Stall holders want return of ‘hustle and bustle’ at Romford Market
12:00 11 May 2014
Back in the days of cobbled streets and thieving monkeys, stall holders’ cheeky sales pitches were part of the fabric of Romford Market.
Though the words echoing around the 270-stall square in the 1950s and 60s may not have been understood by shoppers travelling from outside the East End, local punters thrived on the “hustle and bustle” that came with market day.
So how does it compare in 2014? As the current crop of stall holders - some stalwarts, some new faces - battle against dwindling footfall, many have called for a return to the “good old days,” when a sense of humour was an essential part of their work.
“You had terrific characters,” said Tony Luscombe, who has been working on stalls for 57 years, starting out as a child helping his grandparents, when you could buy a “puppy dog for one and six or two bob.”
“We need people coming in and we need to take it back to the way it was. That was what people came for, the characters, the hustle and bustle and the banter.
“Mickey Monkey bought and sold bananas, they used to call him the banana king of Romford, and he had a grass monkey that would run up and down the stall and nick things out of womens purses or eat bananas.”
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When it opened in 1247, the market was originally for the sale of sheep, and under a Royal Charter of the Liberty of Havering, granted by King Henry III, no other market is permitted to set up within a day’s sheep drive (six and two-thirds of a mile) of Romford.
Local resident Chris van Holby recalls vividly the times he would visit with his mother: “From the mid 1950s my mum took me to Romford Market and I remember all the smells and sounds. The stallholders used to shout out their wares and it became magical when it got dark and you could hear the hiss of the hurricane lamps.
“It was never quite as refined as ‘who will buy my fine ripe oranges’, rather more like ‘lovely taters a bob a pound’.
“The one that sticks in my mind, right though the 60s, was the man who stood at the market end of the arcade shouting ‘all linen and latex, arf a dollar a time’, he was selling ironing board covers.”
Robert L, posting on Streetlife, also recalled, and deciphered, an old cry: “I think this one was in the 1950s - ‘I qwait haliby cavity’ - translated it means height weight and vitality. This man would guess your weight and when you got on the scales he was usually correct.”
Another poster, Irene C, told of a visiting German professor who was “delighted” with the traders’ cries: “He said it was straight out of Chaucer’s England,” she wrote.
The charm of decades gone by has not been lost on all of the new workers though, and Jay Sprought, is in fine voice as he encourages customers to buy his fruit and vegetables.
His cries of “Don’t be suspicious - try the strawberrys, they’re bloody delicious,” and “ole ole ole don’t be a wally, come and get your collywobs [cauliflowers]” have shades of the market’s heydey.
“Ten years ago you couldn’t walk down these roads and now no one wants to spend the money - and no one has got the banter anymore,” he said.
One person who will be looking to ensure the old-fashioned cockney charm is not lost on future generations is eight-year-old Darcie Mudd, whose sales pitches defy her years.
“Come on boys and girls, come and get some towels. They’re thicker than my brother,” she shouts. Maybe there’s hope after all.