Ramsden Farrar, writing in the Yorkshire Weekly Post on 23rd December 1922 gives us a vivid picture of the open market as it was in the 1870's, and describes some of the market's colourful characters who worked there.
John Kelly, known as Cheap Jack, was the star turn among the 'orators'. With his fund of caustic and sometimes grim humour, he attracted larger audiences than any of the others. His stock was mostly of doubtful utility, but his special line was a pink-coloured soap, which he claimed improved the complexion. To demonstrate its efficacy he would grab a boy from the crowd and give him a violent 'washing' with it and then scrub him dry with the brown paper wrapping from the soap.
Another noted character was 'Doctor Green'. Wearing a frock coat and silk hat the 'Doctor' stood behind a bench covered with green baize. Before him was an array of bottles containing various kinds and sizes of worms preserved in spirit. He would give a solemn oration, intended to prove that worms were the curse of mankind. To lift that curse, he said, was his special prerogative, and in proof of his skill he would proudly point to the trophies, many of them still wriggling in their bottles. His remedy was Doctor Green's 'Elixir Pills' at one penny per box.
Then there was Phil Marks with his oranges. He would cut one in two, and lift it up to squeeze out the juice. 'Makes your mouth water, don't it' he'd say. In a booth at the side of the arena was Pea Ned's. He sold grey badgers (peas) at 1/2d a plate, and pea soup at 1/2d a basin, and penny oven cakes. Around three sides of his booth the floor of which was covered with sawdust, was narrow planking to serve as seating, and in the middle was a cinder fire.
The calls of the 'moveable' hawkers were many and varied. 'Long leather laces, penny a pair'. Proctor's 'erbal tablets for a cough or cold.' The best known of the hawkers however was Pie Jack. 'Pies al' 'ot lads, pies al' 'ot. Penny each, penny each.' He called them savoury trundles. Jack stood about five feet high and as he weighed fully sixteen stone, was almost as broad as long. Once, a navvy was so pleased with one of the pies that he asked Jack how much he would take to fill him. Jack looked at him and said he'd chance it for two bob. The navvy paid the two shillings, and by the time he had devoured a dozen pies several of Jack's regular customers were demanding attention. When Jack attempted to serve them the navvy intervened 'Ere, me lad' he said 'owd on a minute wal awve done.' Jack began to repent of his bargain, and at last had to ask the navvy how much he'd take to stop. The navvy replied 'Half a dollar.' Jack handed over the half crown with the remark. Well, tha' licks creation, tha does; 'ow many could tha' a gotten down, if A'd let thee?' 'Ah sud a bust if I'd etten another!' replied the navvy.
About where the game row is now stood some loose-box stables which were let out for catch-penny shows. 'Come and see the living wonder; a horse with its tail where its head ought to be.' Inside the show was a market carriers nag with its tail tied to the manger . As the disappointed patrons came out a man at the door drowned the noise of any protests with a large rattle, but generally the people said nothing, and allowed others to be taken in as they had been.
'Little John', writing in the Yorkshireman in 1884 describes some of the women, or 'lady salesmen' as he called them. There were flower girls, and fruit sellers, and 'one old woman, on the outside of the covered market who seems to live and have her being amidst overhanging fire-irons, and kettles and pans....who button-holes you and lets you know that if you want cheapness combined with quality, that is the shop for it.' He goes on: 'The ladies shine in many other divisions of labour in the market. You can see them industriously opening mussels and oysters; cutting ham into the finest possible shavings; making tea of the greatest strength from the smallest possible materials; selling trotters at the lowest price consistent with commercial profit; spreading the miraculous virtues of mint-rock, Shah-drops, almond toffy, and humbugs....pumping up out of the unknown depths of a barrel under the stalls gorgeously tinted beverages in yellow or pink....skinning rabbits with a rapidity unknown to the careful housewife.'
Archie Scarr was born in Burnley, Lancashire, in 1827, the son of a Methodist local preacher. The family came to Leeds when Archie was 13, and he and his father went into the fruit trade with a stall in Kirkgate Market. The business grew and there were branches of A W Scarr and Sons all over Yorkshire. He became a councillor in 1872, an Alderman in 1880, and was elected Lord Mayor of Leeds in 1887. But he still worked at the market, and would be seen walking up and down in front of his fruit stall with his old gag, 'Now then ladies, don't forget your figs, real scripture fruit.'
|Click images to enlarge|
Leeds on market day, 1860
Cartoon from the Yorkshireman, 1884
Flower girl, 1884
Flower stall, 1999
Fruit stall, 1884
Fruit stall, 1999
Old clothes seller, 1884
Interior of Kirkgate Market, 1904
New Fish Market, 1914