Robin Longbottom reflects on the history and development of Keighley’s market

IF you wanted to buy wet fish in Keighley 60 years ago – a pair of kippers, a quart of mussels or a tub of winkles – the best fishmonger in town was Gilbert Wilson in the market.

The stall was established in the 1850s but had been taken over by Gilbert Wilson senior, a butcher turned fishmonger, before the Great War and was continued after his death in 1933 by his son.

Until 1967 the old Keighley market was on each side of Market Street and extended towards Church Green.

The stalls were flanked by a row of shops on three sides and offered all manner of merchandise. Jerry’s sold household goods, including Vim for scouring pans and ovens, carbolic soap, Dolly Blue for whitening clothes, Donkey stones for scrubbing doorsteps and Zebo to black lead fire grates. Doug’s sold ladies’ underwear and had an extensive display of corsets, brassieres and bloomers. There were drapers' stalls with bolts of cloth and haberdashery stalls with threads, ribbons and buttons. The sweet stall had all the old favourites to weigh out – bonbons, coconut mushrooms, liquorice torpedoes, parma violets and slabs of treacle toffee broken up into jagged lumps that stuck together and were too big to get into your mouth. There were rows of greengrocers and butchers' shops, a second-hand furniture shop and at the far side, near the ginnel that led into Church Green, was the Market Café where you could get a full dinner for under two shillings.

The market was a scene of hustle and bustle, goods being brought in by lads with handcarts and traders shouting out their wares. Jerry had a voice like a foghorn as he barked out his bargain of the day to attract customers. In the inter-war years and the 1950s the stallholders had great fun, holding barrel rolling and basket stacking competitions and playing practical jokes on one another and in some cases on the public. One popular joke featured a butcher who sold horse meat, a relic of wartime austerity. It was said that a housewife bought her husband so much that he started to get a long face and grow a mane down his neck. He went to the doctor who gave him a note which he took to the chemist. The chemist looked at it and said it wasn’t for him and that he had to take it to the town hall for a permit to poop in the street!

The charter to hold a market had been granted by Edward I in 1305 and the market cross had originally stood at the bottom of High Street, where the present traffic lights are. It was moved to Church Green when North Street, New Bridge Street and South Street had been built through the town by the turnpike trusts in the early 1790s. Until then the market had been held in Change Gate, which ran between the cross and Cook Lane and is now the top of Low Street. The word change is synonymous with exchange from the old French ‘eschaunge’, meaning to give and to receive.

When the turnpike roads were built the market was relocated into Church Street, but this location was cramped and unsuitable. In 1833 the traders formed a company and leased a site in Market Street from William Cavendish, Earl of Burlington, on which to erect “shambles for retailing goods”. The new market was so successful that in 1846 further land was leased and it was almost doubled in size, with a “very handsome opening into it from Change Gate”.

The Keighley Market Co Ltd managed it until 1949 when it was sold to Keighley Corporation. The old market was demolished in 1967 and replaced by the present market hall.