Keeping it local in Hertfordshire
The beautiful county town of Hertford is situated just over 19 miles north of Central London and has been the county town of Hertfordshire since Saxon times. Much of the town centre is a conservation area with some Tudor buildings and historic sites still remaining. The market charter was signed in 1680 and was formerly a major market for corn and other agricultural produce. Its proximity to London resulted in lucrative trading and a base for royalty and nobility to enjoy country life and sport. Its range of independent shops and the absence of a modern shopping centre with major stores make it an ideal setting for the local weekly market and monthly farmer’s market.
Hertford market takes place every Saturday and Hertford farmers market the 2nd Saturday in the month, both of which are operated by East Herts Council. They meander through a number of streets in the town and are easily recognised by their smart green and white striped canopies.
I met up with Tilly Andrews, Economic and Tourism Development Officer who explained the plans that they have for the market and what they have done to help keep the market buzzing. She explained that the smart looking canopies had been purchased as part of a grant that they had been awarded and she wanted to ‘tidy everything up a bit.’ Tilly would like to have some permanent signage for the market, possibly in the form of wall plaques, that would depict its history and other ideas include sponsoring planters.
Tilly and her team have come up with lots of ideas to keep the market fresh, support the traders and to encourage new and existing customers to visit. Many of these have been centred around offpeak times to help boost trade and morale. These have included farmer’s markets on non market days and some that have been themed, a mystery shopper event, discounted rent in December, a sausage competition during national sausage week and during ‘Love your local market week’, they teamed up with a local independent café to give traders a £5 voucher.
She said, ‘Our weekly market brings a great atmosphere to the town which our monthly farmers market compliments giving an even greater choice for shoppers. With encouragement and advice from NABMA and their CE Graham Wilson and support from William Ashley the Vice President of NABMA, we are proud of our market today and are building on this for the future.’
The farmer’s market has been firmly established now for twelve years and is a member of FARMA, and they are keen to follow the FARMA criteria. Situated in Market Place, it functions alongside the weekly Saturday market, using the same canopies creating a complementary and integrated shopping experience. They have their own group which is chaired by William Ashley.
There are approximately twenty traders and most are based within a twenty mile radius, with the majority within ten. The market is open from 08:30 – 13.00 and features produce from local livestock, poultry and dairy farmers, together with fruit and vegetables, honey, preserves and bakery products from the countryside surrounding Hertford. The council supplies the stalls which were financed by a grant from the former East of England Development Agency.
Probably one of the biggest character’s in the market is Ronnie, The Hertford Porker. This isn’t a derisive insinuation to his size but a reference to the name of his sausages he makes. Ronnie used to work for a famous Hertfordshire sausage maker and was fortunate enough to purchase a batch of seasoning from a previous mix, which he had analysed and is now the secret ingredient to his successful bangers. The group were able to help Ronnie get on to the market and also helped source funding for his chilled van. Ronnie produces his sausages and bacon at Foxhole’s farm which also sell on the market. They have recently won awards in Hertfordshire for the best farmers market stall. They breed their own beef and pork and source the rest of their meat locally.
They are one of several meat specialists. Redwinter Wild Game process all their meat products themselves that are all hunted locally. Some of their more unusual products include squirrel and pigeon burgers. Pete Gear of Highbury Farm is known as ‘the lamb man’. Not only does he sell meat but also sheepskin rugs, slippers and gloves. By the end of trading most of his meat was sold. Laurie Beetles of North End Farm, Buntingford has been with the market from the beginning He enjoys the banter amongst the traders and said ‘my animals are like children to me.’
Also with the market from the beginning is vegetable grower Alan Wells, from Wells and Son, who only sells what he grows and he also supplies a lot of the ingredients for Perks Pickles.
Perks Pickles came about because Barbara Perkiss’ husband complained about shop bought piccalilli, so she made her own. She retired from the London commute, set up four years ago and now has 28 lines including her new range of oils and salad dressings. She tries to source all her ingredients locally, including Wells and The Soft Fruit Farm who trade alongside them; this helped to make her a Hertfordshire farmer’s market finalist. She has a loyal customer base that even bring back their empty jars for recycling and has just gained her first export customer, wanting pickled onions sent to the US!
Competing in the chutney challenge is jam maker Chris of Heavenly Homemade. Unlike Barbara, she works full time and the market is a hobby for her. This was only her second outing to Hertford but she has been selling her jam and chutney at other local markets and was delighted to get an email about her chutney after her first week here. Trumping all in the accolade stakes is a small nursery called Daisy Roots that specialises in cottage garden perennials. This year they have won three RHS Silver Gilt awards, with one coming from Chelsea and owner Steve had these proudly displayed on his stall.
