Jo Denbury, Features Writer
On a cold misty Thursday morning, sun barely peeking over the horizon, the congregation of vans at the bottom of Cheap Street make for a welcome sight. The modes of transport might be modern but the ritual has been happening on this very spot since mediaeval times. Hidden under layers of hats and gloves, feet stamping the pavement for warmth, a small group of people busy themselves with metal frames and tables.
‘I usually arrive at 6.30,’ says Steve who runs both the fruit and veg, and the pet food stall with his partner Claudia. They took over the fruit and veg stall in October 2016. For Steve, the best part is the chatting to the customers and the other stallholders. ‘Before I began this job I was up at 6am and back home at 6pm. That meant I ended up being very antisocial but now I know everyone. The market is the centre of town.’
Steve says, ‘As much as I can, I buy seasonally and locally. We have great suppliers from around Sherborne and surrounding villages. We also work with farmers in Bridport and Westbay, and we try to support smaller producers’. Alongside the fresh produce Steve also has Black Garlic from South West Garlic, jams from The Cherry Tree, Reads Coffee and eggs from Silverthorne Farm in Milborne Wick.
Scott Bedward is another regular - he took over the flower stall from his father Richard, who had been running it for 10 years. He travels from Wimborne and sells at two markets – Dorchester and Sherborne - which keep him busy through the week. The day starts early for Scott, when he leaves the house at 6am to collect the flowers.
‘The best bit about it is being your own boss,’ enthuses Scott, who originally worked as a printer. ‘It is nice being with customers and I like the banter between the stall holders as well,’ he adds. ‘January is always a slow month but I have the snowdrops and primroses, as well as hyacinths and cyclamens.’ Popular in Sherborne are cut flowers, especially tulips, which are brought from
Holland by someone Scott calls ‘the flying dutchman’.
When he can, Scott sources flowers from the UK but that’s not without its challenges. ‘Last year the Scilly Isles were hit by terrible storms and the price of narcissi had to go up very high because only a quarter of their crop was left. It’s a business that is entirely reliant on the weather,’ he says with a wry smile while standing in the dripping mist.
Newcomer Keith Budden has brought his version of vintage and steam punk to Sherborne. Keith was previously a restorer of vintage cars but has always collected interesting pieces. His is an eclectic mix of fencing gear, goggles, bottles, militaria as well as vintage coats, shirts and shoes.
Keith also sells at the Langport Market and will also source vintage clothes by request. As the day makes a vague effort to become light, a passer-by stops at the stall and searches through the racks for a kilt jacket – her husband has recently lost his original. Keith makes a note of her husband’s size and promises to look for a new one. Clearly he relishes a challenge.
His own taste is the “quirkier the better” ‘but the most important thing is that I am working with stuff I love. There’s a great atmosphere at this market and it’s totally bonkers down our end with Scott singing.’
Next to Keith is Sue, who runs the Neal’s Yard Remedies Organic independent consultant stall and has been coming since October 2016. ‘I had a job in finance but then my mother became sick and I took time off to look after her. After that I felt I needed something new to do and so decided to become an Independent Consultant with Neal’s Yard. I wanted something totally different and to not be stuck behind a desk. Neal’s Yard was, and still is, a product I use and love, especially the fact they are organic and natural - I could never sell something I hadn’t tried. They’re a family business too and the products are made locally in Gillingham.’
Colin Loader from Taylors Bakery has been selling here for the last 9 years on behalf of Taylors of Bruton. ‘At Taylors we bake all day and night. We have to use a strong flour from Oxfordshire because all the loaves are hand-baked.’
Colin gets to the bakery in Bruton at 6am to load up. ‘Sherborne’s favourites include wholemeal, sourdough, seeded and cottage, but I also take orders,’ he explains. ‘We have 8-10 bakers working around the clock servicing 20-30 markets a week. For example today, Thursday, Taylors are at 5 markets.’ But what Colin likes about Sherborne is that ‘you get to know everybody, we all get on well with each other and help each other out.’
Another pair of regulars are John and Diane who run the fish stall on Saturdays. John left school at 15 then spent 15 years at sea as a fisherman on a beamer – a trawler boat that stays out for the week Monday-Saturday. ‘I did that until Diane said it had been long enough and told me to come home for good,’ he says, and for the last 18 years they have been running the fish stall. Based in Brixham, John is up at 3.45am and straight out to auction. ‘I buy all my fish in the morning at the Brixham auction so it is “day fresh”,’ he says.
About 60 boats go out from Brixham so there is a plentiful variety available but John knows what the Sherborne customers like. ‘Turbot, Brills, Sea Bass, Dover Soles are the favourites,’ he says. One lady who is well into her 90s comes weekly for her turbot. It’s clearly a stall where the early birds get the best catch. John and Diane have been here so long they they’re on first name terms with customers. ‘I love the atmosphere and the people here,’ says Diane. It’s a wonder how they keep warm in their van but then they both lift their legs to reveal hefty sets of fisherman’s boots. ‘You can’t work with cold feet,’ says John, who knows better than most after his years spent 50 miles out at sea.
As he effortlessly guts and wraps fish for the customers he tells me of his concern for the sea. The sea is getting warmer and unusual fish are appearing in our local waters. ‘You’re getting more and more sharks,’ he says ‘and sunfish, which can’t be good,’ he adds. But, for the time being, there’s plenty of lemon sole and cod’s roe for January.
At the helm of Sherborne’s market is a lady by the name of Judy Aplin. Judy ran a fashion stall for 30 years. ‘We have such a good bunch of traders,’ she says. ‘It is so important to support the market in the town because markets are dying out as more and more people buy online.’
‘What is so good is that we have a year-round market with a wonderful range of traders who set up every week and provide us with the necessities,’ she says. Her concern is that Cheap Street must be supported so as to prevent shops from closing down. ‘The town is only allowed around 15 traders on ‘The Shambles’ that runs from the parade up to the paper shop,’ she explains ‘we’re on land owned by the Sherborne Castle Estate’.
The name ‘The Shambles’ originates from a time when farmers and country folk would bring their livestock to the market for slaughter. ‘Blood would be running down South Street,’ says Cindy Chant our local Blue Badge guide. ‘Mediaeval Sherborne depended on its fairs and markets,’ she explains. ‘I think the Thursday market began in 1286 but the Saturday market probably began in the early 1900s.’ Interesting to think what might be here in another 700 years…
Sherborne Market is open on Thursdays and Saturdays all year round. For more on the history of Sherborne, visit the fascinating sherbornewalks.co.uk or better still join Cindy on one of her guided walks around town.