Tavistock's hidden gem
PUBLISHED: 09:00 21 November 2014
CHRISSY HARRIS discovers a remarkable market that has survived for 900 years
Tavistock Pannier Market has survived without a break for 900 years. It’s a fact not lost on Duane Carruthers, the man in charge of the busy attraction that sits at the heart of this ancient stannary town.
Duane barely has time to finish a sentence without someone appearing at his office door, asking for keys, wondering what’s happened to the wi-fi connection, checking to see if they can be excused for a doctor’s appointment, asking whether it’s ok to bring your own tablecloths when setting up a stall or trying to sell him their latest range of carrier bags.
I’m exhausted just watching him deal with the endless list of tasks that seems to go hand in hand with running such a bustling market place. And it’s only a Tuesday morning.
Tavistock Pannier Market is open five days a week and there are constantly changing themes: antiques, craft, Victorian, bric-a-brac. The highlight of the market’s year is the upcoming Dickensian evening on 28 November that sees all the traders and staff dress up for the festive event, held to coincide with the switching on of the town’s Christmas lights.
I’m about to ask Duane what outfit he’s got lined up this year when he has to help locate a missing key (quickly found with another trader).
“I’m really sorry,” says Duane, who has been the Market Reeve for two years, but has worked for Tavistock Town Council for 11 years. “You do tend to get a bit interrupted in here. But that’s all part of the job and I really enjoy it. The pannier market office is in the hub of Tavistock and a bustling place. I get asked everything from tourist information to the location of the toilets.”
It helps that Duane seems to know everyone and everything about this indoor treasure trove that attracts thousands of people to the town every year.
It’s often referred to as Tavistock’s ‘hidden gem’ because of its location, nestled behind the historic Town Hall. But out of sight is definitely not out of mind.
“We don’t want to be hidden anymore,” says Duane. “We want to show it off in all its glory. People love the history attached to this place,” he says. “We’ve had a market here since it was granted a Royal Charter by King Henry I in 1105.
“Even my title, the Market Reeve, is very traditional. We like to keep that going but with a modern twist at the same time.”
It’s a tricky balancing act in a town that is proud of its heritage.
Glancing around the stalls, however, it looks as though this is a market that is moving with the times but at a lovely, Devon-like pace.
There is now wi-fi and the area around the outside of the market has been filled with outdoor tables and chairs to give it a new, café society feel. Inside the market, there is a computer support service and a trendy children’s clothing stall but there are also people like Carol Tucker, who has been selling her hand-crocheted gifts here for the best part of 33 years.
“This is my second home,” she says. “I absolutely love it. People come from all over to come to this market – even from the depths of Cornwall.
“I’ve had the same customers for years and now their children are coming to buy from me. My husband keeps asking me when I’ll retire, but I can’t see it ever happening!”
Sean McDermott runs his Pens and Moor stall, selling personalised goods. “It’s like a little village all on its own in here,” he says. “Everyone looks after one another. It’s a really friendly community.”
That’s the key. People care about this market and everyone in it – and nobody takes themselves too seriously.
It’s why the likes of Seth Lakeman, and, if recent sightings are to be believed, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, no less, have been seen wandering around the stalls in their home town.
“Tavistock is such a brilliant place to be,” says Lisa Piper, Business Improvement District manager for the town. She was passing Duane’s office and called in for a chat. “You can’t help but come here and breathe a sigh of relief,” she says. “It’s so relaxed and happy and basically a beautiful market town. When the sun’s out, I reckon it’s got that sort of Spanish feel to it. We’re so lucky.”
There may be a touch of the Continent creeping in, but Tavvy is still very much the place where Carol quietly crochets at her stall and people shout “ ‘ello ma beuy!” in the street. Long may it continue. n
To find out more about the town’s Dickensian Evening, see tavichamber.co.uk