Upper Gardner Street Market

Photo:Upper Gardner Street Market

Upper Gardner Street Market

They fought for a pitch

By Jenny Watson, market trader

Upper Gardner Street has been used as a market since the 1890s.

The barrow boys

At that time barrow boys selling mainly fruit and vegetables gathered in Gardner Street and Bond Street to sell their goods. These itinerant traders were not at all popular with local shopkeepers as they were able to undercut their prices by up to 50% because they had no overheads, but trading was not easy, as policemen would often fine them or move them on. The Police and Brighton Borough Council eventually became tired of the problems the barrow boys caused both to themselves and to local shopkeepers and decided to make Upper Gardner Street available for them on Saturday mornings.

Arrival of Harry Cowley

At first stallholders had to fight for a pitch in Upper Gardner Street, but then Harry Cowley arrived. Born in 1890 and famed for always wearing his bowler hat, he was a champion for the ordinary man. Supported by vigilantes whom he had recruited from among Brighton's unemployed, one of his many campaigns was to fight for the market traders' rights and force the Council to allocate fixed pitches to the stallholders in Upper Gardner Street. From the 1920s he and his supporters kept order in the street and also fought for the rights of barrow boys in what is now the Open Market between London Road and The Level. The Cowley Café on London Road was named after him and a Brighton bus also bears his name.

Upper Gardner Street Market today

Although the barrow boys have now gone, the Market is still licensed by B&H City Council, who allocate pitches to regular traders selling a variety of goods both new and second-hand every Saturday. The Market retains a friendly welcoming atmosphere and some of today's traders have been regulars for over 30 years.

[Previously published in the North Laine Runner, No 188, September/October 2007]

This page was added on 25/02/2008.

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