Market Place at war

 “Apples & Pears – Come Buy My Wares” – But not in Doncaster!

In spite of previous warning Mr R Fowlstone continued to shout his goods for sale in the Market Hall, any repetition will result in loss of tenancy of his stall. (Oct. 1917)

Doncaster Archives AB9-TC5-63-064

Title: Doncaster Archives AB9-TC5-63-064
Description: Letter from C. H. Vaux by-nc

As market vendors went off to war, there was a scramble to take up their stalls, sometimes by other members of the family or often other stall holders requesting to transfer their pitches to vacant stalls, perhaps being in  better location than their own.  Often the Market Committee gave permission for this to happen on the proviso that on their return from the war they could return to their stalls.

At Woods Fish & Rabbit Merchant, Sam Wood asked for permission to take over from his brother who was killed in 1916, himself having just been released from the army, his late brother having had the stall for 9 years.

A variety of goods were being sold e.g. pheasants, small birds, hares, rabbits, geese, caps, braces, temperance beverages to name but of few.

Doncaster Archives AB9-TC5-63-012a

Title: Doncaster Archives AB9-TC5-63-012a
Description: Red Cross Fund appeal by-nc

In August 1915, the Queen Alexandra’s Million Egg Week Appeal for Wounded Soldiers & Sailors was launched. Posters were displayed, resulting in 540 eggs (6 cases) despatched by rail to London. In November the same year, the Red Cross Fund invited butchers to display a collection box on their stalls to raise money – the aim was to raise £250,000 nationwide. (scan TC5-63-012a)

Let there be Light!

In September 1916 a petition was sent to the Market Committee asking them to consider an extension of the lighting arrangements until 9.00pm (the market was open on Saturdays until 10.00pm).  The wartime restricted lighting was causing people living on the outskirts of the town to visit Mexborough and Wakefield where the lighting restrictions were not so strictly enforced. It was suggested that a more subdued lighting arrangement be allowed, and in the event of an enemy air raid, the police could give a warning for all lights to be extinguished.

Mrs A Hughes wrote to the Market Committee in December 1916, requesting a lamp: “I wish to call your attention to the darkness of the market in the Poultry and Bird Seed shops and stalls and also to the danger of the general public coming in or leaving the market at night.”

In October 1915 The Doncaster Musical Society, wishing to hire the Corn Exchange, agreed to an experiment of putting green paper shades on the lights on the upper balconies so that no gleam can possibly reach the roof.  They hoped this would allow them to light the area while complying with blackout measures.

Doncaster Archives AB9-TC5-64-001a

Title: Doncaster Archives AB9-TC5-64-001a
Description: Corn Exchange plan by-nc

The Corn Exchange was hired out for dances, whist drives, boxing tournaments, cinematographs and lantern shows showing the fighting forces at the front, many to raise funds for the war effort and local auxiliary hospitals. If light was needed after 11pm this would be charged at 7/6- per hour. Other costs included the hire of a platform for £3 and the removal of school desks for 25/- to 30/- (the Corn Exchange was used as temporary school accommodation when the military had taken over the schools).


As the war raged on and hardships took hold, many vendors ask for rent reductions to make ends meet, officials ask for pay rises or war bonus payments and, as food controls tighten, many disputes arise.

There were cold storage facilities in the market, and on occasion this malfunctioned causing the meat to defrost – Fred Swaby, of Broxholme Lane and Fish Market, wrote to the Chairman of the Market Committee after receiving a Condemned Notice – “the rabbits were thawed soft and simply went mouldy and rotten, now under the conditions of shortage of food I consider this a sin for good food to be wasted in this manner. I have heard that several tradesmen would rather the labour of shoving a cart (of meat) to Hexthorpe Co-op (cold storage) than run the risk of storing good meat in your House of Destruction! Mr Swaby ends by saying “War Time Economy – 1,000 Dinners Wasted” (July 1917)

Police were called to a near riot in January 1918, concerning the Market Superintendent Mr Cromwell and three Butchers Messrs: Best, Clay and Dobson. There was a very large queue of people outside in the heavy pouring rain, and it was decided by the Market Superintendent that the queue of about 100 people should be allowed inside on a first come, first served basis. Mr Dobson was not in agreement and let one woman in the shop and locked the door. It was pointed out that it would be impossible to keep the people in order if Mr Dobson was only going to serve his regular customers. At this, Mr Dobson flew into a temper, causing an argument which, knowing there was very little meat on the premises, incited the crowd.

Mrs Phillipson of Spring Ville, Thorne received a caution for selling underweight fruit and veg and was warned that any repetition would result in prosecution. It wasn’t only the market traders who received warnings, in 1919 Hodgson & Hepworths were reprimanded for selling underweight bread in accordance with the Bread Order of 1918.

Military Takeover

Public buildings were taken over by the military, including some of the market area.  RAF Pontefract (May 1918) acquired the North Wing of the Market Hall. The Town Council were most concerned, stating that the occupation would seriously interfere with the food supply from the country districts. A large number of butchers, greengrocers, butter, eggs and poultry vendors would have to be turned out of the Market Hall, and the worry was that the trade would be diverted away from Doncaster and the effect would result in a general shortage.

Doncaster Archives AB9-TC5-64-013

Title: Doncaster Archives AB9-TC5-64-013
Description: An outraged letter by-nc

Mrs Rust of Rockingham Road, Wheatley, wrote asking the town council to re-instate her market grounds which she had lost. She writes “this terrible war has brought me anxiety and worry, it has been an unhappy time for me, for my own dear boys have been sent out in the thick of the fighting, but I thank God for he has spared these lives up to now”. She also explained that one of her sons had been seriously wounded in the retreat at Cambrai and has undergone two operations. Mrs Rust writes she is the mother of eight children and also states she has a little girl who is partly paralyzed: “it has been a cruel blow to know she will never walk again.”

The Town Clerks replied that the military have taken over this part of the market and that Mrs Rust will be re-instated on their departure.

Doncaster & District Butchers Assoc. complained they had been moved from their shops due to military requirements and are being asked to pay increased rents.

The Market Committee received many letters during the early months of 1919 enquiring for how much longer would the military occupy the market, as loss of trade was having a detrimental effect to livelihoods.  Many men returning from the war requesting stalls were being turned down, having served their country, resulting in a number of outraged letters.