Fringe Box



North Street Market Buzzing With Characters And History

Published on: 7 Dec, 2020
Updated on: 7 Dec, 2020

By Hugh Coakley

If you need to get away from online shopping, the buzzing North Street market is a great place to shop.

Busy day on North Street market. People are being careful with social distancing.

It’s not just the fresh fruit and vegetables, cakes, bread, watch repairs, jewellery, coffee and wine every Friday and Saturday, it is the experience and being part of something that has been in North Street for over a century. All the traders know each other and many of them have been there for generations.

“It’s good value for money and good quality as well,” said one customer.

Heidi Jones of Heidi’s Flowers with Heather Hayles enjoying a joke. “I love it here. I have customers who first came as children,” said Heidi.

Heidi Jones from Heidi’s Flowers said she had run her stall for 43 years. She came from Switzerland to learn English, working as a parlour maid and then cook for Field Marshal Montgomery. (See: Flowerseller Heidi Celebrates 40 Years As A Guildford Market Stallholder)

But, back to the market: “I love it here. I have customers who first came as children. Now they are bringing their children.”

Bradley Martin and his dad, Peter, are fourth-generation greengrocers. “It’s in my blood. It has been hard since Aldi opened but it’s what I do,” said Bradley

The calls from the greengrocers and other stallholders, letting the passing customers know about their latest bargain are part of the attraction, something unheard in a supermarket.

And it is starting to be a bit Christmassy with wreaths, mulled wine and brussels sprouts appearing. If it all goes to plan, the market will be there for the whole week before Christmas as well.

Gary Erricker on Floral Fusion said: “Guildford market is the best”.

Gary Erricker on the Floral Fusion stall said his family had been serving customers since 1928.

He traces his family right back to the Hone family who were famed on the market, and then the Crisps. “Guildford market is the best,” said Gary. “The people, the quality of the stalls and the way it is run. We get on well with the council and they let us get on with it.”

Dave Smith of Virgo Watch, Clock and Jewellery Repairs is looking for extra staff on Thursdays from 7am to 4pm. He said they have never been busier.

Steve Smith having a laugh on the Virgo stall.

Customers are equally enthusiastic. “They are brilliant,” was an unsolicited plaudit from two customers at Virgo Watch, Clock and Jewellery Repairs.

Run by father and son team, Dave and Steve Smith, they have been trading here for nearly 25 years. Dave said: “This is a lovely market. We are much busier than we ever used to be.”

The market used to have many more fruit and veg stalls said Chris Gaish of The Fruit Machine, adding: “Guildford is a busy market, it must be as there are three fruit and veg stalls here all doing good business.”

The Fruit Machine owner Chris Gaish said: “Get here first thing in the morning – the stall looks fantastic.”

They all buy their produce from the Western International Market near Heathrow and it is an early start to the day to get it all fresh. Chris worked on the North Street market before he started The Fruit Machine more than 13 years ago. “It would be good if the council helped a bit more with the parking,” he added – more in hope than expectation.

Unique Fruit started home deliveries during the lockdown and has continued the valued service since.

Emma Findlay from Unique Fruit said the quality is better than supermarkets “and we’re friendlier.”

Further up the street, Unique Fruit has its stall. Trading there for about 30 years, Emma Findlay is part of the family that owns the business. It went online during the lockdown and it has become a valued part of its service. Emma said: “I love the customers, I love the rapport.

“People are steering clear of the supermarkets. There’s no comparison with the quality and we’re friendlier.”

The Wild Fish Project gets it fish fresh from Dorset. Susanna Johns, mother of the owner Jack Johns, was running the stall on Saturday.

No market would be complete without a cake stall and owners Suke and Tom Wibaut stall, Butter and Cream Cakes is terrific.

Josh, son of the owners Suke and Tom Wibaut, on the Butter and Cream Cakes stall serving a very grateful customer (me) with some wonderful brownies.

As is the “Best coffee in Guildford,” said Lewis Dixon at the Marie Coffee stall run by Olufemi Sodiya.

The Marie Coffee stall, run by Olufemi Sodiya, has been in the North Street market for a year. “Best coffee in Guildford,” said customer Lewis Dixon.

Right at the top of the market, Aliona Braileanu serves on the Moldovan Wine stall. Offering mulled wine and chatting with customers, Aliona said that they were looking for new markets since lockdown and came to North Street in June 2020 to “spread the word.”

She said there was a waiting list to move to the busier part of the market, but she was happy that people were getting to know their wines. “You can’t find these great wines anywhere else,” she said.

Moldovan Wine stall is run by Aliona Braileanu. “I love the market here, lots of people,” said Aliona.

The traders were enthusiastic about the town and the market. But to last so long, it has to give people what they want for them to keep coming back.

Customer Chris Wall from Dorking summed it up. He comes to Guildford most weeks for the market and said: “Guildford is a lovely town and it’s a good market. Good value for money and good quality as well.”

You can’t say fairer than that.

A bit of history of the North Street market…

For centuries Guildford has traditionally been the market town for West Surrey.

Markets were originally held in the High Street and later in North Street that included the sale of livestock as well as fruit and vegetables.

The North Street market of today has its origins in an end-of-week market that was reintroduced to the town after the First World War.

North Street and its market in full swing in about the 1960s.

Many people took to growing their own produce owing to the dire food shortages during the First World War. Land was made available for people to cultivate allotment gardens.

Some growers, who were producing more than their families’ required, wanted to sell their surplus for a small profit, and this is when stalls began appearing in North Street, the first day of trading being August 29, 1919.

Within a few years, there were traders applying for pitches who wished to sell goods besides fruit, veg and flowers. The council decided to allow them, but traders had to live within a 10-mile radius of the borough of Guildford.

Gradually these rules were relaxed, as well as the hours the market was open for business. By the 1930s, North Street on a Saturday night was alive with street traders selling all manner of goods from china, glass, clocks, watches, jewellery to second-hand items, and sweets and toys alongside the obligatory fruit and vegetables.

They were the days of Garcia – known as the “Chocolate King” and a trader by the name of Marks who sold cloth, fabrics and army boots!

The Saturday night markets did not last and by the 1950s the Friday and Saturday daytime markets were exclusively fruit, vegetables and flowers.

North Street market in the 1960s. Picture by Dave Salmon (Geoff Burch collection) and included with more images of the market on the new double DVD set Dave Salmon – a Man and his Camera Part 2 – Guildford. See story elsewhere on this website, or go to Rambling Railwayman Books.

In 1979, Guildford Borough Council gave the North Street Market Traders’ Association permission for a one-year trial to allow traders to sell other goods.

One of the first was George Hone who set up a stall selling toys, electrical goods and even slimming aids.

At the beginning of 2001, the market had fallen to five fruit stalls and three flower stalls, among several other traders. But it has certainly increased in size since then and many hope it will continue to prosper.

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