Chester is a popular shopping destination and always has been.
The city has held an indoor market since the 12th century. Despite modernisation, Chester’ Roman heritage, historic Rows and Princess Street market are still key to its special identity.
As the current market hall prepares for the proposed Northgate redevelopment and a new chapter in its history, Sandra Taker, former owner of market hardware store Toolcraft reflects on a lifetime of trading in the heart of Chester…
“I remember the old cobbled floor – it was a huge area with alleyways and passages leading off; much bigger than the market today,” said Sandra Taker, recalling the look of the old 1950’s market.
“There were these huge turntables that opened the roof.”
The youngest of four children, Sandra, 67, was born in Chester to market trader parents Jonathan and Emily Tranter.
“My mum and dad were Tranters which was a very well known name in Chester,” she said. “They had a second hand clothes, bric-a-brac and houseware stall in the old market square, where The Forum shopping centre is now.”
Sandra, who now lives in Upton, remembers spending her summer holidays in the old market with her mum and dad: “I would have been about seven years old and I used to sit on the floor pairing shoes with elastic bands. In those days pocket money was never given, you earned it. It never did me any harm.
“We still had family holidays. My father was an avid fisherman. Back in the 50s and 60s we went to Butlins in Pwllheli, Filey and Skegness on rotation.”
As a child, Sandra said she “loved school” and attended Boughton St Paul’s Infant School.
“I was the prefect,” she said. “I was in all the sports teams and I swam the Dee mile from way past Eccleston.”
In 1966, Sandra left school and went straight into the family business.
“I remember we used to have market gardeners coming in with corn-fed chickens, dirty carrots and unwashed goose eggs,” she said.
“At the very front of the market all the geese, chickens and turkeys would be hung up. There was no refrigeration.
“That always sticks in my mind.” Sandra smiled, adding: “Health regulations soon put a stop to that.”
Sandra’s father died before a change to a more modern and safety-conscious market set-up in 1967.
“When we moved into the new market not all of the original market traders stayed; some of them retired.
“We lost some of the traditions, but people that bought from markets, still bought from markets. There were no superstores like there are now.
“We had the camaraderie, the co-operation, it was like a big extended family. It was a good atmosphere all year round. It was a proper market.”
Alongside her mother, Sandra continued working in the new market throughout those prosperous times until she met her first husband and had children of her own.
In 1985, after a break from work, Sandra returned to market life, taking a part-time job at Tool Craft, a hardware retailers.
“The owner at the time asked me to open the shop for him for two weeks while he went on holiday,” she said. “When he came back he couldn’t believe how much I had taken, the goods I had sold.
“I eventually bought the shop from the gentleman who owned it,” Sandra explained.
“I became self-employed and with my sister Jane, we split the work between us. Unfortunately, Jane had arthritis so I bought her out and became the sole owner.”
For the past 30 years Sandra has helped thousands of customers find the DIY essentials and household goods they need.
However, some shoppers needed more help than others.
“A lady came in the shop once and asked did I sell castor oil. I sent her to Boots the Chemist. She came back later and told me she needed oil for the casters on her three piece suite.
“On another occasion a very influential lady came to the shop and asked me if I sold mouse traps, in a very secretive manner. She then asked if it would hurt the mouse. I said it would probably kill it stone dead. She bought one anyway.”
Sandra’s honesty, knowledge and friendly service meant she developed a strong bond with all of her customers.
She said: “I had a regular customer who lived in Handbridge, and over the years she told me about her family, including her grandchildren. One day she said she would be sending one of her grandchildren to see me on the Saturday and that I would know who she was.
“On the Saturday a very elegant young woman came in and asked me for ‘a bottle of elbow grease’. She told me it was for her grandmamma. I instantly knew who had sent her.
“I explained I was out of stock and please tell her grandmamma it would be delivered on Thursday afternoon. Of course her grandmamma was my regular customer who later told me her granddaughter was a solicitor in London, but had no common sense.”
Sandra has worked six days a week for virtually all of her working life but never on Sundays. She explained: “Sundays were family days, we never worked on a Sunday or a bank holiday to respect tradition. Family is very, very important to me. We still have family holidays now.”
Sandra has three daughters, one granddaughter and a new grandson who is 18 weeks old. They all live in Cheshire.
Along with spending time with her grandchildren, Sandra is looking forward to having some ‘me time’ after closing the doors on Tool Craft for the final time last week.
“I’m a member of the Chester and District Scouts so I can go away with them without having to travel back for work.
“When the market fell into decline I found I was no longer able to trade. No trade brings financial loss. The rest is history.”
Sandra looks back on her family’s time in the market, which has spanned two generations, with great fondness.
“I wish to thank my fellow market traders, friends and customers who have made my working life so memorable,” she said.
“The happy memories override the pitfalls. Being part of a living working community in Chester market was a privilege.”