It’s a Saturday sometime in 1992. Because you’ve been hard at work all week writing about dinosaurs and using the trundle wheel, you deserve a day off, right? Do you balls. What you shall instead be required to do is accompany your parents on a day out to Wakefield, Goole or similar. This is because they want to look at different kinds of cushion covers (mother) and wires in Tandy (father).

At some point during your excursion, you will be dragged along to the indoor market. This is mostly so your mother can tut at the quality of the meat. An official complaint to the ombusdman (father) yields nothing, as he wants to look at tapes. Therefore, an hour of your Saturday afternoon is taken up with trudging round, not really being able to see any of the stalls, and having to take your parents’ word for it that “there aren’t any toys, they don’t sell them here”.

Now that I’m an adult, I love to visit indoor markets. This is because I am now boring and lame, but also because indoor markets are awesome. The main reason I love indoor markets is you never quite know what you’re going to find in them. Our local one, for example, has three stalls selling hi-vis vests, a Chinese medicine place, and a retro game stall. Also a stall with the following:

– so much porcelain crap that bits of it fall on the floor and smash whenever someone walks past
– three Elvis t-shirts
– puzzle books with the free pens missing

I also found five Garfield annuals on that stall, so I am not complaining.

Generally though, the indoor market will follow a set pattern, and there are some stalls that are found in every market ever. If you come across an indoor market with one of these stalls missing, report them to the council, and the whole place will be shut down. That is the law.

Now then.


The Godfather of all indoor market stalls, and the reason all indoor markets smell like raw meat. If you can fight your way past the old ladies queueing up for some brisket, you will be greeted with “F.S. Fuckingham & Son” and their splendid array of chops, sausages, and pork dripping. The council will always deem it necessary to place the meat stall right next to the stall that sells pasties, because nothing makes you hungry for pasties like “Sheep’s arse 4 for a quid”.



Leave the meat, go down and turn right, and you will arrive at the sewing stall, again filled with old ladies. The serious old ladies congregate by the yards o’ fabric, because they are serious and are making serious things like loose covers. The rookies and the plebs congregate at the other end, by the baskets of buttons, because they just need to sew a button on something. The two factions never mix.

Weigh ‘n’ Save


Thirty yards past the toilets is the legendary weigh ‘n’ save, easily the best retail concept known to man. All wares are set out in huge plastic tubs for easy access/playing with. Dried fruit, nuts that no one wants because they’re unsalted, chocolate raisins and loose washing powder all jostle for position with out of date cereals. The lucky customer is guaranteed to get bits of mystery stuff in with their purchase, thanks to kids messing about with the scoops.


make up

Up near the front is the shiny and tempting beauty stall. This is the place to be if you want any of the following:

– Stolen Rimmel lipsticks in a basket
– Scrunchies
– ‘Mex Fictor’ eyeliner
– Pots of glitter
– Henna shampoo
– These (I don’t know what they’re called)


If, like me, you were a hideously ugly teenager, you could while away the hours at this stall, imagining that applying some ‘Constance Carroll’ nail varnish would make people fancy you.

Velvet art

velvet art

Art for divs! I love these things to within an inch of their life. The idea is you colour in the white bits, and it doesn’t matter if you go over the lines because it won’t show. Perfect for people with no artistic talent.

And if you think I’m kidding about no artistic talent:

Anyway, velvet art depicts the hip and happening stuff of the day, like cartoons and any celebrities that are fairly easy do do line drawings of. Also racing cars, without fail. Sometimes they’d come with up to four pens, so Barbie ended up having blue skin, but like that mattered.



Are you tired of shopping and need a rest for a bit? Then shovel yourself over to “Cafe”, because that’s what it’s always called. Run by the same angry couple who do the burger stall at the car boot on a Sunday, “Cafe” is the place to rest your weary bones on one of the three hundred chairs, and order a milky coffee. Don’t bother ordering anything if you’re a kid, because they only do that hideous Crusha milkshake. That stuff’s just milk and neat squash mixed together with a spoon, and it makes people unhappy.



