Market memories

For the dverse prompt, Sarah is asking for a poem about markets. She mentioned Leeds Kirkgate market and it all came flooding back.

Photo ©Oosoom


I used to walk through the market on my way home from school, Europe’s largest covered market, Victorian ironwork and glass so high it was full of pigeons and the dust of ages. There were proper shops, Polish Ashkenazi Jewish bakers and grocers where we bought bread and real jam, pickles and sausages, and Sephardic Jewish fabric merchants where my mother bought the makings of summer dresses.

You could buy anything at Kirkgate from hamsters and white mice to food mixers, worsted to pumpernickel. It was rough and beautiful columned like a cathedral and candle-banked with orange and red and green, mango to orange to lady’s fingers. Loitering after school among the exotic colours and smells, the multi-coloured shout and bustle of market folk was a walk on the tender side of wildness.

Then one December night it burnt down. In the middle of a school play, and the windows of the hall, that looked down on the city blazed orange. Nobody watched the play. The child actors crowded the big bay windows to watch the flames leap through Victorian ironwork and blown out glass, as the heart of the old city burned in hushed silence. I passed the smoking ruins the next day. They said the row of pet shops had burned. I cried all day.

Iron girders

glazed pigeon swirling roof

history blazes

a child cries for

a cage of dead puppies


Published by

Jane Dougherty

I used to do lots of things I didn't much enjoy. Now I am officially a writer. It's what I always wanted to be.

39 thoughts on “Market memories”

  1. Such a memory… those market halls are indeed like cathedrals… it made me think of the fishmarket of Gothenburg which is called the fishchurch… so many of those places are getting gentrified to restaurants these days… which is almost as sad as seeing it burning.

    1. They saved some of the halls, and the market was rebuilt as a market. I agree, when the market becomes boutiques and art galleries like Covent Garden they may as well have torn the whole lot down.

  2. Oh my……what a grand place it was…hustling, bustling, sounds and sights and smells. And it was so high above you….with those glass ceilings open to the sky. Glass so high with pigeons and dust of ages….wonderful detail here.
    What a loss….the heart of the city gone in a blaze. It reminds me very much in your photo here, looks-wise, of a “food court” (although that sounds crass) in Singapore. Even though they’re not true “open air” markets, those glass ceiling panes make it seem so!

  3. a chronicle of a holy place in the eyes of a child and palpable sorrow at its passing. in a child’s mind a message that no matter how grand it can fall in an instant. and the poor puppies 😦

    1. It was terrifying. Children tend to imagine that the world never changes. It was a girl in my class who told me about the animals in the row of pet shops. She had been down to the ruins to see and was horrified.

    1. It was. I loved the ironwork. The struts along one side were shaped like dragons, a whole long line of red-painted iron dragons holding up the roof over the little shops below.
      Selling animals is always a horrible activity but it hadn’t occurred to me until the fire that the owners just locked them in there at night. I’d imagined they took them home with them.

  4. I wonder if many children these days enjoy markets as we used to. They seem to prefer high street chains. I love the image you’ve painted here, jane, with the ‘Victorian ironwork and glass so high it was full of pigeons and the dust of ages’. It’s so vivid, I could smell the bread and pickles! My nan used to buy most of my clothes from one of the inside markets at Tooting, as well as towels, tea towel, sheets and pillowcases, and I they are indeed working-class cathedrals. I remember the different cries and bantering involved. How tragic that it burned down.

    1. I loved that market and especially the ironwork with the dragons. Some of it was saved but it was touch and go with the council whether they were going to rebuild in the old style. I think most of it was attempted at least.

  5. Now everyone shops on their phone…another connection with the world and others lost. Places that bring communities together are precious.
    Fire is both majestic and frightening–even as we mourn, it’s hard to look away. (K)

    1. Fire terrifies me. I used to have nightmares about it when I was small. I can still remember one.
      We’re light years behind you as regards shopping. The town centres are dead, and the outskirts are ringed with commercial zones where people shop. You can shop online for groceries in the big cities, but not out here. Some of the neighbours are completely self-sufficient and never shop at all.

      1. I hardly ever do the shopping. Husband goes to the market early, like 7.30 am and often I’ve only been asleep for two or three hours by then. It means I see hardly any humans but it suits me.

    1. I don’t think I ever needed an explanation. Children understand death. Dying has been reasonably public in my family. Nobody ever felt it had to be hidden from children and I had been to several wakes and looked into the coffin to say goodbye. Sadness is something we all have to cope with, even children.

  6. Very wonderful work! Honest expression shared openly. I am having an existential crisis tonight. I invite you to come visit me, cross my bridge of dreams, and listen to Joni sing like an angel!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s