PUBLISHED: 11:38 12 October 2015 | UPDATED: 11:38 12 October 2015
If you want a shopping experience with a friendly smile and specialist knowledge, Cirencester with its bustling markets is where you need to be
It’s time to enter the forum of Corinium and rediscover its markets. With so many of us ordering things online and driving to supermarkets – yes we’ve all got busy lives and these conveniences are wonderful, necessary even, but have we forgotten the charm the marketplace holds? I think we have; we’re missing out! Personal, friendly and with unique goods to buy, the town square adorned with colourful awnings and displaying fresh produce offers a shopping experience we sometimes overlook in our hectic lives.
Cirencester is known for its architecture, equestrian activities, Roman history and Royal visitors among many other qualities. Shopping is excellent in the area, and the markets have a strong foothold on historic note. Mentioned as far back as in the Domesday Book in 1086, the town has made its name through the years via the wool, farming and corn industries. Moving into present day, the market ethos survives and thrives in this ancient-into-current community hub. I’m heading to the Friday market; the Charter Market.
Immediately I meet a very smiley Suzie Lew, who is Market and Events Officer at the Town Council.
“We need more people to come to market, to support small and young enterprise,” she tells me. “The Charter Market on Fridays (9am–3pm) has 10–20 stallholders, and the Farmers’ Market on the second and fourth Saturdays of the month (8.30am–1.30pm) has 20–30. We want more!”
You can set up your stall of 8’ x 4’ pitch for £25 (free for charities) and Suzie is happy to talk to new traders, to help them get going. Her tips are: work hard; build awareness (she recommends social media); and make your stall look good!
“I do most of my own shopping here,” she continues, “most things are cheaper, and the quality is fantastic.” A lot of the produce is locally grown, within aim of a 32-mile radius.
We are at The Orange Bowl Kitchen. As we talk in between mouthfuls, she is greeted with a shout here and a jolly market tale there, so I am soon gathering a new armful of friends. I’m conscious I’ve gate-crashed her lunch of a pâté plate but she insists and I join her with a deliciously crispy bacon roll. Other bacon rolls are available… In fact, just a few feet away, in the form of Dottie’s Pigs.
Dottie Scott swapped her life a year ago working for Harvey Nichols in London, for serene Cirencester and is now rearing pigs. As you do. It seems to have been a good move and one she shares with her boyfriend Charles Murray; on their stall they sell raw cuts and also have a barbecue running. Charles’ mother, ‘Mummy Murray’, pitches in to help. Ask her about the 32 pigs she rears and Dottie gets all wide-eyed and excited, telling me she strives for the happiest pigs possible in order to produce the best pork.
“We keep rare breed pigs, all free range, such as Old Spot, Middle Whites and Saddleback. Oh!” she draws breath, eager to spill some news, “My Saddleback is due to have piglets any day now! Our boar, Headley (yep, she names them all), is quite the ladies’ man.”
The feeling of bonding with their animals is not strange to the region, as Dordie tells me (another delightful name). Dordie Ketley sells lamb and tells how she loves to treat them well.
“My lambs are raised on organic pastures as pets,” she says. “We love to play with them and cuddle them. They have very happy lives.”
Aside from the lambs, Dordie is super-busy with plenty of other things.
“Well,” she confides, my husband is a mad scientist. No, really, he is! So whilst he’s off doing his sciencey thing, I get to make my apple juice, I do holiday lettings (Middletown Farm Cottages), run stables, the sheep and we also house a rock band called Jaega! I take them cups of tea during their practise!”
Hard work seems a common theme, and going from stall to stall you might meet Mariusz Nawiesniak who has the leather stall. Partnered with his son, his skins are prepared in Poland and Argentina; they market as rugs and jackets. He also offers wooden kitchen implements. You’ll see a respected gardening stallholder who is well known for green-fingered advice and pretty plants.
Michael Dolan, with his baskets, has a list of celebs he has served over the years to tell you about, dropping names like the late Ronnie Barker and, more recently, Anne Robinson
At Hobbs House Bakery stall, it’s hard to grab owner Tim Lee’s attention from the many hands outstretched for his overnight-baked bread. His favourite is sundried tomato with olive and sesame seeds.
A bit further along, Simon Matthews of Siez Bazaar Traders, has Moroccan treasures of bright hue, pots, bowls and all handmade.
“Also we have carpets,” he says. He explains the difference between his carpets from Afghanistan, “the thicker ones are carpets, the flat ones are Kalims.” They simply look like gorgeous rugs to me.
When you go, and you will I feel, don’t forget the inside markets at the Corn Hall on Fridays and Saturdays. You’ll find antiques, crafts, jewellery – it’s all there. I meet the charming Pam Childs setting out her silver stall. I want to know what interested her in cutlery in particular, her specialist interest, and I love her story.
“As a child, my mother worked for Lord and Lady Beauchamp,” she tells me, “She was a parlourmaid in Eaton Square in London. She would tell me all about beautiful things and the order of them and I became fascinated. I sell antiques and collectables.”
With her 20 years of experience, any tips for new stallholders?
“Yes, display is important, a bit like window dressing. It’s a process of learning and you make mistakes of course; it’s a learning curve. Experience costs money.”
On Saturday I return for the Farmers’ Market and am surprised to find, on top of all things delightful above, it’s also the market where everyone knows your name.
“Hi Lynn!” “Lynn you’re back!” “Weren’t you here yesterday, too? How lovely.” Gosh.
At the Corn Hall I find Fran Brown of Sunbird Silks and she tells me about her scarves. “I enjoy dyeing them. I only use blue, yellow, red and black and mix my own colours.”
Outside, back in the sunny square, Matt Keane of Over Farm Market is chatting to customers and turning a brisk trade of vegetables. One of his customers, Sue Hall, sums up the draw of Cirencester markets.
“We can buy local goods, from often longstanding, traditional businesses. To walk around and choose fresh, good quality produce is great.”
The future seems bright, in terms of plans, as Suzie Lew informs of a new Youth Market planned called “StrEAT”, an Italian market on October 3 and a Hallowe’en theme for October 31, so mark those down, do.
“It’s an honour to continue the legacy of markets in Cirencester,” says Suzie, “it’s an holistic experience. Come and support us!”
I will, Suzie, I’ll be back! I look forward to seeing all these cheery people again, to pick up a new clematis from the garden stall, purchase some soft cheese, wrap it into some fresh bread and to be regaled with more tales as I sit on an upturned basket.
Ciren markets rock.