Jane Brown, 1930s

“…striking bargains at the Caledonian Market…”

Jane Brown ran an antiques stall at the huge bric-a-brac market on this site.

Show transcript

Don’t you love a bargain – something that you really want, at an amazing price!? Well I’m sorry, dear, the market’s not here any more.

Jane’s the name – Jane Brown. We might have met here, back before the war when it was the Caledonian Market, or ‘the stones’ as we stallholders used to call it. I sold antiques, in a small way – fine bone china, good bits of furniture, thick old books – whatever I could get my hands on during the week. My husband scouted the auctions and sale rooms, and I ran the stall on Tuesdays and Fridays, all the way through to the 1930s.

Mmmmm there was nothing quite like the Cally Market. It sold EVERYTHING. Rock salt, sweets, antique muskets, silverware, old rags, cigarette cards, buttons, false teeth and I don’t know what else. People loved coming here to find whatever they needed – or didn’t need!  Working here was wonderful – every day full of buzz and chatter.

It wasn’t always easy, mind you. A cold wet Friday might see you stomping your feet all day trying to keep warm, and selling nothing unless you needed the cash and ditched stock at a loss. I saw plenty of my fellow stallholders, hard pressed, with their backs against the wall – there was nothing you could do if the public wasn’t biting.

But there were glorious days as well, when you’d get a hundred thousand people coming through these gates to riffle through the stalls. Everyone loves a bargain, even the rich and famous. Sometimes you’d look up and see a face from the movies, the magazines.

The trick was….well, there were so many tricks, to be honest. If you could afford it, book a good pitch in advance so you didn’t have to sprint in and try to grab one in the morning. Arrange your stall around your best pieces, the ones that will make people stop in their tracks. Know the right price for what you are selling. Don’t get beaten down by someone who just wants to show off their haggling skills…

But even a skilled stallholder can’t always make it work. When times were hard, nobody had spare money for antiques, and we all suffered. I stuck it out until the very last market in September ‘39, when war broke out and the authorities closed us down. My husband and I found a little shop, and we moved into antiques as shopowners rather than stallholders. A step up in the world, but not so lively.

I come back here from time to time, like today, to try and remember what it was like. The shouts and the laughter. Wide-eyed kids clutching their pocket money pennies and the big West End dealers hovering like hawks looking for something they could snap up and sell for ten times the price to their own clients. It’s hard to imagine all this grass as cobblestones. It’s a pity it’s gone… I bet there’s nowhere like it in London today – I wonder where people get their bargains?