Update : Jim’s Haberdashery closed in the market in 2017 and Marie Payne  sadly passed away in December 2020.

Marie Payne, 86, spoke to me about working in the original market hall up to its demolition and how market life has changed over the years. Her daughter Annie Hall still works on Jim’s haberdashery which has now traded for 45 years in the current market

“I was born in Heywood Lancashire (1929)  I lived there until I was 9-year-old. Then I went to live in Rochdale and we had a shop there, hardware and crockery and I worked there until I was married. (1951) She had met her husband to be, Jim, during the war years “we used to go out dancing. We used to go out to Sunday school there used to be about a dozen of us .He went in the army just after the war, he had to do his two years national service”

She was 15 when the war ended. “First, the two schools had to join together…what I hated what was having to put a gas mask on. We had to go down into the cellar and put the gas masks on” In the war 2 bombs hit Rochdale “I remember the doodlebugs coming over towards the end of the war, they went… drone drone… and when the engines stopped you knew they were going to drop.. but they didn’t drop on Rochdale they dropped on Oldham”

“I went to live in Wardle, just outside Rochdale, it was only a little village. Life in the 50s was “very good… we had the postmaster and the postman, and one was Labour, and one was Conservative and nobody ever voted because they got in every time. If you wanted anything, if you missed the postman, you’d go to the post office, and they’d call up for a doctor or anything you wanted. Of course, when these new houses were built, everything changed.. She remembers the “knocker upper”… for those that worked in the mills at the time. “They had long sticks, and to wake you up, they used to knock on your window, when they had to be there at 6 in the morning. “I was in the shop, and we had a gas light outside the shop and the gas man used to come round and light it

Jim was running a shoe repair shop and eventually he took up a stall in Chester market, selling shoes and slippers in the late 1950s. During this time Marie had 2 children, Susan and Annie. Her son David was born in 1962. Marie would help on the stall on a Saturday or during school holidays.

The original market hall

She describes the journey from Rochdale as “Horrendous! Coming to Chester coming in the car from Rochdale. “We used to have these skips at the back of the stall, and when David were a baby we used to bring him and put him in the skips to sleep!” she laughs. She has few memories of contemporary Chester ” we didn’t really go out much” but she did take the children to the swings on Frodsham St.

She describes the atmosphere inside the market: “Very cold, flagged floors it was like an alleyway and then the main market, and you started at the end of this alleyway where there were hardly any customers, and if anyone come in, we’d do “shut the door . The wind used to blow everything off. We gradually moved up to the middle of the market. People used to come in at weekends for all the vegetables, there weren’t the supermarkets then…all of the farmers and that . You worked your way up to the centre of the market it was a big lofty place, but it was at the front it used to be next to the town hall.


Friday was known as “Oddie day. On a Friday we had crowds waiting for us. We used to go to the factory where the slippers and sandals were made, and all the shoes that were damaged, the odd ones, he used to buy, and we used to bring them in on a Friday morning and tip them onto the stall. People would come each week to see if they could match them up, they used to be a shilling a foot! The infirmary was across the road, and they used to send them over if they had a broken leg and wanted an odd shoe. I’m not joking, this is real!”

“Front of the market was all the stalls, farmers and those that sell eggs and chickens and that, the market gardeners. It was always busy! There were plenty of character! We used to go to Jones Cafe to get hot water. There was a man next to us, I think he came from St Helens, he sold jumpers and that. He used to have sugar in his tea, and we never had sugar, we used to say to him, do you want a cup of tea? “yes, I’ll have one and I’ll suck a sweet at the same time” she laughs

“Next to us we had Harry with the key cutting- its Amandas now (in current market) and Frank and Margaret with clothing… If you weren’t busy and the next stall was, you went and helped on their stall. There were no falling out, it were really friendly! The Pet stall,they had birds and fishes and all kinds of stuff, there weren’t as much control on them as there is today”

“They were clothing, toys, handbags, key cutters, curtains , Jones had a lot of curtains, pots , everything you could think of. At the other end was all food, it was more or less divided into two,

“Just before we moved, he sold a lot of bits, shoelaces and all that. He was retiring and going to live down Bournemouth and he had this box of zips, and he said to Jimmy, “take these and if you don’t double your money, I’ll give you your money back” That’s how we got into haberdashery in the first place, and just before we moved into the new market, and the zips we used to sell a penny an inch then! The sewing cotton went up from 6pence to 6pence 1/2p, and we said we “won’t bother putting them up until we move into the new market…so they stayed at 6 pence, and now they’re £1.60, how different is that!”

