Childhood Memories of Market Day, Newport by ‎Rosemary Susan Wigley

Items in this story:

I grew up in South Wales in the 1950s. I have written down my memories of growing up on my fathers market garden, my schools, including Sunday school and Newport market where my mam sold our flowers and produce. I am wondering if anyone remembers Newport in the 1950s and even morre interesting bought flowers from my mam. MARKET DAY When I was old enough mam used to take me to market on a Saturday and during the school holidays. It was a very early start. Mam and dad got up about 5 o’clock to pack the flowers into boxes and baskets. The Dilly was loaded up and I was called at the last minute to quickly get dressed. The Dilly resembled a camping trailer about 3ft by 3ft with a big pram-like handle and two big wheels. I walked with my mam holding on to the handle helping to push the Dilly the two miles to Magor Station. If we were running out of time I was sent to the ticket office to buy the return tickets. I stood on tiptoe to reach the window which had a sliding door. The Ticket Clerk knew me so he punched out two return tickets and I gave him the money. During the cold winter months a coal fire warmed the room. We pushed the dilly across the railway lines where passengers were allowed to cross and unloaded the flower boxes. The dilly was parked at the rear of the station building until we returned later on in the afternoon. If we were ‘running a bit late’ it was a mad scramble because once the train was in the station the access across the lines was blocked. Mam was well known and help was always on hand and the train waited until everyone was safely on board. I loved those journeys. It was exciting for a country girl to ride on a steam train to a bustling market town and I felt important helping my mam. Twenty minutes later we arrived at Newport General Station, after one stop at Llanwern, and we stood by the Guards Van waiting for the porter to lift down our flower boxes onto the platform. In the summer months mam paid a porter to take the flowers on a trolley, via the lift, to our stall which was on the first floor of the market building. We rented a panier stall in the ‘Gallery’. These stalls were built around the walls leaving the central area open allowing me to look down to the stalls on the ground floor. Being a naughty child by nature I spent many a happy time dropping ‘bits’ onto the unsuspecting shoppers below, giggling as I watched them swipe their heads, probably thinking it was a spider. At the back of our stall hung a sign which dad had designed and on a cream background were the words, in green lettering, SYDNEY PRCE, MARKET GARDENER, and signed beneath was our address. I hated the first job which was collecting water in buckets from the tap near the top of the stairs. My sandals, or shoes, got very wet. In the summertime there would be at least thirty vases to fill with water. The stall looked so beautiful with the tiered staging a mass of colour. Once the stall was finished mam would take me by the hand and off we would go down the stairs to Joe’s café on Dock Street for a big mug of tea and thick toast dripping with butter. Market Day on a Saturday was magical. My favourite ‘hanging out’ place was quite a long way from mam and it was a little scary walking through the milling crowds but the rewards were worth the trauma. I used to gaze with wonder at tiny white mice and soft downy rabbits but best of all was looking into a big cardboard box full of fluffy yellow blobs, cheeping and falling over each other. Baby chicks. If I get the chance now to collect eggs from a nesting box for a friend the smells which hit my nose transports me back. I learnt the three R’s at school but the market experience gave me much valued knowledge of a different kind. I learnt to deal with customers; to be kind and not lose my temper when confronted with an awkward customer. My mental arithmetic was very good. Adding up money (£sp) in my head became second nature and I loved to weigh out runner beans, tomatoes, apples, etc in the huge scoop on the weighing scales. Display work and blending colours to create an attractive eye-catching stall I am sure resulted in my helping the Oxon Womens Institute to win first prize at the West Midlands Show. We do not realize how important these extra lessons are when we are growing up. Another little chore to help my mam was fetching mugs of tea from the ‘Tea Bar’, and if we were selling lots of flowers, a sticky bun. I remember the lady being very tall and upright with short straight brown hair. Sometimes, when it was quiet, mam would ask our good friend, Marion, on the stall next door to ‘keep an eye’ and we would both go to the café. The chair seat was hard but I soon forgot. To rest my weary legs and drink my lovely mug of tea with my mam was a real treat. Yet another job, not a chore this time. My mam sent me off with a shopping list to buy the groceries needed for helping towards feeding our family through the week. Downstairs were the main stalls: butchers, fishmongers, grocers, vegetables, fabric and hardware, not forgetting the faggots and peas café. I would return laden down with a basket full of grapefruit, oranges, bananas, bacon and cheese. Very occasionally I was allowed to buy fish but mam liked to choose that herself mostly. She taught me how to recognize freshness in food and I am still very conscious of quality and value for money. One of mam’s good friends who had a market stall was Mrs Gent. She sold general goods and for my 12th birthday mam bought me a 14” welsh doll. I still have her but the elastic holding her arms and legs in place has perished and her hair is coming away from her head. Her ‘mama’ has died but Elizabeth still walks and wears her original welsh costume.