Inverness’ Victorian Market is a place with a dramatic history and packed with colourful characters, as BBC Radio Scotland’s Our Story programme discovered on a recent visit.
The city centre market was first opened in 1870.
Filled with stallholders, butchers, grocers and jewellers, it also had a fish market where fishwives from 16 miles (26km) away along the coast in Nairn would travel to sell their produce.
In 1889 the gas-lit market was gutted by a fire. All that was left standing was a stone-built entrance way.
The local newspaper, the Inverness Courier, described the timbers of the building burning “with great fury”.
Traders rescued what they could from their stalls and placed the items out on the street. There was some low-level looting, including the theft of a large side of beef. In its report, the Inverness Courier suggested the meat was ready to eat having been roasted by the heat from the blaze.
‘Roar of flames’
Norman Newton, a retired librarian with a keen interest in the market’s history, said the early Sunday morning fire drew a crowd of 2,500 people.
He says there was a single casualty in the blaze.
“It was a butcher’s dog,” says Mr Newton. “It had been left in the market over the weekend to guard the butcher’s shop and unfortunately died in the fire.
“It’s howl could be heard amidst the roar of the flames.”
The dog’s dedication to its duty and refusal to leave its post led it to being dubbed the “Greyfriar’s Bobby of the Highlands”, says Mr Newton.
The name of the unfortunate dog was not recorded, but Mr Newton hopes he can track down a descendant of the butcher in the hope of finding out.
Within a few years the market was rebuilt and reopened, and dogs continue to be a feature of the place.
John Casey has been busking in the market for almost 30 years, and for much of that time he was accompanied by his Dalmatian, Emily.
Emily died four weeks ago but John now has a new companion, a deaf puppy called Moby.
“A kind lady gifted him to me,” says John. “He doesn’t hear at all and she wanted someone who would always be with him.”
John says the Victorian Market is the ideal venue for him and his new friend. “It’s old fashioned with a friendly family atmosphere,” he says.
Svetlana MacDonald, who has run a haberdashery in the market for 18 years after moving to Scotland from Russia, agrees. “When I arrived my English was limited, but I was made very welcome,” she says.
She believes the market’s charm is its family-run shops offering something different around every corner.
“It’s piggedly wiggledy,” she says. “Everywhere you turn there is something different.”
Writer Jennifer Morag Henderson explores this diversity of the place in her poem The Victorian Market, Inverness. The poem includes the line: “Meat and game, engagement rings, haircuts and bagpipes, the Railway Watch and Clock Shop”.
She says: “I grew up in Culloden so we used to come into town in Inverness and come to the market. Now I bring my own children in.”
Pointing to shops, she says: “I got my husband’s kilt jacket in there and we got our wedding rings in that jewellers down there.”
One of the oldest established businesses in the market is Nancy Rattray’s joke shop/garden supplies. Nancy took over the running of the business in 1966 when her father, who set in the market in early 1950s, had a stroke.
Nancy says the market, which has been undergoing a phased revamp, is not as busy as it was in the past.
“When we started it was all open stalls. There were seven butchers, four greengrocers and three fishmongers and they all made a comfortable living.
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“My cousin was on the other side of the market with fruit and veg. In winter he always took a knife through your turnip to make sure it wasn’t frosted. There was also a wee DIY shop and we had a model shop, which was marvellous. They were here for 38 years.”
Nancy’s own business is like the market’s diverse range in miniature, selling everything from sombreros to joke handcuffs.
And her bestselling joke product?
“Doggy poo,” she laughs.
You can listen to more about the Inverness Victorian Market on BBC Radio Scotland’s Our Story from 13:30 on Tuesday.
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