Occasionally, the parents will take pity on the disappointed and Crusha-poisoned child and take them to “World Famous Traditional Sweets”. This is more like it. This is the Willy Wonka’s factory of the indoor market. Your eager and fat eyes gaze round in wonder at dusty cinder toffee in food bags, ‘broken biscuit assortment’ (was there ever a better invention?) and jars of pontefract cakes. If you’re really lucky, they also have a Slush Puppie machine, but of course you’re not lucky because you’re being dragged round the indoor market on a Saturday afternoon instead of being at home with your clackers.


Swansea Market in South Wales, UK.

Two stalls up from the sweets, we have the bags. Specifically, leather handbags and kids’ rucksacks. Always doing brisk business, although you do wonder why the same four old ladies seem to need a new handbag every week, especially since all the leather handbags look the same. Because kids can’t be trusted not to snot over everything, the kids’ rucksacks are hanging from the top of the stall where you can’t reach them, so you just have to be content with craning your neck up at Thomas The Tank Engine and Forever Friends schoolbags.

Weird tapes

foster and allen

Finally, your dad will want to stop at the music stall before you go home. This is because 300 Shadows albums isn’t enough. Your mum’s not that bothered, because she has one Phil Collins tape and that’ll do her.

You can hear the music stall before you can see it. This is because the man who runs the stall (Ian) has decided to showcase his wares off a shit Alba tape player.

There are some artists you only ever hear on these stalls, most notably Foster and Allen. Have a think. Everyone knows Foster and Allen, despite their songs never being in any charts or in any proper record shops. This is because Foster and Allen are Ian’s favourite band, and Ian is going to play them whether you like it or not. Asking him to play MC Hammer instead is pointless, as he can’t hear you over ‘Paddy McGintey’s Goat’.

You dad will come away empty handed, because he’s not fussed about Foster and Allen, and that’s all Ian seems to sell. Never mind, at least he got a set of jack plugs from Tandy.

Thank you to everyone who’s bought my book so far. If you haven’t, click here for a sweary novel about getting pissed and arguing with vegans.

20 thoughts on “The indoor market: a field guide

  1. I don’t know if you’ve ever been to Chelmsford before Jen, but I can assure you that as someone who often goes there when he’s in the ‘area’, you’ve just written an almost word accurate account of the indoor market there.

    The only thing it has which your description misses is the two separate stalls for gift wrapping and cards that look like they were last sold in 1988, and which look like Southend Pier once mid-November hits because they’ve got Christmas lights and decs in their repertoire. Oh and there’s also a magazine stall which sells back issues of magazines unsold at publication, 3 for £1.50. It’s what kept me in Smash Hits magazines as a teenager (albeit a month out of date)!

    Liked by 1 person

      1. And I also hasten to add the designs on said shit greetings cards usually resemble the ones on that episode of Rainbow where it’s Zippy’s birthday. On both stalls (they’re spaced a few rows along from each other, as if they’re sworn enemies, never the twain shall meet etc).

        Liked by 1 person

    1. I grew up going to Chelmsford Market, the quality of that place is amazing! Being underneath the 1960s concrete multistory car park, it tends to be a home for the odd tramp or two. This is why every time i smell a mixture of meat, cabbage and piss, I think ‘Indoor Market’. I notice Jenny forgot to mention the customary green grocers stall with the obligatory squashed Tomato of the floor leading up to the stall, which had you sliding around like Gemma Collins Dancing on ice, before going arse over face into the car accessory stall with its 26 different shammy leathers.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. So much truth here, especially about Foster & Allen.