Ann of Linny’s Larder joined the market just over two years ago as a new business. She attended a business start-up unit which the Council part fund called WENTA and from there became a new trader. She specialises in traditional bakes with a twist, with a particular focus on gluten and dairy free alternatives which came about through her sister’s intolerance to gluten.
Baked goods in the form of sweet and savoury items and bread are also available From the Old Swan Tea Shop Stall. Jayne’s parents own the shop and she looks after the stall. Some of what the shop sells makes it way to market, others are made specifically. Jayne introduced a new line of scotch eggs which she had sold out of by 9.15.
If it’s more traditional cakes you’re after then Alice and Gina are the people to visit. Alice’s cakes and jams were WI favourites and now her hobby has become a little business. They have regular customers and even take orders.
Some of the more unusual purveyors on the market were Hertford and Ware Beekeepers Association who not only sold local honey but wild flower seeds and beeswax products including, candles, polish and cosmetics. Coffee obviously isn’t a local produce but the beans are roasted locally and ground to the customer’s specification before being sealed in double laminated bags. Also not local is The Cheese Teller. They specialise not only in cheese but the very finest Italian produce. Filippo Volpe is Sicilian and travels by motorbike around Italy sourcing the very best produce he can find from small producers. Although they had to get special consideration to trade on the farmers market, they have a close relationship with each of their specialist suppliers and are proud of the traceability of their produce.
The market operates in various streets throughout the town and at its height it also ran further in to Bull Plain. The road is such that this could happen again and the Council are exploring a traffic regulation order.
Salisbury Square has been built up as a small food market where the green grocer, fishmonger, bread and cakes, cheeses, olives and eggs are sold; all are non-farmer’s market products. The farmer’s market is adjacent, giving more choice to the customers. Some of these traders, namely the fishmonger, greengrocer and butcher also trade on a Friday. This was something that Tilly set up to help the people of Hertford as the independent shops selling these goods had all closed.
One of these was Claydon’s, who have been selling fresh fish in Hertford for 80 years. John Claydon decided to close the shop and try the market ten years ago and has customers queuing to buy his produce throughout the day.
Green Grocer Mark Wilson has been trading at Hertford for three years, but with 25 years under his belt. His stall dominates the square and is always busy with people filling their baskets with his fruit and vegetables.
Keith of Price Meats has 35 years of trading, twelve of them at the market. His trade is boosted by the fact that he is now the only butcher in the town, he told me that twenty years ago, there used to be six Brownbread’s stall has something to entice just about everybody. They have a vast range of artisan breads, cakes, savouries, baked goods and cheesecakes. The stall is beautifully presented and Pauline and Greg obviously take pride in what they sell for proprietor Michael Brown. I suspect this has been partly responsible for their expansion from one to three stalls.
Completing the food square (the olive stall was absent) is the ‘Egg Man’. Norman Benson’s parents started selling eggs at Hertford over 40 years ago. As well as conventional hen’s eggs, Norman also sells duck, pullet and rare breed eggs.
Away from food, the market has a number of traditional market purveyors. Little Orchard Nurseries sell a range of outdoor plants, 90% of which they grow themselves.
Matt Wesley’s offerings have expanded with the size of his stall in the last twenty years. His most recent addition to his hosiery and soft furnishings is pet beds and accessories. His friendly face and customer skills earned him the accolade of ‘Mystery Shopper Champion’.
Robert Waters have been selling bagged sweets to generations of Hertford families for 21 years and has a strong, loyal customer base.
Richard has been trading at Hertford for six years, initially selling children’s clothes. He couldn’t compete with the high street and switched to hardware and household goods in April. Despite most of his stock being priced at just £1, he is delighted to be making a profit and he was busy serving the whole time I was there.
Also keeping his prices low is John Smith who sells cards, puzzle books and velvet colouring boards. His cards are just 50p and puzzle books £1. He commented, ‘Nothing is over £1.50 but I have a good turnover and it’s worth doing’
Ian at the neighbouring pet stall got ‘talked in to doing this’ a year ago, he trades at several other local markets but Hertford is his ‘best day of the week’
Jason Godfrey was busy replacing batteries in watches on his parent’s stall which he now runs when I visited. They have been specialising in selling and repairing watches at the market for eight years.
David and Troy of R Kells have been selling male clothing from their stall for just six weeks and are hopeful that a dry summer will ‘give them a good run.’
Jenny Jones clearly loves what she sells and this is apparent in the presentation of her colourful bags baskets and scarves. The baskets are fair trade and the shopper and felt bags handmade, but all very competitively priced.
Other stalls included a cut flowers and ladies fashions but the traders weren’t available to speak with at the time.
What is evident at Hertford is that a lot of work has been put in by traders and the council to work together to produce a vibrant, buzzing market. If you would like to join them, contact Steve Knights on 07860112443.