Remembering the old Newport Market traders and the weekly livestock sales

·5-min read
Scenes from bygone days at Newport Market on the Isle of Wight. Photos: Alan Stroud.
Scenes from bygone days at Newport Market on the Isle of Wight. Photos: Alan Stroud.

If you are a certain age, you will remember the original Newport market on the Isle of Wight.

Every Tuesday, cows, pigs and sheep waited to be auctioned in their pens on the site now occupied by Morrison’s supermarket, and where food aisles now stand, all variety of market traders would set out their stalls.

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The stalls ranged from one-man stands to lorries with drop-down sides forming stages or counters.

Usually from the mainland, the larger stalls sold everything from bed linen to crockery, and from jewellery to baked beans.

Isle of Wight County Press: The South Street entrance to the market. Photo: Alan Stroud.
Isle of Wight County Press: The South Street entrance to the market. Photo: Alan Stroud.

The South Street entrance to the market. Photo: Alan Stroud.

There was even a butcher’s shop, local wags claiming that some of the joints had been running at Newmarket the day before.

At one stall a man sold glass cutters week after week. He would effortlessly cut out intricate shapes and patterns and in a just a few seconds produce tiny masterpieces.

Sometimes it was letters of the alphabet, sometimes the outline of a salmon leaping, carried out in a dazzling series of manoeuvres that put the rest of us in casualty to be stitched up.

The stallholders were seasoned entertainers. One, a middle-aged scruffy man with designer stubble before it became fashionable, sold nothing but tights.

As he played the crowd, flecks of white spittle would gather in the corners of his mouth until an explosive syllable would send them flying into the crowd.

He would attack a pair of tights with a nail file, shouting, “Look at dese tights. Dey’re indestructible. You can’t geddem here — I goddem from da exhibition.” It was always the exhibition — he never specified which particular one.

Wally Pearce, seasoned stallholder from Cowes, sold homemade ‘TV boosters.’ Simple affairs, costing pennies to produce, they consisted of nothing more than a short length of coax cable with a capacitor soldered on the end which, to maintain an air of mystery, was hidden under plastic tape.

As the crowd looked on, Wally plugged a ‘booster’ into a portable television and as if by magic a perfect picture appeared.

It was an impressive demonstration that owed more to the the fact that the powerful 500 kW Rowridge transmitter was just two miles away rather more than it did to Wally’s electronics — at that distance a coat-hanger stuffed in the aerial socket would have given a good picture.

Wally did a good trade with the coach loads of tourists that swelled the crowds but back home, where the nearest transmitter might be 50 miles away, it’s a pretty safe bet that the snowy screens of Swansea and Macclesfield remained as snowy as ever.

Isle of Wight County Press: Tim Smith of Way Ridett and Vernon Terrett, market supervisor, with the Gilten Market winning beast in 1983. Photo: Alan Stroud/County Press.
Isle of Wight County Press: Tim Smith of Way Ridett and Vernon Terrett, market supervisor, with the Gilten Market winning beast in 1983. Photo: Alan Stroud/County Press.

Tim Smith of Way Ridett and Vernon Terrett, market supervisor, with the Gilten Market winning beast in 1983. Photo: Alan Stroud/County Press.

Way Ridett and Pittis held livestock auctions at each market; they were popular with farmers and public alike.

All was well until the early 1980s when more and more Isle of Wight farmers found it more profitable to take their animals to mainland markets for auction.

Isle of Wight sales were badly hit and Pittis and Way Ridett both decided to end their auctions.

The annual Gilten Market of 1983 was chosen to be the last ever regular livestock market held on the Isle of Wight.

The Gilten Market traditionally took place every Christmas, when the horns of the animal judged best of market were annointed with gold paint. ‘Coast to Coast’, the TVS local news programme, was there to record the last ever market.

Tom Glenny, Way Ridett’s auctioneer, was interviewed, “It’s a matter of economics,” he told viewers. “The throughput on an average Tuesday market has got so small that it’s not economic to keep it going. The problem is there isn’t nearly enough stock.

"There are expenses in running a market and if there are only 20 or 30 calves it doesn’t cover the running costs. It’s because it hasn’t been supported by the larger farmers.”

Colin Fairweather and I not only photographed the last market but also made a sound recording and we did our own interview with Tom Glenny, who told us, “I will be auctioning in the New Year because I’ve got a farm sale on the stocks but I don’t suppose I shall be doing market work ever again.

"People see it on this day of the year and it looks marvellous, but it’s the other 51 weeks of the year that matter — and they are a dead loss.”

Moments later he held the last ever livestock auction on the Island … “Now we come to the important bit. There he is, the Gilten Market beast, the property of Alan Aylett, farmer. Congratulate him on a beautiful bullock.

"Put him in. What am I bid for him?... Who wants him? 120 I’m bid …125…130…135…138 if you like him.” In less than a minute it was all over ... “Selling at 172 pence per kilo ... to Mr Bartlett.”

The crowd, knowing they had just witnessed the end of an era, broke into spontaneous applause and as the cheers died away, so did Newport market.

In the new year the traders’ stalls relocated to a site at the junction of South Street and Furrlongs, now home to Cineworld and fast-food outlets, but the new market was a shadow of its former self.

Shopping habits had changed and its heyday had passed. It was the beginning of the end and the market slowly faded away.

Like reading stories about the Isle of Wight in bygone days? Click here to visit our Looking Back section for more interesting tales.

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