Tiverton Pannier Market Trader Completes A Family Circle

by Colin Harrow

The management of Tiverton Pannier Market in Devon has recently made significant strides in giving the market a higher profile in the town amongst both residents and visitors. And one of the things they have done is widen its customer appeal by bringing in a greater variety of stalls.

To help them do so local community group “Allies”who have organised a number of craft events in the area, approached the market with a plan to bring in crafters and help their own fundraising.  That’s why visitors to the market can now find me, a local artist, selling prints of my paintings alongside the fruit and veg.

But for me being a stall-holder in a market like Tiverton has a special significance that goes far beyond just being another outlet for my work which I usually sell through galleries or at local art and craft fairs and town shows.

In some ways it’s as if I’ve turned a full family circle as my late father when he was a 14-year-old in 1920’s London, began his working life in a market in Croydon.

So every time I set up my stall in Tiverton I can’t help wondering if he’s looking down and smiling at the coincidence. Particularly as I spent the whole of my working life as a journalist, retiring 14 years ago as Managing Editor of Mirror Group Newspapers.

I’m sure most people might  agree that the life of an editorial executive on a national newspaper, working closely with the likes of Robert Maxwell and Piers Morgan (let’s not go there!)  is somewhat removed from that of your average market trader. But having taking up painting since retirement that’s what I’ve now become.   Well at least on a Saturday.

So to explain how the circle has closed I’ll begin at the beginning because my father’s story is an interesting one in itself.

His mother, my grandmother, had a second-hand clothes stall in Croydon market at which, almost a century ago, nobody had regular pitches.

The traders would wait until the market manager unlocked the gates and then, with their table trestles over their shoulders, they’d run to grab the best space they could find.

As a fit 14-year-old dad was perfect for the job. In fact he did it so well another trader who’d seen him perform this role of “pitch getter” for gran decided dad was slightly more fleet of foot than he was.

So he asked my grandmother if “Jim” – that’s my dad – could get his pitch for him. And this is where the story gets interesting because the other trader’s name was a certain Jack Cohen whose specialised in selling unlabelled tins of fruits and veg.

You never knew if you’d get beetroots or peaches which was why Jack, or Sir John as he later became after he went on to found Tesco Stores, chose the title “Pile it High, Sell it Cheap” for his biography.

Jack and dad got on so well together it didn’t take long before he offered Jim the chance to run his stall and so it was dad who was enthusiastically doing the piling high and selling cheap.
jim-008And as Jack’s fortunes prospered Jim went with him, graduating from running stalls to becoming Tesco’s first transport and warehouse manager. It was during this time Jim met Peggy, Jack’s first office girl, and eventually my mum.

Jim and Peggy remained married for the rest of their lives, producing not just me but my brother Tony and sister Shirley who was named after Jack’s own daughter who, as Dame Shirley Porter was to become the leader of Westminster City Council.

Dad ended his career with Tesco’s as their retail executive at their headquarters in Delamare Road, Cheshunt, having managed various stores and later the first Tesco supermarket.

Jim always had a close relationship with the Tesco boss who was now literally a household name, and this continued with “Sir John” visiting my father in hospital where he was being treated for the cancer that eventually killed him.

Well dad, thanks to Tiverton Pannier Market and its manager Alan Ottey, plus “Allies” and all the other traders there who have made me feel so welcome, I’m still carrying on the family tradition of “piling it high” even if it’s prints of my paintings rather than unlabelled tins.

And although they might not be quite as cheap as what you were selling I hope the prices are still reasonable.