    One of the defining moments of my childhood was sitting in the Birmingham Bull Ring (the old indoor market, not the third circle of hell shopping centre it is these days) “Cafe” excitedly awaiting my strawberry milkshake only to discover that Crusha (and likely room temperature UHT milk) is utter horseshit. I’ve never touched it again, no matter the advertising. Bastards.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. We no longer have a fabric stall in Newcastle, it did look EXACTLY like that one before it went though.
    Also the bags and make up are full of lead.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. As someone that grew up in a town that has a ‘world famous market’ and the tourists that go along with that (rather unnerving) allocade, I can verify that literally nothing has changed.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. We had a great one at the Tricorn Centre in Portsmouth, before it was knocked down, called Charlotte’s Superstore. My sister got a cheap Sega MegaDrive from there, and for me it had a seemingly limitless supply of cheap second-hand Doctor Who books, and even the occasional VHS, which, at the time, was AMAZING.

    I got some bermuda shorts there too, unofficially based on Harry Enfield’s Loadsamoney character, because that was cool. When I wore them to the pool shortly afterwards, my older sister and her friend kept smiling at me knowingly, so I thought I must look good in them. Turned out they had just noticed that when they get wet, they get see-through. I think I’m still getting over that moment.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I’d say there’s also the stall selling rolls of cloth in garish colours. I was into Thomas the Tank engine as a kid and my mum wanted to make me a blanket with him on, went to an indoor market and the woman running the stall couldn’t get it through her head that Thomas theTank Engine wasn’t an actual Tank. and kept showing us a rather large amount of cloth with military imagry on it.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. The “World Famous” Bury Market has most of those but if you haven’t witnessed the musical that is Coventry Market – featuring odd Robert Webb and Mick Hucknall lookalikes – then you need to check this out now. It’s a celebration of all things that is the British indoor market. Even the Nazis get a surprising and disturbing look in. Also look out for “weird wanking guy”.


  8. Bolton indoor market was a regular visit of mine in childhood, and had all the stalls above plus a pet shop stall and others which I can’t remember.


  9. Wakefield’s old indoor market flattened to build an ace new shopping centre, so they built a new one…which they’ve closed already. Supposedly to build a new cinema, but that isn’t happening. I love Wakefield.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Laval mascara ❤
    I have to stock up when I'm back in Liverpool ad keep it in my fridge in Edinburgh.
    I think it's 5% soot and 95% ethanol.
    Also, shit greetings cards with amazingly long verses that make your nana cry. Where else can you get cards that say 'Mam' on the front?

    Liked by 1 person

  11. You’ve perfectly nailed this one! Having grown up in the strange hinterlands between Bury and Rochdale, (both very proudly sporting their own fabulously garish indoor markets back in the day), this was a weekly pilgrimage for Mum to rifle through all the tat, whilst my brother and I (subdued by the offer of a Greggs pasty and a jam doughnut if we were “good”) looked on in awed bemusement.

    However, once in a blue moon we went on a long long journey to Manchester’s Arndale Market. A journey so long and arduous on public transport even Frodo Baggins would have thought “Nah, fuck that!”. However once we finally reached Mordor – sorry – Manchester, the exoticness of the underground Arndale Market was like being at Disneyland.It was bright with the all the strip lighting above, and the stalls were arranged to such a warren-like degree you could easily get lost in there and not escape for months.

    The most spectacular thing about the Arndale Market though wasn’t happening inside it. Oh no. Of course, being underground and completely enclosed with seemingly no windows or fresh air, all those weird smells of leather/fish/meat/plastic/farts had to be extracted somewhere. Cannon Street ran through the middle of the two nodes of the Arndale Centre, which is where we would wait for the bus to take us the unreasonably long 12 mile journey back to The Shire. A scant few metres away from said bus stop were the main exhausts of the extractor fans pumping out the most unbelievably disgusting smell from within the bowels of the market.

    This smell was so incredible you never forgot it. Your initial instinct was to move away as far as possible to avoid vomiting, but it was SO impressive you kind of had to stand there and admire it. And besides “the bus will be here any minute” said Mum, clutching a hanky to her nose and mouth.The bus was invariably 20mins away usually. All the while we stood there unavoidably breathing in the fug of fuck knows what from the depths of hell.

    Even the IRA’s attempts at a bit of civic remodelling in 1996 didn’t destroy that place, it limped on for a few years after, but the smell never changed. A very vivid one. I can still smell it by memory alone.



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