A potted history, 1919-2003

The Open Market
Photo by Kathrin Hunger

The Open Market started life in 1919 as an unofficial market in nearby Oxford Street. The barrows, mostly owned by ex-servicemen, were soon moved to the rose walk in the centre of the Level, but in 1926 a permanent site was found on the gardens of Marshall’s Row (the site of the present market).

These cottagers were demolished in 1938 with the exception of Dawkin’s smithy, which survived until about 1960. In front of this was a horse stock for shoeing fractious horses and a tyring wheel for shrinking iron rims onto cart wheels. Inside was the forge and anvil for shaping the horse shoes, a welcome spot on a cold winter’s day.

With the demolition of the cottagers a line of permanent stalls under a tiled roof was created selling mainly cheap fruit and vegetables. The market was extended in 1960 by using the rear gardens of Baker Street, when the present stalls were constructed.

Comments about this page

  • I recall the Open Market well, as my mother used to purchase all our fresh comestibles (ie. just about our entire food intake other than bread and cereals) there each Saturday. We would carry our purchases out to the nearby bus stop and take the 26 trolleybus up the short steep incline of Ditchling Road to alight at St Saviour’s.

    One very clear memory was of a stall which stood out like a sore thumb among the Open Market’s veg, butchery and fish stalls. This was the “blind man’s toy stall”. I can’t remember the name of the blind man, but he sold all manner of inexpensive plastic toys, mostly labelled “Made in Japan” at a time when all Japanese imports were regarded with derision as cheap junk (which most of them then were). Of course, this was before the era of Honda, Sony, Yamaha, Pioneer and all the other superb precision product manufacturers from that country!

    If anyone knows more about the blind man and his stall, certainly an Open Market institution, I’d be interested to hear.

    By Len Liechti (17/04/2008)
  • I have a photograph of one of the original stalls that was in the Level. It was run by Frank Parrett my uncle.

    By Dennis Parrett (23/05/2008)
  • I remember so well going to the market with my mum and gran. My favourite part was going to see the blacksmith and I wouldn’t go home till I had seen him! Even after I married my husband and I would shop at the market and my daughters enjoyed the experience only sadly by then the blacksmith had gone. Years later my mother was in charge of the toilets at the Open Market and she made many friends as well as rekindling old friendships, she was Joan Parsons.

    By Coral Luke (née Parsons) (28/05/2010)
  • Oh memories! My very first job on leaving school was to work in the market for a man by the name of Roy Yeats (think that is how it was spelt) who sold fruit and veg and at Christmas he also sold the trees. Lived in Chailey Road – wonderful days.

    By Russell Webb (10/02/2011)
  • I remember during the early 1950s, Jimmy and Maude Milne who ran the fruit and veg stall near the entrance to the open market. They were customers at my dad’s pub the White Hart in York Hill.

    By Barrie Searle (06/03/2011)
  • Just a short note for Coral Luke: Are you related to Terry Parsons late of Stanmer School and of St Margaret’s Junior and Infants School? If so it would be nice to hear from you as I was at school with Terry. My email address is john.wignall@hotmail.co.uk

    By John Wignall (26/01/2012)
  • It’s all gone! I walked past the Open Market this morning at the Ditchling Road end and it is now just an open space. Looking at it I couldn’t believe how small the area looked and thought about all the businesses, livelihoods and generations of people that have walked through there over the years. I remember the older people who used to sit on the benches at the top end of the market and watch the world go by. I also remember, as a boy in the 60s, going there with my parents or my grandmother to buy the smoked haddock or kippers for our Saturday dinner along with the vegetables for Sunday. This was usually on the way to London Road, then up through to Sydney Street as there were loads of butchers shops along there where we would buy the Sunday roast. From the bus stops in Lewes Road, the Open Market was a good route through to the town. It was certainly an icon of Brighton history and at its height (which was probably in the 50s and 60s) will be sadly missed. It obviously had its day and has not served its purpose for some years now. I’m looking forward to seeing the new building in progress over the coming months.

    By Paul Clarkson (09/03/2012)
  • I was in Brighton in 2010 and went through the market, I must say it was a shame. It was very sparse and in a sorry state. I remember how good it was in the 50s and 60s, it was always very busy with loads of stalls selling all sorts. My dad always had his huss from the under cover bit, was it “Ovett’s” fish stall? I also remember the blind man’s stall and wondered how he coped, perhaps there wern’t so many thieves then! Nobody has ever heard of huss in Nottingham where I live now and I think it’s called rock salmon in London. He always had it as there was only one bone in it, it looked like an eel. So on my next visit it will be no more. What will be in its place then? Used to go through there on my way to The Level – another one of my haunts.

