On the 23rd November we headed; with 2 of our volunteers team over to Birkenhead Market to speak with stall holders about the projects and see what stories they had to share of the space both past and present.
The market has been a cornerstone of the community in Birkenhead for everyone. Nearly everyone we have met has a story of the Market. These people here have an important story to tell, and still today are a vital part of our community.
The Market has been situated at multiple locations in Birkenhead, now off Claughton Street. You can read more about its old sites here: http://www.wirralhistory.uk/birkenhead%20market.html
Birkenhead Market is in a period of change like much of Birkenhead. With proposed plans for a new market, much of our conversations centred around the market now, the situation faced by the stall holders and the impact of regeneration on their businesses. It has come up in every conversation when discussing with them their history of the market. This first visit and blog post is an introduction to this site within this project and hopefully the beginning of an ongoing conversation where we can best give a platform to the voices of these people who have been present in our community for such a long time and the challenges they face today.
We caught up with a few of the stall holders on the day, with some happy to be recorded and others as conversations, we heard a history of the past 50 - 60 years, the halcyon days of the market, the situation now, and the characters over the years as we begin to look at this markets role in the working class community and still within our community today.
We spoke with Eric first, who spoke candidly about the market now and issues he and others face as stall holders as well as why he set up the stall.
We then spoke to a few of the traders in the outdoor section of the market, many of which actually travel into the area. Noting that Birkenhead Market was one of the best markets regionally - so North West, England and that was why they set up here. There was often a queue in the morning for traders and for them to get a pitch with every stall throughout the market full.
Here we spoke with Monica who sells bags, and has done since her 30s. Someone who again had fantastic memories of the place and how it had played a huge role in her life.
We then met Jon in the back right corner, who sells rugs and has done for 45 years. We spoke with them also about the decline with the market, and then about some more favourable memories. They also chatted to us about catching thieves and prominent characters over the years. Along with Jon we also spoke with Kevin, who told us about the showman Eli, who used to work in the market and would juggle plates.
Within the indoor market we spent some time speaking with John, Mike, and PJ. John who works on the signs and printing stall, Mike who works at Billy Hills curtains and PJ who runs the magic shop.
With John along with speaking about the impact of the changes to the market to their business told us about favourite memories, often food related or computer shops. He said he used ‘to pester the shop owner about the latest games’, about how towards christmas there were ‘bomb scares’ from certain members off staff to get off early in the 80s. About sliding down the ramps in car parks on binbags in the 80s too during snowy winters. As well as there being a job for someone literally to butter the bread, thats how busy it was at one point.
Mike, from Billy Hills curtain a family firm running for 75 years, who have been at both markets, curtaining the Wirral and beyond for all those years. We spoke about the move from the old market to this one, and it being packed end to end. He spoke about working with his family and good times with them during the 80s in particular.
PJ spoke about the market being quiet in the mornings and his experience of the market changing over his 35 years working here. He also told us about Redrum the grand national winning horse coming to the market, famous people turning on the christmas lights and performed us a card trick.
We want to spend the time over a more prolonged period to speak with stall holders and traders to tell their story. So we have video footage we want to spend time processes to best share the voices of those who work there soon.
As a place it’s somewhere special to us, as its where Convenience Gallery began in 2019, and is now changing once more - with many traders moving on and the proposed new site and build. Its where we hosted our first exhibitions, community engagement and built Convenience into something we’re incredibly proud of. We will next be there on the 10th December to unpack more stories and history from this historically significant site and place for Birkenhead.