The market had some characters!
THERE will be many readers I am sure who can still remember when Dewsbury Market stayed open until midnight on Saturdays and 8pm on Wednesdays.
They will also remember some of the characters who made Dewsbury Market one of the most colourful and exciting in the country.
This week I am able to recall some of them, thanks to the memoirs of the late James Booth, a well-known Dewsbury market trader and auctioneer.
I am grateful to his daughter, Kath Hewitt (nee Booth), who sent them to me in the hope they may be of interest to local people, which they certainly will be.
Kath, who now lives in Cheshire, found her dad’s handwritten reminiscences of his 50 years on Dewsbury Market, in a drawer at his home some time after his death in 1981.
His memoirs are entitled Over 50 Years of Market Life and I am delighted to print them in full and hopefully continue them next week.
I have no doubt they will bring back many happy memories for Dewsbury people who loved shopping on Dewsbury Market and still do.
Here are Mr Booth’s recollections in his own words written after he had retired:
“AFTER being retired for 18 months it has given me time to reflect as a boy going to my father’s shop in the covered market in Dewsbury.
“My mother attended to the shop on market days while my father had a stall in the open market selling oilcloth and table baize.
“On Wednesdays I had to go from Carlton Road School to the market for my dinners.
“My mother would give me 1s 3d, and off I would go to the Exchange Restaurant next to the Scarboro Hotel opposite the town hall.
“The manageress at that time was a Mrs Bailey, the same lady founder of the cafe (still there) over John Colliers the Tailors.
“In those days there were stalls in Market Place between the Yorkshire Bank and the entrance to the Arcade. Stalls also ran along both sides of Crackenedge Lane, one side being known as the Fish Market. On the corner, where Broadway Buildings now stands, there was a large shop occupied by J&Bs, the well known department store, and in front of this there were a few stalls.
“But it is not the market set-up I wish to relate but the characters I came across during my 50-odd years in the market.
“The stalls outside the Scarboro Hotel were reserved for Quack doctors and demonstrators, although two of the stalls were occupied regularly by Johnny South with his friend, Charlie, and Alan Lockwood with his pies, tripe and peas.
“Alan also had a shop at the top corner of the covered market and once bought a horse from the Army authorities after the 1914 war.
“He told me when he wanted it to go, he wouldn’t say, ‘gee-up!’, but would say, ‘quick march!’, and when he wanted it to stop he would say ‘halt!’ “One ‘quack’ I got to know very well was Albert Greeves from Bradford, who came to the market about every month.
“He would strip to the waist in all weathers and swing in the air a blacksmith’s striking hammer just like an Indian club.
“When his demonstration was over he would sell some kind of pills which would cure everything.
“Another outstanding character was Harry Moyer who would blow a motor tube up with his mouth and then sell a pamphlet for sixpence on body building and how to breath correctly.
“Outside J&B’s shop there was Fred Hooper with his bananas. He would pick up a bunch and count them, 18-20-22-24, and ask 1/3d for the lot!
“When there was no buyer at 1/3d, he would say ‘Go on then I’ll take 1/-. Sold to the lady over there!’
“A LITTLE further on there was old butcher Thompson who talked very quickly. If you pointed to a joint of meat and asked how much it was, he would have it on the scales, weighed, told you the price per pound, and wrapped up before you had time to make your mind up as to whether it was too large or too small.
“Also, I well remember Crosby and Allan’s, the bacon and cheese specialist with old Sam in charge.
“Over the road in Crackenedge Lane was Midwoods who sold boiled sweets and whose cry was, ‘Twopence a quarter – threepence ha’penny the half pound!’
“Then there was Heaps biscuit stall, and further on outside Austin’s Steel girder warehouse, where the Playhouse was, Charlie Mitchell from Bradford had a stall with rolls upon rolls of silks and cloth for making up into ladies’ garments.
“Whenever you passed his stall he was always smoking a big cigar which you could smell yards away, but to me the odour was always very pleasant.
“Inside the covered market was Fred Wilby’s drapery and curtain shop which was always a big attraction.
“He sold his goods by Dutch auction, but before he started his sale, the first 10 to 15 minutes were like a local government meeting.
“He was a local councillor and later an alderman and people in his audience would ask him questions about what was transpiring in the council chambers.
“I recall one story he used to tell about himself at Wakefield Market when a butcher on the market said he had bought a new galloway and what a fast trotter it was.
“The butcher said it could do Dewsbury to Wakefield pulling a gig in half-an-hour. Mr Wilby answered back, ‘That’s now’t! I have a donkey that can do it in 25 minutes and I’ll ride on its back’.
“After a bit of a heated argument, a bet was struck for £5 that he could ride his donkey from the Bull Ring in Wakefield to Dewsbury Town Hall in 25 minutes the following Sunday morning.
“To cut a long story short, he did it, and the butcher paid out his £5, but very reluctantly.
“Fred Wilby also once bought an old horse-drawn hearse at an auction sale and when asked what he was going to do with it, answered, ‘I’ve only bow’t it for’t wheels’.
“On the top of each corner of the hearse there was a vase or urn carved out of wood, and on the side was a small shield with the inscription I.H.S.
“The vases and urns were fixed on the top of his shop, and as far as I know, they are still there.
“The shield was fixed over the front and the letters I.H.S were supposed to mean I Have Succeeded.
“OTHER characters on the market were old man Blackburn with his gas mantles, shades and fittings for upright and inverted gas lamps.
“Then there was the chap selling boot polish who demonstrated the shine from his polish with a shoe that you could see your face in.
“He demonstrated the water-proofing qualities by dipping the shoe in a bowl of water. The price of the polish? Two pence a tin.
“Then there were the Glatman Brothers from Sheffield selling lace curtains. Their favourite spiel was, ‘no lime starch or stiffening’. To demonstrate the point they had a man at the front of the stall who would hold the curtains up at one corner and the spieler would twist it round to show they were free from filling.
“Their price I remember was 2/6d a pair with larger sizes 3/6d and 4/6d and 5/6d a pair for a better quality.
“My father, with his oil cloth, would cut some lengths off two or three big rolls, some four yards long and some five yards long.
“Having started his sale with pieces for the hearth and pieces, 2 yards by 1 yard for a doorway, he would then go on to the pieces 2 yards wide, and would tell the crowd standing around, ‘Place the two pieces side my side and they’ll cover a room four yards wide and many yards in length.’”
l Next week I will be concluding Mr Booth’s reminiscences in which he mentions other characters on Dewsbury Market and recalls when his father sold 40-piece tea sets for 2/11d.