If you’re like me and work full time you probably find it difficult to ever get to the Grainger Market. Opening hours are Mon – Sat 9-5:30pm, so unless you can be bothered to battle the crowds on a Saturday I often find I tend to skip past it. It’s one of those parts of Newcastle that’s been there forever, I used to go with my nana and grandad on the double decker bus and make a beeline for the whacky nail polish colours they had on one of the stalls when I was a kid.
Nowadays though the Grainger Market has begun to reinvent itself, with quirky shops and bakeries filling the arcade as well as the traditional old fruit and veg stalls and butcher counters that have made up the alleys for decades. On Thursday 1st December the Grainger Market, one of the oldest parts of Newcastle stayed open late, to welcome the start of December and a month of festivities ahead with a late night Christmas market.
I was invited along with the French Oven, the bakery with a personality that if you’re Newcastle based you’ve probably seen at large on twitter. They were selling mulled wine or mulled cider so this was obviously my first stop. In the arcade the festivities were in full swing, a choir singing Christmas carols, a memory Christmas tree for charity, and all sorts of other entertainment for market dwellers to enjoy.
While the entertainment was drawing in large crowds I took the opportunity to take a look at the rest of the market, particularly the giant wide alleys, of which there are four in total. Once lined entirely by butchers, and nothing but butchers, their presence is still very much a part of this area of the market. There’s at least one on every intersection, with traditional meat cuts and weights. It’s not for the faint hearted or veggie’s mind, the full carcas’ are strung up on metal hooks. They don’t look out of place though, and the meat looks incredible quality.
The fruit and veg stalls were all out in force in the arcade as well, with baskets and punnets of all sorts of fruit, from the run of the mill to the more tropical and rare. I also noticed they cater for students, with many of them offering discounts and offers for Newcastle’s thriving student population. I’m sure I read somewhere that this year there are over 80,000 students in the city. So the Grainger market is a good place to get decent food for cheap when you’re saving your cash for £2 vodka mixers on a Monday night.
Right over on alley one and two is the old weigh house. In the run up to Christmas you can pay 30p to get weighed here, and if you return after Christmas they will tell you for free how festively plump you are! The weigh house was originally used to measure up deliveries, but you can now get weighed in there yourself – er no thanks. It also has a lot of history hanging up on it’s office walls. There’s a copy of a giant oil painting of the banquet held back in 1835 when the Grainger market opened (the original is still in the city, it hangs in the Laing Art Gallery).
If you look closely at the painting you will notice the old wooden beams that were once the roof of the market, not the steel frame there is today. It was originally built like a cathedral roof, but the fire of 1900 destroyed it and called for a change in decor. The painting also shows the gender differences of the time. Everyone attending the banquet was male, butchers, and tradesmen who worked the market enjoying fat chicken legs and pints of beer. The women were relegated to the balconies, where they had to stand and watch the party from above. A far cry from today with more and more independent tradeswomen owning their business inside the market.
There were a number of other opportunities throughout the evening to delve back in time through the Grainger Market’s history. One of the most popular activities was to take part in a quick ten minute tour of the air raid shelter. The queue to go down for a look around was still there when I left. As well as the tour itself an information board had photos and newspaper cuttings explaining the dark side of the Grainger Market’s history through the wars.
I didn’t do the air raid shelter tour, but I did get a guide up to the balcony, the same ones that in years gone by were only for women. I WISH I could remember the name of the very lovely lady who explained all of this to us. After she talked us through the opening of the market, the roof and the banquet, she went on to explain why the market aisles are so wide.
Basically, back in the day, servants would do the shopping in the market, firstly getting their fine cuts of meat from the butchers, then making their way through the fruit and veg. The earlier they got there the better meats and produce they got. Despite having such a practical purpose, the market was also a place for the pomp and wealth of the rich, who would parade through the market sashaying their big wide frocks. This is why the aisles are so wide, to allow them to pass through. It wasn’t just rich women though, bridal parties and parades would also pass through, essentially just to show off. Why you’d want to do that amongst a load of dead pigs, fruit and veg I’ve no idea but there you go!
Although there are a lot of other shops in there now, selling everything from wigs, to cosmetics, designer watches and clothes, food is still the main focus. They were definitely the most popular spots at the night market.
You could spot them a mile off, it’s where all the queues were. Matthew’s cheese was very popular, I didn’t get over to try any but the crowd of people lining up said it all. Pumphrey’s coffee I’m told is a hot spot for market goers and shopkeepers alike. It was very festive and cute and the smell of coffee did lure you in.
There’s a Turkish place in there, Fez Food which also looked and smelled really good. The deli style counter was lined with people most of the night, as was Slice the pizza place and La Casa, a Spanish place selling cured ham, tapas and wine.
My two favourite food spots have to be The French Oven and Pet Lamb Patisserie. The French Oven bakery sell all sort of bread rolls, pies, sausage rolls etc, but have a number of traditionally French extras. The festive loaf and rocky road bakes both looked delicious, but as I’m off to Paris next week I went for a pain au chocolate, an almond macaroon tart and some little fancy macaroons. Laduree is definitely on my radar after tasting those little beauty. The almond tart was also delicious, glazed over the top but fluffy and full of jam in the middle.
I’m not sure how long the Pet Lamb girls have been open, but I’m pretty sure they’re one of the newer additions to the market. Tucked in the corner the shop is an absolute delight in itself, cute little tables outside, fairy lights and its pink. Inside it’s very quaint, and the girls themselves are really canny. They have loads on offer especially of being such a tiny little shop. My all time favourite is red velvet, they had red velvet slices and cake pops so obviously I had to get one. I’ve previously bought one of each flavoured cupcakes from there as well for a friend’s birthday and they went down an absolute treat too!
It was really nice to wander around the market at night, it currently has a very festive feel and even if you just nip in to try some of the food or a coffee in the shelter of the market it’s a change from the usual run of the mill shopping area of Eldon Square. In the run up to Christmas the market is also open on Sundays, and they’re giving hourly tours with a proper city guide so you can find out more about this historic part of Newcastle.