Back in the 1950s there used to be an open market in an area called The Morledge. It sat next to the art deco bus station on the land that now houses the County court and the hotel/casino and spanking new, yet characterless, bus station.
The open market was a splendid covered market full of Derby’s characters and good natured banter and tons of verbally competitive atmosphere abounded. It was built in 1933 and was focal point for most folk shopping in Derby town centre. In my childhood visits two old dossers used to slump in the corner of the market by the bins, billowing newspapers and rotting vegetation. They were often found drinking slyly (or sometimes obviously) in public and looked very red about the gills. The man was known as Bocker Wright the woman’s name I’m not sure of. They seemed to have a very booze driven volatile relationship with each other and both were rather malodorous.
On the pelican crossing to the market would be a policeman or ‘Bobby’ dressed in the police uniform of the day, all helmet, black jacket and big white gloves. To my childish perception of things they were all the kindly Dixon of Dock Green come to life.
Our family used to go to Radcliffe’s toy shop on Cockpit Hill to buy my toy soldiers and Airfix model airplanes and occasionally we would eat at The Boat fish and chip restaurant. My Dad told me that it was famous for its steak and kidney suet puddings. The visit to the café/restaurant was considered a big treat and yet it was only a posh version of a working man’s café. On the cobbled rise of Cockpit hill there was another small market but it was no match for the covered market on the Morledge or the Market Hall by the Guildhall and Market place around the corner.
The afore-mentioned covered Market Hall was a magnet for shoppers with many a fresh fruit and veg stall, at least a dozen butcher’s units, a fish market with its gleaming scales, watery floor and faintly fishy smell. On the outside of the market stood a few independent shops including one that specialised in tripe and onions and cow heel. Opposite the fishmonger’s market stood the premises of the original Derby Evening Telegraph newspaper. The entrance was very grand with polished floors and shiny brass fittings and rails and a sweeping staircase akin to an Opera house or theatre foyer which it may well have been in a former life.
There were several other places that we used to go shopping in town and remember, for those that know Derby, this was before the Eagle Centre ever got thought of or built in the 1970s. There was a real excitement about visiting the larger stores like Ranbys (now Debenhams), the cavernous Midland Drapery on Albion Street and the main Co-operative store on East street adjacent to the ABC cinema. Boots the Chemist used to stand on the far corner of East Street opposite Midland Drapery and on the second floor you could buy LP records. The first ever LP record purchases I bought there were Marie Osmond’s Paper Roses and the soundtrack from Godspell! Later on I got into early David Bowie and Leo Sayer.
Sadler Gate was a major but narrow shopping street with lots of individual shops like Roome’s the fishmonger , Dewhurst the butcher, a cobbler’s, an opticians, a barbershop with a barbers pole, a busy greengrocers owned by a man called Ted and a quaint smoky old newsagents amongst the other establishments like the reputedly haunted Old Bell Hotel. At Christmas time I loved going down this street to see the pretty Christmas lights and the fat turkeys hanging outside the butcher’s shop. Sadler Gate in those days wasn’t a car free zone and was always snarled up with delivery trucks and cars coursing through the town.
There was a weekly Saturday market on the Market Square as well as the open market by the bus station and it was extra-ordinarily busy considering all the other markets going on in Derby town.
As a family we seemed to find ourselves invariably drawn to Bennett the ironmongers on Iron Gate, usually to purchase those inevitable screws and nails and nuts and bolts my Dad always needed to buy and store away for a rainy day. Personally, I always loved to get a chance to haunt the only real bookshop in town which was Clulow’s and situated across the road from Derby’s cathedral in what is nowadays imaginatively known as The Cathedral Quarter. Clulow’s was an idiosyncratic little family run store and had the added excitement of being on two levels, street level and an underground section accessed down a metal spiral staircase. I think I got my love of books from haunting that place.
On St James Street stood the cavernous St James’ Street Post Office in an old fashioned, possibly Victorian, building with two big brass lights guarding the main entrance. Further back down St James’ Street stood Jimmy’s pub (just waiting until I turned 18 years old) and Birds the bakers.
Round the corner on the Cornmarket there was Rydes the Butcher’s, the Kardoma Café, the side entrance to the Market hall, Littlewood’s store, Lipton’s grocery store, three major banks and a jewellers. Around town there were a lot more independent shops that we see today and many of them had awnings that jutted out on to the street. On the main streets would run trolley buses with electrical poles that were connected to overhead power lines and sparked a lot. I recall there were at least half a dozen cinemas or ‘picture houses’ in the town centre too. Amongst the tobacconists, card shops, gift shops, cafes, wool shops, electrical goods shops, tailors, toy shops and florists were those typically British establishments that now sound so old fashioned, the haberdashery. People like my Mum still made their own clothes and knitting and embroidery were very popular past-times.
The shopping parades of Derby in the 1960s also had a lot of cake and pastry shops offering a choice of luscious cream cakes as a treat for the weekend. Post War rationing was over and treats were now welcomed with open shopping bags and purses.
A typical high street would be teeming with cyclists, some family cars, delivery vehicles and in Derby’s case the cream and green liveried Corporation double decked buses. Eventually the trolley buses would disappear from Derby’s streets. Old style telephone boxes and post boxes stood on most streets, the phone boxes utilising the old A and B coin slots for the pre-decimal coinage.
Nurses in capes and starched hats would be a familiar sight walking into town down London Road from the Royal Infirmary, only the older men wore hats in the street and sixties fashions were starting to add colour amongst the shopping crowds. Mini-skirts were even seen as quite daring and when hot pants came into fashion for the girls road accidents went up ten-fold.
On many a street corner stood the paper men selling the latest edition of the Derby Evening Telegraph or as their bellowing voices had it, “Telly graaaa! Eevin’ Telly graaaa!”