Coventry Retail Market has been in the city for more than 60 years.
The bustling hub is perhaps the only place in Coventry where you can get your pictures framed, flowers arranged, fish for tea and a slap up pork and crackling batch to see you home in one visit.
The building was opened by Princess Alexandra in 1958 and at the time was heralded as one of the best equipped markets in Europe.
It replaced the old market which was destroyed in the blitz during World War II, and became an essential meeting place for people in the city, especially because a lot of the commercial and leisure spaces in Coventry had been destroyed.
Generations of Coventry kids have got lost in its circular and seemingly never ending passageways, and in days gone by, on busy market days, the swelling crowds would require little ones to hold on to their parents for dear life.
And now, it has pulled through the coronavirus pandemic, having to adapt to new ways of socially distanced shopping, with stalls reopening after temporary closure.
Look at these fascinating pictures of Coventry Market through the years from our archives:
The market has had to modernise, and it now stands as a representation of everything Coventry is about. Fruit stalls that have been there for generations still stand, but now alongside Afghani fruit sellers, African grocery stalls, and eco-friendly refill stations.
Social distancing is now in place so people can continue to shop safely.
If you’ve been into Coventry city centre recently, you will have noticed a lot of construction and regeneration taking place. Coventry Point has gone, and building work on the city centre south regeneration scheme can be heard before you see it.
So with the help of the Coventry Telegraph archives, we decided to take a minute amidst the change, and look back at Coventry Market’s remarkable history.
The history of Coventry market
Coventry market was officially opened by Princess Alexandra on November 4 1958, and it was an exciting time for the city.
The market hall was built to designs of Douglas Beaton, Ralph Iredale and Ian Crawford of Coventry City Architect’s Department.
It was built on the site of Barracks and Rex markets, which had been partially damaged during the bombing of Coventry in November 1940, to accommodate the former stallholders whilst providing additional facilities.
A circular design was chosen to encourage circulation and offer various entrances to customers, and it was given a a flat roof in order to create a car park.
The roof car park, is one of the earliest examples of a post war market building that has survived, and that is one of the reasons why it is a listed building.
A much loved feature of the old market was the merry-go-round, and so when the new market was built, a children’s merry-go-round, designed by David Mason with models of vehicles manufactured in Coventry, was installed.
As the years went on, so did the golden era of a bustling market hall, with families descending on Coventry Market at the weekend, and weekday mornings also drawing crowds.
There were even jobs for local teenagers as runners to pass messages between stall holders, as they could navigate the crowd filled rabbit warren of the market with ease.
A typical Saturday for a Coventry family might have been getting the bus into town to do the shopping, stopping off at Fishy Moore’s chip shop in the city arcade, and on to the market, to get a cake from the bakery, or groceries for the week.
Coventry market in 2020
When CoventryLive visited the market earlier this year in February, sellers spoke of the changes they have seen in shopping habits.
As shoppers are drawn to out of town shopping centres and instant online shopping, sellers here face an increasingly difficult climate in which to run their businesses
Speaking to us at the time, mother and son Pat and Stephen Vent, who run E. Paynes fruit stall, a fixture of Coventry market for more than 50 years, said: “To me, nothing has changed apart from that fact we’ve gone to metric measurements! I’m serving the same people that I was serving 55 years ago. I would say the only issue is car parking and public transport, as our elderly customers rely on the buses.”
Sisters Catrina and Regina, who run Maria’s Bakery which is family run and was established in 1977, said: “I remember when I was seven and Gina was nine, you just could not move for all the people in the market. People’s shopping habits have changed, the market used to be for socialising and having a laugh. We are really grateful to our loyal customers, but would encourage everyone to just shop locally.”
And September brought a triumphant to the market for one stall, who reopened after the coronavirus pandemic led to the longest shutdown in its 44-year history.
John King & Sons (Coventry) Ltd made the decision to temporarily pull down the shutters during the coronavirus lockdown on March 23, partly because of the adverse trading conditions as people stayed at home but also to protect customers from the spread of Covid-19.
Speaking to CoventryLive when they reopened in September, Martin King said: “It feels strange to be back after being away for so long, and the stall is usually twice as big. Five months is a long time when you’ve done something as long as we have but it all comes back straight away. It’s nice to welcome back all the customers and see some familiar faces. This time it’s for good, hopefully.”
Despite many of us turning to online shopping, 65% of CoventryLive readers answered in a poll on our website that they would be tempted to return to shopping at Coventry Market, or try it for the first time.
Coventry’s skyline might be developing drastically, but the market has been and will continue to be, a familiar face to generations of Coventrians.