpets, rugs and strips of linoleum. What more could you wish for, when you were planning your first home?
Linoleum came in all sorts of patterns (it was all misprinted) but most people didn’t care as long as it was cheap, which it was.
A nice rug on the top and you were as posh as anyone.
Any scrap pieces after fitting you could use to light the fire – better than firelighters.
Alfie the coat man sold all sorts of modern three-quarter coats for the ladies, which were very fashionable at the time.
Collar and sleeve coordination with a little fitting at the waist and a slight flare to the hips.
Everything was hung on wooden hangers and he had the ability to make the ladies feel beautiful. He had a lisp as he spoke and his desire to please was certainly an asset, as he would fit the coat on the ladies and then smooth their shoulders and continue to do the buttons up.
The long mirror, which had obviously seen better times, would come out and Alfie would give an all-round view and tell the ladies how nice they looked.
“That will be 29 shillings and sixpence.”
When exiting at the far gate, which was located behind the Chronicle office, the Salvation Army would have their band with a conductor singing songs and holding charity boxes for any coins that anyone would give. They did a brilliant job and to some folk it was entertaining. God bless them.
The food hall was at the back of the town hall, just to the left of the Chronicle office rear.
It was a whitewashed interior to make it look clean. The first stall was the meat butcher. Chickens, lamb and pork chops, small cuts of beef and some ham slices.His big sausage was always a favourite. He would let you have one, or even two, of his sausages, whatever you could afford. Fresh back bacon slices, even a nice big hock for soup. He always wore a bloodied white coat and handled everything with his nicotine-stained fingers and uncovered hands.
He told the ladies how much their husband would love stuffing, which he made himself.
Savoury ducks were a delicacy only in the North West of England.
The looks and cheeky banter would continue with lots of giggles. That is why people went back to buy at the market because it was just innocent fun.
Madge the cheese lady had every kind of cheese on her stall as long as it was from Cheshire.
Crumbly white and red Cheshire; you could smell it before you got to her stall. Everything was nicely presented on a white tablecloth. She did also have Double Gloucester, Red Leicester, Cheddar, and a bit of Blue. The popular cheese was Cheshire.
When serving you, she would place a big wedge of cheese on a block of wood and ask you what size of portion you would like.
When you had decided, she then would take the cutting wire and place it on the cheese. Then she would remove her false teeth, wrap them in her hanky and then cut your cheese.
With her big smile it was possible to see the little dimple on her top gum. She would then say “1s 9d, love”, take your money and wipe her nose on her sleeve while counting the coins into her till at the back of her stall.
Tom the toffee man sold all kinds of loose toffees. Chocolate buttons with rainbow sprinkles on, white chocolate buttons, humbugs, pear drops, Tic Tacs, liquorice sticks and even penny chews. All the kids used to visit him and he would always give them a chocolate button. You couldn’t spend more than 6d as that was a bag full to last the day.
At about 4pm the lads from the council yard would come and start to clean up. Cigarette squeezed between their lips and a stiff yard brush in their hands, they would start to sweep the area. Locals would scramble to collect the fruit boxes that were left and any unsold or damaged fruit and vegetables.
Big Eric, holding his stiff, big, hard broom, would shout to anyone who got in his way: “Watch your backs!”
The market yard was left clean and tidy, the stallholders all had a good day and also the folk of Congleton all looked forward to the next exciting market for bargains.
All the people are fictitious … however, some of the stories or sayings may be true. — Yours faithfully,
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