Express & Star

'Cheap prices and great people' – Golden times as Bilston market celebrates 50 years

Traders and shoppers have spoken of good people and a welcoming atmosphere at a market set to celebrate a significant anniversary.

Andrew Pritchard serves from his stall on a busy Monday lunchtime

Bilston Indoor Market will mark 50 years as a "jewel in the crown" of the town on Saturday with a day of celebratory events and a special plaque being unveiled.

For many the market is an essential part of their life, not just for the bargains they can find but for the people they meet and friends they bump into.

The market has a real mixture of items on sale, from fruit and veg to clothing, from meat and fish to home brew and sweets, and traders say it is people who make it such a welcoming place.

Jag Sandhu said the market had been his life and traders made it what it was

Jag Sandhu has been trading at the market as Segemor Textiles since 1987, having started there as a young man helping traders. He said it was there was a good mixture of second and third-generation traders who made the place tick.

He said: "The market has been my life as I was born in Bilston and after leaving school, I wanted to do graphic design, but found there wasn't much help with it, so started helping my boss here with the textiles and sort of fell into it.

"One of the things I will say about Bilston is that we are very savvy and the market has a lot of good traders, with a lot of them being second-generation, and I think the biggest changes have been through the number of young people coming through, which we didn't have before.

"What makes this place special is the traders and the people as we have a lot of regular customers and I'm serving people who I remember being pushed around in their prams, so there's a lot of loyalty as well."

Some of the businesses from the launch on March 12, 1973 are still trading today, including Bennetts café, Julie Hopkins hosiery, Nicholls Fruit and Veg, Pritchard’s Fruit and Veg, Sand’s Fish and JL Thomas and Son's meat, poultry and deli.

Lee Nicholls said the customers and the banter made the place special

Nicholls Fruit and Veg has been operating in Bilston since the early 1920s, with five generations of the same family having worked or currently working at the stall.

Lee Nicholls had been at the stall for 47 years, starting out as a 16-year-old with his father Clive and currently running the stall with his son Ben, and said the banter with the customers was part of what made the market special for him.

He said: "The customers and the banter are what makes this place and there has just been a generally good feeling around here for as long as we have been here.

"The market isn't as busy as it used to be and Covid didn't help as we had two years with lockdown and being shut down, but Bilston Market is one of the best in the country and everyone who comes here says it's a fantastic place to go to.

"A lot of markets have fallen by the wayside, either through collapsing or just struggling along, but this place has kept going and is a great place to go and shop."

Another of the long-standing traders at the market, JL Thomas and Son's, has also been trading for more than 100 years, with current owner Joseph Lawson Thomas having been there for 44 years himself.

Joseph Lawson Thomas said Bilston was an old-fashioned town and the market fit with that

He said Bilston was a good, old-fashioned town and the people in it had always liked markets, so felt the market had a familiar feeling for people.

He said: "It is good to know that people still like coming out to the market and I think that people have always liked the market in Bilston and I also think it's got a few years left in it.

"While other markets have struggled, we can end up having a really good day, even when the town seems dead and market days do really well here."

For people coming into have a cup of tea at Bennetts cafe or get their weekly shopping, Bilston Indoor Market is a familiar and friendly place and somewhere that feels part of the routine.

James and Joan Poulton both said the market was a cheap and familiar place

James and Joan Poulton had both shopping in the market since the day it opened in 1973 and the 84-year-olds from Bilston said it was a welcoming place and a good place to shop.

Mr Poulton said: "You can get pretty much what you want here and get it cheaper than anywhere else and a lot of the people who were here years ago are still here.

"You end up going to the same places and you meet the same people and we like going into places like Bennetts as it's a good place to meet friends."

Mrs Poulton said: "We've been coming here and the old market since we were young, both with our parents and by ourselves and you can always find what you want here.

"You can find things cheaper than you can in other places as well and it's full of Bilston people, many of whom are still here."