Woolwich Market – taken from notes by Diana Rimel
It was first granted an ancient charter in James I reign, 1619. The Charter was granted to a) Sir William Barne, then Lord Mayor of London and b) Hugh Lyddiard, Clerk of the Cheque at Woolwich dockyard. Both were important men and trustworthy.
They and their heirs had the right to hold and keep one Market Day on Fridays each week, and to collect the tolls and dues from the market holders, while it was on the site in the High Street, then called the Market Head, buildings erected about 1750.
There have been five markets in all, which Woolwich historian, Vincent identified from Barker's plan made in 1748.
1) The first called Market House stood at the end of Ropeyard Rails, which became St Saviours Schools, later in Woolwich High Street. In 1849 it was occupied by the parish cage, the old market house having been pulled down in 1749.
2) Roff's wharf was next - a quadrangle with narrow entrances from the High Street and New Street (1835) with a square market house and shops all round, erected in 1748 with its market house disappearing in 1774.
3) Another market was tried out in 1807, under a new Act, on Wednesdays and Saturdays, because the old market place had fallen into disuse. (The buildings attached to the market included a number of public houses; the Crown and Cushion, the Waterman's Arms, the King's Head; four shops and 14 private houses belonging to Lady Wilson. Roff's Wharf House and shops stood on the north side of Market Head) The Market Act proved inoperative, because the new Market was in competition with the Market Head in the High Street. The site of the new market, now the Town Hall and police station was ignored by the public. The area round the Town Hall had streets with names connected with the Market.
4) The Wilson family improved Market Hill and Market Head, ultimately clearing all the old buildings around about 1830. This became the 4th market.
After the Crimean War (1854-5) the population shifted eastwards, dealers followed, leading an unsettled life about the streets, at constant war with the authorities. Beresford Square therefore began lawlessly - against the wishes of Town and Parish. The ancient market place became deserted.
Public opinion eventually forced the authorities to put in sanitation and to recognise the new market. Sir Spencer Maryon Wilson sold all his land rights in the market to the local board in 1887 for £500. The new market was given its Regulations in September 1888, and a plantation of shrubs and trees was cleared to make the market as it is today. There were strong regulations about conduct, cleanliness and operation, 24 bye laws were drawn up in January 1888 and the market opened 1 September 1888.
Beresford Square had 27 small houses on it in 1810. The Square was formed to improve the entrance to the Arsenal at the expense of the Government. It was named after the Marquis of Beresford, Master General when the Arsenal entrance was formed in 1828-30. The tolls varied from 6d upwards. In the first year they realized £620 or nearly £12 a week.
The first toll collector was Enoch: Hunt appointed from 49 applications. The regulations were accepted as a wholesome improvement upon the previous disorder. Julian Watson's book shows old Market place - Market Head, Beresford Square). All went well for the first day and income from the tolls was £9 12s 3d. Market dealers paid 3d a foot for the day. There were early complaints about high charges. One dealer's goods were seized for non-payment.
Betting and gambling was allowed and horse racing tickets sold.
Some of the well-known late 19th early 20th century market dealers.
Harry Spithouse had a chip stall. Very clean, high class, chips fried in pure lard. His wife was popular for the amounts she gave
John Lawrence and the corn cure. Demonstration to the audience by showing his own perfect bare feet. He also jumped up and down on a bed of nails.
Glass cutting expert.
Fred Webb was a knife and scissors sharpener and had a table full of knives and shears.
The Purse King also sold handbags.
Sid and his china - he juggled with dinner plates. He dropped price from £1 to 7s 6d for a dinner set.
Headache cure man; a shabby man sold joss sticks; a fortune teller had a bird that picked up your fortune card with its beak; there was a ballad seller; also a lively fellow with curtains, linen and household materials.
There was an artist in clay who invited people to suggest a modelling subject e. g. Edward VII; Kitchener; Will Crooks; George Robey and Shakespeare. He always ended up doing Shakespeare as it was the only one he could do properly!
An East Indian had tiny samples of exotic perfume that attracted the girls. And there was a man with a patent darner whose brother sold needle threads.
An unshaven fellow had grease remover, and a man showed creases in his trousers made by wire stretchers costing 6d each.
There was also a pie shop with live eels, meat pies, potatoes and gravy.
Wombwell's Menagerie pitched in it in the 19th century until 1854
The Lino King brought his yardstick down athwart a roll of cloth. Mac the toffee man had a stall covered with the latest football results. Another sweet stall sold Doncaster toffee, actually made in Bermondsey! and another more legitimately saying where the toffee was actually made.
Near the butcher's stall was a turbaned Indian garlanded with scarves and shawls. Similarly the pipe smoking bootlace seller, another with needles, thread and elastic and an old lag begging.
Near the toll hut stood Mr Gibson, Razor King of Woolwich, selling razors, shaving materials with scissors and nail cutters. Whistling Rufus was his assistant.
Flash Harry the Mock Auctioneer was the cleverest psychologist. He sold everything and threw odd gifts, cakes of soap, pencils, etc. into the crowd.
There too was Maud Skinner, "they've arrested her again, she's drunk." She was the local prostitute.
The present stallholders keep some traditions going. When Diana made these notes there were still about eight families holding stalls in the market who could trace family links back to the turn of the century and even before.
Grace Ellis’s husband's grandmother Polly Ford and her husband Joe had to wait overnight for a pitch on the square before the 1888 charter legalised the market. Grace herself handed her stall over to her daughter.
Also the Manchester family
The Rolfes have been there since early in the 20th century, running the fruit stall on the ".high' pavement. Johnny Rolfe remembered started at 4 am and staying open till 11 pm to catch workers coming out of the Arsenal. The market was 100 years old in 1988.
In 1874 a crowd of some 20,000 heard Gladstone make a speech in the Market from a coach hauled into the Square, before the General Election; some 20,000 two years later, heard a rabble- rousing speech by John de Morgan, who was leading the Plumstead Common campaign.
A paved crossing was laid from the Elephant and Castle pub across the Square to the Mortar Tavern to placate the traders in 1884, when the Board admitted it could not shift them from there. The Board did try to buy the Ordnance Arms to increase the market's size but the Burrage Estate, the freeholders, asked too high a price.