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Food by VICE

Sheffield’s Traditional Market Stall Traders Are Still Standing

Since the closure of longstanding indoor market Castle Market in 2013, Sheffield’s fresh produce and street food traders have had to relocate and adapt to the city’s continually evolving food scene.

by Daniel Dylan Wray
Jul 9 2015, 10:00am

All photos by Natasha Bright.

When New Zealand filmmaker Florian Habicht came to Sheffield to shoot his 2014 documentary Pulp: A Film About Life, Death & Supermarkets, he zoomed in on areas of the city suggested to him by Jarvis Cocker. In a copy of the singer's collected lyrics, Habicht underlined the reference to "Castle Market," and made a brief notation next to it: "worth a visit."

Worth a visit indeed it was, but the indoor market, built atop the remains of Sheffield Castle, was closed before the film even previewed. Home to fresh produce traders for decades, the market was shut permanently in 2013 to make way for the opening of the council's new Moor Market on the other side of the city centre. Demolition to the building is currently taking place, leaving its innards exposed and floors poking out like the ribcage of a skeleton.

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The half-demolished Castle Market in Sheffield. All photos by Natasha Bright.

But like a skeleton, Castle Market once breathed with life and personality. My first trip there as a student was almost like time travelling. We sat at a cafe and inhaled fat and cigarette smoke over a mountain of chips, sheepishly giggling at the naff decor. Of course, it was stuff that would be considered some sort of postmodern, ironic statement today: menus on brightly coloured, star-shaped bits of card and net curtains jaundiced yellow from years of smoke. I soon overcame the childish giggling, however, and shopped there for years before its closure.

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79-year-old June Chester was another Castle Market regular, visiting every week since childhood. She remembers it as being "homely."

"There was such a camaraderie in the market between the stalls," she tells me.

Barry Turton, who now runs the Cod and Cockle fish stall in the new Moor Market, started out as a fishmonger at Castle Market in the 1970s.

"It was a thriving, busy, and fully occupied market," he remembers.

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Cod and Cockle fishmongers at Sheffield's Moor Market.

After its closure in 2013, many of Castle Market's traders relocated to Moor Market. The new market is the curving antithesis of the former's largely underground construction, and is made up of light and open spaces. Some traders it as necessary progress, while others, like Simmonite Butchers and Fishmongers, chose to open up elsewhere in the city.

But Castle Market's demolition is just one aspect of Sheffield's shifting shopping and dining habits. Peddler Night Market, a monthly market located in the city's industrial quarter, aims to showcase "some of Britain's best street food." Offerings include crab toasties, handmade ice cream, and dishes from popular local traders like Percy & Lily's, whose menus draw inspiration from Middle Eastern and Indian street food.

"Our traders are handpicked. This involves traveling the country to see them, taste them, and invite them," explains Peddler Night Market founder Jordan Roberts. "The closure of Castle Market was upsetting for me, it was where I did my weekly shop and I lived close to it for this reason."

Another Sheffield market attempting to fill Castle Market's void is local events company Picture House Event's monthly street food and fresh produce market, located in a 1920s cinema.

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Sheffield's recently opened Moor Market.

"I was desperately sad that the Castle Market closed. I know it wasn't the best shopping experience (that smell!) but it was a huge part of Sheffield's history and the traders' livelihood relied on it," says organiser Amanda Perry. "It was important for us to provide more than just a market. [Picture House Event's market] is an event, somewhere that parents don't have to drag their kids to, like the supermarket."

While new, event-based markets like Peddler and Picture House are thriving, a stagnant air that hangs over the Moor Market, with a number of stalls standing empty.

"It's a mixed bag," explains Sean Clarke of Beer Central, an artisan beer trader that didn't operate at Castle Market but opened recently at Moor Market. "Some miss the atmosphere, location, and familiarity of the Castle Market but others prefer the cleaner, safer, more modern feel of the Moor Market."

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It would be easy to paint the clean and modern Moor Market as the enemy of the now deceased Castle Market, but most traders don't see it that way.

"I don't see an old-school-versus-new-school situation. Market traders are market traders—small, owner-operated, independent local businesses run with passion and knowledge," says Stu at Cod and Cockle. "We get students alongside pensioners, born-and-bred Sheffield folk alongside folk from every corner of the globe. It's not unusual to have a customer spending £150 for a dinner party showpiece stood alongside a customer buying a bag of offcuts for 30p.

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The Smith and Tissington egg counter at Moor Market.

But for Chester, who has only visited Moor Market twice since Castle Market closed, it's not the same.

"There's absolutely no atmosphere there. It's not as friendly," she says. "It's lost its personality."

Of course, a city of Sheffield's size needed a more forward-thinking market (and it was only a matter of time before it too was subsumed by the trend for street food). But perhaps Castle Market's "stuck in the past" ways weren't stubborn bloody mindedness or unwillingness to get with the times. Maybe they were a reflection of what its loyal customer base actually wanted.