Barrow in Furness’s original Covered Market was built for the Furness Railway Company in 1864 but was bought by Barrow Council in 1874. The site of the Indoor and Outdoor Markets had been the brainchild of Sir James Ramsden, who had earmarked the location in a master plan he drew up in 1856.
Establishing a Market had become vital after thousands of people had flocked to the town to work in the iron, railway and ship building industries located there. In the 1850s, Barrow and its surrounding hamlets only had around 600 inhabitants but by 1871, the population had swelled to 18,901.
Imagine the impact of the Market on local people in 1866. It was the largest indoor space most of them had ever seen,with a wide range of goods, all under one roof. Inside there was a huge array of goods and services from exotic fruits to haberdashery, fresh vegetables to suits and rolls of fine cloth to a gun range. Barrow’s rapid growth gained the town something of a reputation, seeing it described as ‘a combination in appearance of Birkenhead and a gold finders city on the edge of the western prairies of America’ Given the town’s prospects there were high hopes for the new Market. The Barrow Herald reported ‘With respect to accommodation, we do not suppose there is a better Market Square between Preston and Carlisle’
Leading from the aisle nearest the old Town Hall was the Butter Market. This lay directly underneath the front of the Hall. The stalls sold not only butter but eggs, poultry, shrimp and flowers. Most of the traders travelled from Flookburgh, Baycliff or Bardsea and the goods were of the finest quality and always fresh.
Farmers’ wives from all over the district sat with stalls piled high with pats of farm-made butter, home produced eggs and fowls killed the night before. The Market was truly a new experience for the people of Furness. Many soon became aware that, as there was no means of refrigeration in those days, butchers
had nowhere to store their produce so were obliged to sell off everything that remained, at lower prices, at the end of each Market day. This resulted in crowds of people waiting until the end of trading to grab a ‘last minute bargain’.A quote from Nella Last in 1941 (her famous diaries were made into a popular TV series Housewife 49, 2006) reads, ‘I loved the Market and the joyous spirit there, a meet-afriend- and-have-a-chat, even when there was no money for bargains’.
There were many colourful characters trading at the Market, the ‘Celery King’, he sold white heart celery for 1s (one shilling) per root, selling hundreds of roots each day, a unique character and offer by contemporary standards. Many people will remember his white toupee and they will nostalgically recall the tender, crisp, white stalks endowed with generous-sized heartsof snowy white that one would really enjoy.
The old Market became a vital hub in Barrow, playing an important role in the lives of hundreds of thousands of working people for over a hundred years. Its fortunes were always linked to those of the town itself, in both the boom and bust years. There are many long-standing traders who operated in both the Old Market and who are still present in the New Market; Parkers’ Furnishings (52 years), Harts the Jewellers (70 years), Hilda’s Egg Stall (52years), Dunn’s Trimming Stall (54 years) and Robson’s (100 years).
The new Market, still at the heart of the town, continues the tradition of welcoming shoppers from Barrow and beyond. It is fitting that it was one of the six finalists in the NABMA Britain’s Favourite Market awards.
The photographs in this feature were kindly supplied by The Mail Archive, Barrow Local Archive and Studies Centre and the Robson Family.