Grainger Market, Newcastle-Upon-Tyne
Newcastle’s Grainger Market is almost 175 years old, but it’s the very model of a modern retail centre. These days, shopping centres are huge shiny things where you need GPS to get around but Grainger Market is just the right size and still has everything you need. That great shopping anthem, the ‘Are You Being Served?’ theme tune could have been specially written for it - perfumery, stationery and leather goods, wigs and haberdashery, kitchenware and food, going up!
Arranged neatly in a grid, a series of numbered ‘alleys’ contain spruce shopfronts and orderly displays. The pyramids of fruit and veg are shiny and fresh, and I saw a butcher’s stall so beautiful that it would make a vegetarian weep. Everything is refreshingly straightforward. The name says it all – The Shaver Centre, Bags of Bags and The Wig Shop need no explanation. Jewel Box has gifts for all occasions, Simply Men sells ‘everything for the modern man’ provided he likes walking sticks and driving gloves and Petticoat Lane sells underwear and smalls that are actually quite large. However the Plain English award goes to The Cheap Tab Shop, dispensing cigarettes at competitive prices, and doing a roaring trade if the queue was anything to go by.
Amongst the remarkably unremarkable stalls, the last remaining Marks and Spencer’s Penny Bazaar comes as a bit of a surprise. Michael Marks opened the first of these in Leeds in 1834 and their success turned M&S into a household name. This year as M&S celebrates 125 years in the business, the stall in Grainger Market is as modest as it has always been. Officially the world's smallest branch of Marks and Spencer, its original signage dating from 1895 is considerably more beautiful than its high street compadres.
The Weigh House is another gem. For 20p you can step on a pair of huge scales and have an attendant discretely write your weight down on a little ticket. As there’s a constant queue there’s a sense of camaraderie that you don’t get at weight watchers. There are screams of joy from some ladies when they see they’ve lost a pound or two (insert “ah-weigh the lads” joke here).