Jan Timson

Jan remembers

Leicester Market.

Mrs A.E. Clarke Leicester Market Trader: some memories by her granddaughter, Mrs Jan Timson

My grandmother lived in Kirby Muxloe and was taken into Leicester Market on Fridays and Saturdays and helped to set up by her husband or her son.

From an early age I regularly went with my father to help Grandma pack up at the end of the day, so I got to know many folk who had stalls near to her. I was fascinated by the huge wicker hampers with small solid iron wheels, into which many people carefully packed the various items they sold. As the hampers were rolled across the cobbles to the big doors which led to the storage space under the corn Exchange, the rumble was unmistakeable.

To me Leicester Market was an Aladdin’s cave from the late 1930’s through the 1940’s. My Grandmothers stall was on the main alley which was opposite the City Cinema. As you entered, the stall left displayed fur coats and stoles, (what a temptation to stroke), this stall belonged to Mrs Cohen a lovely middle-aged Jewish lady.

Opposite Mrs Cohen were the Reeder sisters who sold beautiful smart hats suitable to wear for weddings and special occasions.

Next to Mrs Cohen was a Jewish couple, the Frieders who sold toys, many of them mechanical tinplate toys. My grandmother was next to the Frieders.

Grandma sold gloves of many types, woollen gloves for children and general wear. Ladies and gents leather gloves. Gentlemen’s leather driving gloves lined with real fur. Gauntlets with leather palms a woollen lining and Astrakhan on the backs. Leather gloves had to be carefully fitted and my Grandma taught me how to ease them gently down children’s fingers, eventually I was trusted with fitting children’s gloves and removing them by gently pulling them from the tips.

If a lady or gent found a pair of leather gloves rather tight on the fingers a glove stretcher was brought into use to gently ease each finger to fit. Grandma also sold hats, very different to Impeys. She sold felt hats for everyday wear, mainly dark colours all of a similar style, the only decoration being a petersham ribbon of a matching colour with a flat bow. Hats could also be adjusted by my Grandma, she had a hat stretcher, a device which looked a bit like a head, with no features, which was in two parts. A long screw joined the parts together and could be wound to open the gap and stretch the hat which was on it. If a hat was too big tissue paper was folded into a long strip about 1-2 inches wide of a suitable thickness and inserted behind a petersham band inside the hat.

Grandma was a canny lady and if given a note to change, always held it in one hand whilst getting the change, if the customer said they were being short changed, Grandma would show them the note she had been given and say, “You will have to get up earlier than this to catch me out”.

Leicester Market was an exciting place for small children and I remember children and parents getting separated. Usually, the nearest stall holder would quietly approach the sobbing child, sooth them and stand them on their stall to look for their mother. I remember Grandma doing this and becoming very cross when the mother approached the child with a raised hand to administer a slap and a good telling off for getting lost. How the child howled then and my grandma would quietly but firmly admonish the mother. Other mothers were just the opposite and they cried as much as the child. When all was peaceful again Grandma explained to me that the angry mothers were probably just as frightened of losing their child as the weeping ones.

On the other side of the isle were more of my friends one in particular was Eric Keeber who sold clothes and allowed me to tap dance on his stall during packing up once there was a clear space. Eric loved to swim and encouraged me to aim to swim well. I had lessons at Vestry Street little bath from Mrs Bevan and when I learnt a new stroke, he gave 3d. for the first time I swam a width and 6d. for a length.

Mr Grant’s stall fascinated me, he sold various forms of underwear, mostly woollen, for everyone. My mother bought my liberty bodices from him, which I hated, also winter vests which made me itch. What I found most interesting were the gentlemen’s long coms which he had hanging up prominently in the centre of his stall, besides the fly at the front, they had a flap at the back which buttoned up, imagine the rest.

Many people living in the terraced houses of Belgrave and Highfields etc. had net curtains at their windows. The stall of Mr and Mrs Wainwright was the place to go to whether you wanted made to measure, ready made or the net to make your own, they supplied all you required as well as fittings needed. The curtains were hung up on display some had plain hems and some were trimmed with beautiful lace.

My mother made many of our clothes and I particularly remember visiting Mr Stafford on several occasions for a length of Navy Blue Pilot Cloth to make me a heavy warm winter coat. Other stalls sold dress fabric and some specialised in curtain fabric.

I remember hearing Lawrence Wright playing the piano near his music stall, before he had his shop on London road.