    By Anne Newman (10/03/2012)
  • Yes it was ‘Ovetts’ fish stall and I think it stayed right to the end. The last market stalls have been relocated to Francis Street on a temporary basis until the re-build is complete, they now occupy some specially built stalls. I don’t know what the complete plan is but I know most of it will be undercover, I think there is to be some social housing built as well. I personally think that whatever goes up in its place will only do well if London Road improves, it’s a bit bleak now the big Co-op has closed, something needs to be done to stop it declining even further. You mentioned The Level, that was my playground in the late 60s and I used to love playing football with my friends there. There is to be some redevelopment soon which can only be good for the area.

    By Paul Clarkson (12/03/2012)
  • I hope it comes back bigger and better. There are places, like “Bill’s Yard” that show that people will leave the supermarkets for quality fresh food, not forgetting the value for which the market was founded. As for former traders, I remember Les Leeson, the butchers, his lovely daughter, Sue (always smiling) and Harry.

    By Ken Valder (12/03/2012)
  • I visited at least once a week as a child in the ’70s and back then it was THE place to go to get your weekly supplies. Steve Ovett’s dad had a stall in the inside bit. My mum would always get her supplies from one of the green grocery stalls at the front. Back then, the Open Market had great community spirit and all the stallholders were on first name terms with their customers. Unfortunately, when i last visited about a year ago, I could see it had been suffering from a slow, painful decline with only about 50% of the stalls open. Although sad to see it go, the time is probably right to update the space and breathe new life into the area.

    By Martin J. Fuller (10/06/2012)
  • Does anyone remember the sweet and biscuit stall, Hilary and Derek Granger? All that chocolate! I loved it so much I got a Saturday job there.

    By Theresa Puddephatt-Jones (26/09/2012)
  • The same thing has happened to the local Markets in London and the Midlands. Markets as my generation knew them are slowly dwindling so Brighton is not alone in this respect. The Market in Welingborough were I have lived now for over forty years has shrunk, there was a time when all markets were crowed to breaking point. Sadly this has now gone thank to online shopping for almost anything that you need. I still enjoy walking around the markets even if its only to have a quick word with the traders and maybe pickup the odd item or two. 

    By John Wignall (02/11/2015)
  • Hi Ken, I was 13 when I first worked  Saturdays in the Open Market, gutting chickens, a messy job  for Les Leeson the butchers with Philip Tucknott a young lad then. And it was hard work for a kid. I also worked for Charlie Mears on a Saturday serving fruit and veg and carrying boxes of bananas and sacks of spuds up the other end of the market. I also worked in the cafe. When I was 14 i got abou 10 shillings and sixpence and out of that I had to buy my mum 20 Kensitas cigs and the rest I had for pocket money. No wonder I suffer from severe back problems now. But I loved it there and am sad to hear it has gone. 

    By Gill Read nee Shephard (20/08/2018)
  • Hi Gill, there is a gap of several years in the string of comments above but it is still there. You should visit the new Open Market (now roofed) as it is a 21st century version of the old one with a very ‘Brighton’ feel of ethnic foods and retro stalls, plus some of the best cheese this side of the Channel.

    By Geoffrey Mead (21/08/2018)
  • I had no idea that the Open Market  was no more, very sad but progress I suppose. I had many happy years after the war at my dad’s stall in the market during the 40s and 50s as a kid. Before the market was modernised a bit the stalls were ramshackle with corrugated iron roofs. I spent many a winter freezing in the draughty old stalls with just a paraffin heater with a metal teapot on it. When the new stalls were erected my dad went in with the blind man Maury Raffe. Fond memories.

    By Mick Peirson (21/08/2018)
  • Hi Geoff, thank you for taking the time to let me know that the dear old Open Market hasn’t gone as such. It held good memories of working with down to earth chatty happy people, salt of the earth. So I am happy that the old girl is back where she belongs.

    By Gill Read nee Shephard (23/08/2018)
  • To Mike Pierson – above 2018:
    I got in touch with Maurice Raff’s daughter not long ago. The family lived in Winfield Avenue, Patcham, just up from the junction with Carden Avenue and bordering on a twitten next to Patcham School playing field. His son Jack was a mate of mine.

    By John Snelling (24/10/2019)

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