Of the new market she says ” we knew for a long time …we thought it might be better it might be worse, you can’t tell until you’ve been in .. where the forum is now, that was where the old market was… it was all building works after that because they were building the Forum.

Annie Hall remembers the opening day of the new market, 1968:  “when the Mayor came, in the middle of opening it, one of the fans fell out of the ceiling!”

Marie: “we decided then, we had half of the stall with slippers and half with haberdashery, but gradually the haberdashery took over” Her daughter Annie moved to Chester grammar school when the family moved to Chester and the family lived in the Garden quarter “I liked it but I missed all my friends because we lived in the village where we lived, everybody knew everybody. you never thought of locking your doors, the milkman used to come and put your milk on the table, it was a different life all together.”

Marie feels Chester hasn’t changed much since then “Just like it is now I think! It was quite busy, the traffic used to go down the centre of the town, the infirmary, before they built flats there. We used to go out a bit, Top Rank bingo (now Mecca) had a lot of friends there, we used to go to parties and dancing at each other’s houses.” She recalls building of Grosvenor shopping centre but says “they can’t really change the centre much. I mean they’ve changed the ring road, it used to be all these little houses… it was all tiny streets when we first went in… that’s changed a heck of a lot!””

Her son David was a chef in a private school in Wales during the 80s before he joined the family business. “Lots of changes, the people next to us, Frank and Joseph. they were all friendly, we used to go out for a Christmas party together, which they don’t  now, gradually different ones came, I suppose they didn’t really know the market, they weren’t like old market people, like me I was born in a business, all me life. Others didn’t seem to want to join in”

Over time the market became “Very less busy.. when they opened at first you couldn’t GET a stall, you used to have to queue up where the clock is and wait to see if nobody came in at ten o clock, the stalls that were empty they used to allocate to the people waiting, some never got on, they used to come week after week… all the middle part on Friday and Saturday, the farmers, selling chickens and eggs and all that… The supermarkets changed all that…

“I used to like talking to everybody and that . You don’t seem to talk to many of the stallholders like you used to do I had a retirement party when I was 65, I’m 86 now, 20 odd years ago and I’m still there!”

One of her fondest memories is the Lord Mayors parade in the 90s “I think we did it for two years and both years we won the first prize. A friend of ours, next doors to one, he made an exact replica of the clock, exactly right, and we had it in the middle. Every stall had to put a bit of something we sold on it. On Friday night they stayed in the market late dressing all the wagon up. One year we did Victorian themed… “quite a few of them were dressed up… after that because there was people on the wagon, they stopped us doing it because there was so much insurance. Best dressed wagon for two years on the run!” she says proudly.

Another highlight offered by Annie is ” people coming in telling us they’ve seen one of the cleaners ghosts in the loading bay! Do you remember that?

” No” says Marie.

She enjoyed the transition of moving in from the old market to the new market… it was very busy, people used to come in to have a look at the new market. Now you see they’ve taken half the market away, it will be worse than ever when the bus station goes” Looking back she speaks fondly of her old market neighbours “we used to go out a lot together, to see shows and for meals. We made a lot of good friends!” She travelled extensively with Jim before his death “we’ve been to America a few times, Mexico, Spain… we broke down in Death Valley in America, that were scary!”

I ask Marie about the future and if markets still have a role to play.

“I hope it starts picking up, but I can’t see how when we’ve no bus station… and building work will be going on all around. We’ve no idea what’s going on to happen, we don’t know what it’s going to be like if they put us in a new market… we just have to hope…I don’t know, some markets are going really well, and others are just… there’s more not doing well. It does depend I think on the council. I don’t know…

No regrets with the 1996 Lord Mayor’s parade cup

“I’ve enjoyed myself. I’ve no regrets at going into the markets. We’ve had more good times than bad times. “.. With 2 of her family now running Jim’s “it’s up to them how they manage now!”

3 Replies to “Market memories”

  1. I was delighted to read this report . And to see a mention of jones cafe . May jones was my mum and she loved the old market and the people in it she had a heart of gold and I miss her so much very fond memories of old market and new market when I was s lityle girl . Thank you so much for making my day x

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