Contretemps at Norwich market, January 1989.

Contretemps at Norwich market, January 1989.

The Market Place in Norwich was originally laid out by the Norman conquerors in the years before 1100, and it has been a major feature of the city ever since. Before that, in Saxon times, Norwich market was held in Tombland. During the middle ages and for long after all pitches were cleared away every night.  Besides being a place of trade the market place was a place for public meetings, voting in elections and protests which sometimes descended to riots. It was and indeed still is the centre of the city’s everyday life. Many sales were not made at stalls but from simple piles of goods on the ground.  The goods sold on the market included cloth, wooden articles, corn and seeds. Other staples were vegetables, fish and meat; other things were sold elsewhere. Live pigs were sold on Hog Hill (now Orford Hill), hay on the Haymarket, and timber on Timber Hill. Around Tombland was where cattle and  horses were sold until the cattle market moved to Castle Hill in the mid 17th century; before then the area round the Castle had been used as a rubbish dump. By 1800 sheep were also being sold there.

In 1989 the market in Norwich still had the old wooden stalls with striped multicoloured canvas roofs. These had originally been temporary stalls, easily moved. It was in January of that year that a heated disagreement had broken out between two customers at the fruit stall. To the distress of the stallholder oranges and other fruit were spilling onto the pavement. A crowd of onlookers had gathered at a suitable distance. Gripping his helmet to stop it falling off a policeman runs up to restore order. I happened to be passing and drew this sketch. It is just a glimpse of life as it unfolds in the day to day business of a busy street market.

To the right of the picture are the fish stalls, including one that sells saucers of sea food; shrimps, cockles, whelk etc for immediate consumption. Or they can be tipped into a plastic bag for eating later. The fish stalls occupy a small corner of the market outside the Sir Garnet Wolsey pub. Until 1860 fishmongers had been located near the Guildhall for centuries. Higher up the market are clothes stalls and a watch repairer.

The mix of trades has varied over the years; there are for example fewer fruit and vegetable stores than there used to be. The range of secondhand books is much reduced. There used not to be a specialist cheese seller and Mr Zak had a sort of delicatessen with a range of foods from his native Poland. The Polish jam was particularly good. This was long before the entry of Poland into the EU , what was the called the Common Market. Mr Zak had been in Norfolk since the end of the Second World  War . Stan Zak (who has only recently passed away) must have retired getting on for 30 years ago, and Mr Pickering’s sausage stall has taken his place. That is the one remaining outlet for Bryan Pickering’s sausages. Once there was his main shop in the Street, Costessey, and another branch in Dereham.

The fish and chip stalls are a long term fixture, and so is the stall were they specialise in mushy peas. Other stalls will sell you mugs of tea or coffee, and of course burgers, though I am not a great eater of burgers. A card and stationery stall appeared on the market about 1970, and another selling vacuum cleaner hoses. Not only has the nature of the market changed over the years, but the number of stalls has been reduced. The latest face of the market – although we may no longer call this new, as it dates from 2005 – has meant fewer but more commodious stalls. Whereas a century ago all the trader’s equipment could be cleared away at the end of the day it now remains in place, with a complicated  electrically operated system of awnings to keep out the rain and let in the fresh air.






One response

  1. Hi Joe
    I write stories about growing up in Norwich in the 1970’s and put them on a Facegroup closed group called Norwich in the good old days. The latest story features the engraving stall I remember on Norwich Market and i wonder if I could have permission to uses the 1973 photograph featured here to illustrate it

    Thanks Revd Rod Corke


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