Welcome back to The Last Bite, our column documenting the survival of traditional food establishments in a ramen-slurping, matcha latte-sipping, novelty cafe-obsessed world. As cities develop and dining habits change, can the dive bars and defiantly untrendy restaurants keep up? Here, we talk to longstanding bartenders, chefs, market stall holders, and restaurant owners to find out what the future may hold. Today, we head to Bury in Lancashire to visit an open-air market established back in 1444.
"You can get everything from bras to bathrooms, baby clothes to headstones," jokes Tony Chadwick, the proprietor of Chadwick's Original Black Pudding, one of 318 individual traders that make up Bury Market.
The Lancashire town may be known for the blood sausage delicacy, but its market is a never-ending labyrinth that caters to a far wider range of food and lifestyle needs. Want a trim? There's a barber shop. Fancy getting your talons painted? There's a nail bar. Need something for dinner? There's an entire fish and meat hall. Unlike the trendy street food markets that populate nearby Manchester, Bury Market offers no bullshit prices and plenty of banter.
The first thing I notice on my visit is just how busy the place is—no doubt thanks to the dozens of coaches that arrive every day with people eager to explore the stalls. Looking around, the clientele is mostly of retirement age and the traders fully cater to this, selling traditional pies, sausages, and cheese.
Many of the stallholders have been on the site for generations, like Pamela Pardon who started her delicatessen 15 years ago and the Willis Bros greengrocer, which has been passed down from father to son. Although the greengrocer is the one of the market's oldest stalls, business can be turbulent.
"We're not as busy as we used to be," owner Mark admits. "As soon as the supermarkets opened ten or 15 years ago, a lot of the fruit and veg stalls went. We've survived because we had a lot of regulars, but whereas back then it was 80 percent of our customers, now it's about 20 percent. We keep on trading though, as we still enjoy it and want to keep the family tradition going."
Mark mentions that Bury Market has many more places to eat and drink nowadays, and it's in Dolliz Bar, a recently opened bar opposite the market's hairdressers, that I get chatting to Bill and Christine White.
"We've come from Blackburn today," Christine says. "We used to come Fridays and Saturdays but since Bill retired, we come any day really. It's always buzzing. It's a good day out and there's a lot more variety than on the market back home."
Bill, who worked in a brewery for 22 years, is especially happy about the local cask ales on offer at Dolliz Bar. Owner Lizelle Bramall tells me there was thinking behind the new bar's location, not just the drinks list.
"I noticed that there were a lot of husbands waiting around while their wives got their hair done, so I came up with the idea for this place," she explains. "It took a while to get it approved. We had to go through Bury Council and there are strict rules in place. We have to use plastic glasses and we don't sell spirits for people to take off site, but as you can see it's proving very popular."
Indeed, Dolliz Bar is as busy as the salon across the way.
Having met so many of Bury Market's longstanding stallholders, I'm keen to talk to a more recent arrival. Eventually, I find Candice and Stephen Burrage, who took over the market's bacon stall just three weeks ago.
"My husband was working as a surveyor and I was in the healthcare sector. We'd been in our jobs for 16 years and fancied a change doing something less stressful," Candice tells me. "I was looking for a stall for about a year then when this came up, we snapped it up and were in within two weeks. If it was any other market I'd have given it more thought, but I knew it would be really busy."
Despite a retail park housing Topshop, River Island, and Marks & Spencer opening in just a stone's throw from Bury Market in 2010, the place continues to thrive. The National Association of British Markets awarded Bury their "Market of the Year" accolade in 2006, 2009, 2012, and 2015.
But as bustling as Bury is, I wonder how long it'll survive in its current incarnation—whether one licensed bar will become ten and if the place will eventually turn into the kind of pulled pork burger-flogging market we've come to expect of gentrified suburbs.
"When we won market of the year the first time round, we had a lot of people come to see what Bury was doing right," Chadwick tells me as I make my way back to his black pudding stall to bid farewell. "Aside from the black pudding," he adds with a wink, "it's the unique atmosphere, of course."
There does seem to be something unusual about Bury, a collision of old and new that exists surprisingly harmoniously. And long may that last.
All photos by Akash Khadka.