A photographic history

Ex-servicemen and barrow boys

The Open Market started in Oxford Street in 1919 as an unorganised collection of barrows, mainly owned by ex-servicemen, but also by some of the town’s ‘barrow boys’. The barrow boys were also known as ‘fly-pitchers’ because of their habit of pitching their barrows ‘on the fly’ and moving from site to site.

Moved to The Level

In the early 1920s, Brighton Council, conscious of many complaints, moved the traders from Oxford Street to the central rose-walk on The Level. It was then that Harry Cowley, a local workers’ rights activist became involved. He led a campaign for a permanent site for the market. As a result, on 19th November 1926, a permanent site was opened in the gardens of the cobbled fronted houses of Marshall’s Row.

Marshall’s Row demolished

The new arrangement may have been useful for the traders, but the residents of Marshall’s Row certainly did not take to having such a mass of people and stalls just in front of their houses. By 1938 the houses had been demolished and there were plans to use the space for an extended market.

New market opened in 1960

However, for many years the site was undeveloped and used merely for parking for cars and lorries. Finally the newly built Open Market, comprising forty-two stalls was opened on 7th January 1960, by the then Duke of Norfolk.

Comments about this page

  • I would love to know who these people are. The lady has a look of my family, the Taylors. Anyone know?

    By Jennifer Tonks (04/07/2011)
  • It’s great to be able to see these wonderful images.

    By Tony Mould (04/07/2011)
  • The middle gates leading to Marshall’s Row bring a memory to me of a cafe,also a funeral parlour. A vague memory its true but, mum hurrying me along after seeing a coffin. As I said a very vague memory, but, a memory nevertheless.

    By Jennifer Tonks (04/07/2011)
  • Despite being born and bred in Brighton, I haven’t lived there for 8 years. The Open Market is, I think, one of Brighton’s great attractions. I used to stock up on dirt-cheap but good quality fruit and veg, and then get the 81B bus back to Furze Hill. I seem to remember reading on a website that the market was going to be redeveloped; is this true? Best wishes to everyone, and thanks to the webmasters for a great website that keeps me in touch with things ‘back home’.

    By Andy Lainton (04/07/2011)
  • One of my earliest memories of the Open Market was watching Mr Dawklins at his shoeing forge at the entrance to Marshalls Row. I was at a country show not long ago watching …and smelling, a shoeing demonstration and the smell of hot horse hoof brought memories flooding back. Brighton Museum (pre-revamp) had a collection of Dawklins’ tools on display plus a life size b&w photo of the man himself. Until they extended the veg shop next to the forge site there was still visible in the rear wall an iron ring for tethering the horses.

    By Geoffrey Mead (05/07/2011)
  • I recall the Market looking exactly the same in the 1950s as in the pictures above from the 1930s. The 1960 redevelopment was much tidier, but I retained an affection for the old ramshackle arrangement that preceded it. Happily the Blind Man got a bigger and better space in roughly the same position. More about him on other pages of MyB&H concerning the Open Market.

    By Len Liechti (05/07/2011)
  • I think the two people in the picture are called Harding. Their relation, Roger Harding, had a stall in the market until the middle of the 1990s.

    By D. Gillam (21/12/2012)
  • My grandmother’s sister’s brother-in-law was the blacksmith Dawkins in 1957 when I visited him in his smithy, I was 11 at the time. A relative of Dawkins’ now runs a forge at Newtimber.

    By Richard Small (07/12/2013)
  • In the 1930s my mum used to like watching the blacksmith whilst my grandma was shopping in the market.
    I don’t know from when and for how long, but she always told me that my great-uncle worked there, – Albert Mace.
    Little did my mum know she would grow up to marry his nephew!

    By Tina Mace (07/07/2020)
  • I should imagine Harry Cowley would be turning in his grave to see how Brighton has been let down and in such a state , not to mention all those who remember Brighton as it used to be ! are we really progressing or declining,? so sad !

    By Joe Mann (08/07/2020)

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