My abiding memories of the Butter Market, which I take to mean that part of the town market place which runs down to Abbeygate Street, as opposed to the Corn Hill, was of the Star supply stores where my father worked before the war and for a short time afterwards.
The Star Supply Stores
It was situated next to Cullens, the tailors just where there is a break in the line of shops as you walk down. This, for those of you who remember it, was much like the International Stores, with its all-pervading smell of smoked bacon, ground coffee and spices. All loose goods such as tea, coffee & sugar were sold in blue paper bags and weighed out at the counter. I used to love to watch the bacon slicer in action and see the rashers of bacon curl away from the blade and be laid one by one onto a piece of greaseproof paper, before being carefully wrapped.
This was still the time of rationing and I remember the shop assistant tearing out the coupons from my mother’s ration book. The only important coupons for me at that time were the sweet coupons, but luckily for me, I was the firstborn of my mum’s family and my three aunts used to bolster my sweet ration enormously.
Moyse’s Hall Clock
There was, of course, the sound of Moyse’s Hall clock, each quarter-hour I think? Which, whenever I hear it…even today, takes me back to my childhood. I am not sure if Moyse’s Hall Museum is considered to be in the Butter Market but if it is, then that was my favourite place. In those days it was to my mind, much more interesting than it is today, as it was more cluttered, musty & dusty; absolutely fascinating. The prize exhibit was, of course, William Corder’s scalp and the book bound in his skin. Those together with the Gibbet cage and the Mantrap. What a morbid fascination I had then!
Then there was the Napoleonic Prisoner of War sailing ship, made of bone, and the collection of moths and butterflies in the glass cases. I could spend hours in there and was often left there to wander around, whilst my Mother or Father shopped in the market and would collect me when it was time to go home. This was much preferable to tagging along with them around the market, when it seemed that every few yards they would meet someone they knew and would spend what seemed like hours in idle chatter!
In later years there was the Playhouse Cinema, one of three in the town at that time, which, as the name suggests was also a theatre. Along the same side of the street was also the ‘Milk Bar’, where on high days & Holidays I was sometimes treated to a Milk Shake or an Ice Cream Sundae…delicious! Opposite there was a large store called Pretty’s, which sold almost everything a young boy was not interested in. I do seem to remember, however, that it once had a line from each counter to a central booth, along which a container sped with money for purchases and returned with the change and receipt…wonderful to watch.
The Market stalls could be entertaining as well. Especially the china stall where a man in an old fashioned preachers hat would heap upon his assistant, plate after plate or cup after cup…”Not just 10…not just 15…but 20…and all for 10 bob!…did I say 10 bob?…no 7/6d …no not 7/6….give me 5 bob”… and so on.
The Suffolk Hotel was also in the Butter Market and had very comfortable bars to which to take girlfriends in teenage years. Also, the Playhouse bar, which was down an alleyway beside the Playhouse, but one didn’t take girlfriends there! I don’t suppose that it still exists? There were doubtless many other shops whose names now escape me, but on a Wednesday & Saturday the Butter Market, together with the Corn Hill square were very colourful, bustling and noisy places to be and it is probably still very much the same today.
Originally published 21 April 2016 in the Facebook Group by John Stocking