As a lad growing up in Oldham, the town’s Tommyfield Market was always a regular weekly visit, from getting dragged around by my mum on a Saturday morning to nipping in during college for a chippy lunch.
Over the years I frequented the markets and there was always a range of proper characters on show week-in, week-out. There was the ’50p man’ who sold everything for 50p (obviously), a fella named Phil who would pimp up your Nokia 3310 for twenty quid and an unfathomable number of old dears who would pop down with their tartan trollies to buy tripe for their tea.
This was also the place, back in around 1996, where everyone at school would buy their NAFF NAFF jackets and Eclipse jeans. Always bustling, always busy and always a true experience.
The markets themselves began all the way back in 1788, when a fella named Thomas Whittaker rented out his land for people to sell their goods and wares. After a couple of years, Tommy’s Field became Tommyfield and that was that.
In 1860, Tommyfield became the home of the first British fried chip – a claim which has awarded the town with one of those coveted Blue Plaques. Basically, the first chips were fried, from which the origins of the British Fish & Chip shop can be traced.
It’s thought that local lad John Lees saw this shop and then made his own in Mossley just up the road, creating the world’s first fish and chips shop.
There’s been some kind of market here for over 230 years, however, that’s all set to change as part of Oldham Council’s huge shake-up of the town centre – something which has got a few traders and locals up in arms about.
The Oldham Town Centre Masterplan will see the historic markets moved from their current location around 200m down the road, taking over the old TJ Hughes plot in the Town Centre Shopping Mall, on the brand-new Parliament Square.
In recent years it’s undeniable that the town centre of Oldham has seen a huge downturn in both footfall and trade, with the Tommyfield Market, in particular, being hit hard by competition from supermarkets and charity shops in the area.
Like many of the old industrial towns across the UK, Oldham has been in decline for years, and this has been clearly highlighted with the arrival of a load of bookies, charity shops and pound shops in the town.
Thus the Town Centre Masterplan aims to improve the town, making it “a place that can thrive throughout the week and round the clock“, by “creating better connections between key sites and improving attractions to pull in more footfall and custom”.
And so the plan is to create a brand-new indoor Tommyfield Market in the town, one which will include a retail market, plus a brand-new Food Hall featuring food and drink from current Tommyfield traders.
The new market will also feature two flexible spaces which can be used for events such as live cooking demonstrations, pop-ups, small exhibitions, family activities and market events.
Current traders have mixed feelings on the decision, but with dwindling numbers and footfall over the years, the declining market and accompanying hall certainly needs something to happen to try to reverse this trend.
If this means re-locating the markets just a little bit down the road then I’m all for it – and look forward to heading down to visit a modern, well-connected and vibrant market for all.