STREET MARKETS – Why don’t we have one?

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It’s true to say surely, a lot of us enjoy visiting street markets. In London; Camden Market, Petticoat Lane and Portobello spring to mind but there are others, and when on holiday in Europe or anywhere else, a trip to the local flea market and a stroll through the stalls is a must, invariably stopping to purchase an item or two. Yuletide is approaching, Christmas markets can be found everywhere these days and no doubt, many on the Rock are already planning to choose which one to visit this year; will it be Germany, Austria, one in a Scandinavian country or perhaps a trip across the pond to a market in New York? Christian festivals and celebrations aside, there would be something amiss on my part if I failed, whilst on the subject of street or outdoor markets, to mention the often visited markets or ‘souks’ in Tangier and especially Marrakech, the ones up the coast and the obvious one next door in La Linea frequented by many of us on a Wednesday, ‘El Miercole Loco!’ So, with all those markets, souks, bazaars and stalls floating around in my head, I ask myself: ‘where is ours?’

In the 1900s, there was a daily Jewish Market set up in John Mackintosh Square – formerly the Piazza and even earlier, known as Commercial Square or, ‘El Martillo’ during those years: ‘El Martillo’ or The Hammer, was also a place where public auctions were held and as a ‘flea market’ selling antiques, curios and any number of items. It ran for many years up to the outbreak of WW2 in 1939. So what happened to the street market tradition on the Rock where everywhere else the custom has continued to exist and, it seems, flourish! Well, a number of attempts have been made to get them going again: we’ve had them on the boulevard in Line Wall Road, north of the Leisure Centre, running along the north side of John Mackintosh Square, in Cannon Lane, by the Public Market on Fish Market Road and even at Camp Bay. Those are a few that come to mind, however, there are one or two smaller markets where collectors’ arts and crafts or individuals’ unwanted goods at car boot sales are up for sale, which are held regularly around the city and seem to be doing quite well, if they weren’t, they’d close shop and go home wouldn’t they? St Andrews Church have one every now and then, there’s also a Sunday market at Ocean Village and a very successful car boot sale at Morrison’s car park is held periodically organised by the Rotary Club. We also have the second-hand charity shops in Irish Town by Sterling Travel and the Club House charity outlet in Wellington Front.

Tony Rocca organises a Saturday morning Paintings and Arts and Crafts set-up in Casemates Square which, despite there being provision for 14 well-presented stalls, rarely pulls off a ‘full house…!’ “I put in a lot of work during the years talking to Culture Ministers and eventually got it up and running.” It seems successive governments had been reluctant to allow a market set-up because of the scruffy state many of them were in, selling everything under the sun. “Here, we have identical tables with matching umbrellas, only selling paintings and handicrafts, and everyone cleans up when they leave. You would be surprised how many people approach the stalls and often purchase an item, especially when the cruise ships are in port.”

There is another individual, however, who’s determined to get the ‘traditional street market ball rolling’ once again with absolutely no intentions of giving up. Charles Culatto has been at it for many years chasing antiques and old pieces of furniture from many households and stores; “I was involved in the ‘Anything Goes’ store in City Mill Lane many years ago and I’ve set up a number of stalls in Horse Barrack Court. I also ran the Boulevard market where 120 individuals came on board and had stalls. I’ve always been interested in antiques and curios and I’m sure things can pick up again.” Charlie’s had his eye on Turnbull’s Lane – off Main Street up by the Venture Inn and Khubchands at the other end – for a long time and has eventually started to move in, “Yes, it’s been a slow start but slowly but surely, I’m sure we can make a go of it. The lane has been spruced up over many months and there’s more to do with one or two developments on the cards and a couple of businesses starting up here also. It’s a good place to start because it’s out of the way right here, literally just off Main Street.”

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To my mind, one of the key factors in making it a success is whether governments come on board also, offering support by laying down rules with smart, standardised stalls, advertising and simply encouraging the idea to evolve. So many of us have items of clothing and other bits and pieces we no longer require. Some of us already set up at the Morrison’s car park boot sales when they take place, so I’m sure the more entrepreneurial amongst us would consider having a weekly, twice-weekly or permanent stall in an appointed area for a street market; “This is our second year here. You only need to pay £2.50 for your licence fee, storage is provided and I can provide you with everything you need. I’m joined by just Ian and Francis at present but I’m sure more will come. In the summer, we were setting up on Tuesdays and Thursdays, selling second hand home possessions and knick knacks, but on occasions, I would display some antiques and that’s what I’m sure would give the market a boost – more antiques.” And you certainly can’t say Charlie doesn’t give it a real try, he’s very enthusiastic about the prospects of an up and running street market, if not in Turnbull’s Lane, elsewhere in town.

So, will we one day have a permanent street market just like everywhere else in the world, or could one of the reasons for them being so short lived on the Rock be, that being such a small community living so close to one another and everyone knowing everyone else prevents us from wanting to be seen buying second hand items – other than antiques – like clothing and other goods? Charlie’s not giving up. Good luck!

old photos | Tito Vallejo