Peter Stocker remembered by the traders

Photo:Peter Stocker

Peter Stocker

Photo courtesy of The Argus

He was co-founder of the North Laine Traders Association

By Geoff Ellis, former North Laine trader

I will begin this small appreciation by describing Peter Stocker as one of the nicest guys you were ever likely to meet and by mentioning his selfless devotion to the community, both residents and traders.  You might consider this the hyperbole that often surrounds the loss of a loved one but in Peter’s case it is simply no exaggeration. My abiding memory is of Peter standing in his shop in Trafalgar Street listening patiently to a trader’s tale of woe as the clay hardened on his hands. I often joked he should install a deli counter style ticketing machine.

How we first met

I recall quite clearly the first time I met Peter at an NLCA meeting in the church hall in Gloucester Place - I guess it must have been 1987. I remember thinking ‘why can’t the traders have an organisation like this?’. I could tell Peter was a kindred spirit and had very much the same ideas as myself.

We both lived above our shops

As a new face in the area I was finding my feet. At the time I was living above my shop [the Bead Shop in Sydney Street], as were Peter and his wife Sally. Peter had opened his shop in 1981, five years ahead of me, so was very definitely in the vanguard of the new revolution of shopkeepers changing the commercial face of the North Laine from its previous ‘nuts and bolts’ to a more creative character. The Workshop Pottery was run jointly by Peter and Sally for almost 30 years as that very rare beast – a retail outlet successfully supporting a working potter.

He represented the North Laine at a wide range of meetings

Peter passionately believed in an organisation constructively engaged in representing the commercial interests of the area in parallel with the residential community. By the time we met Peter had already served as chairman of the NLCA and was yet to take up two further officer’s posts. His devotion was second to none, his shop was closed for hours at a time on occasions in order to represent the North Laine at an amazing range of meetings throughout Brighton & Hove.

He designed logos for both the traders' and residents' associations

I’ll pick out just two aspects of Peter’s work which I think neatly illustrate his gifts. Firstly, his artistic work. The North Laine compass neatly incorporated in the NLTA logo on show on signage in the area was, I always thought, a large part of the traders’ early success. It was prominently displayed on our letterheads. The original sheet was knocked together using string and sealing wax, but it gave us credibility and showed we had a vision for the area. The row of houses still gracing the NLCA’s literature and online presence is another Peter original.

Co-founder of the traders' association

The traders association was started in 1989 in the Eagle in Gloucester Road by Peter, myself and half a dozen other troubled traders. By the early ‘90s it looked like we might just be getting somewhere.

The 'Battle of Trafalgar'

It was the back end of 1994 and the early part of 1995 when Peter and myself, along with various residents and traders, ‘manned the barricades’ at the Battle of Trafalgar, as the Argus front page boldly presented it. East Sussex County Council, in their wisdom, had decreed that Trafalgar Street be made one way. The relative merits or otherwise need not detain us here. Suffice to say that the most diplomatic description of the scheme would be ‘controversial’. A tireless campaign was mounted with Peter in the forefront of letter writing, door knocking and lobbying. This was a job requiring old fashioned hard work, commitment and attention to detail.

Things were moving in our favour

Our victory was proof that things were moving in our favour in the North Laine, that the traders could get things done and very definitely deserved a voice in decision making. Previous to this the most notable trader’s intervention in transport policy was a burly publican lifting a town planner off the floor by his lapels at a public meeting (names omitted to protect the guilty party).

He was good company

Peter was always good company - a Guinness or a curry or visiting the family was always a pleasure. He moved to Aylesbury after closing his shop but continued with his pottery until he died.

Small final anecdote

One small final anecdote may be worth relating. Turning up in a small van outside his new business premises in 1981 Peter was surprised to find the previous Buddhist tenant of the upstairs flat barely out of bed, the basic Eastern concept of eternal change hadn’t quite occurred to him.

Some final words

Peter has now moved on and difficult though that is for his very many friends in Brighton we must be grateful for his presence. Thank you Peter, without you the North Laine would be the poorer in the fullest sense of the word.

 

[Previously published in the North Laine Runner, No 237, November/December 2015]

This page was added on 04/01/2016.
Comments/reviews:

Peter first discovered our café when his girlfriend Sally, later to become his wife, brought him to meet an elderly great aunt there on a regular basis. When Peter and Sally had Amy, Cherry and Eliot they thought of the Pavilion Gardens as a playground for them because they only had a small back yard.

Peter ran the Workshop Pottery in Trafalgar Street from the early 1980s together with his wife Sally and was one of the initial traders that helped set up the North Laine Traders Association, becoming Chair and Secretary over many years. He was also Chair of the North Laine Community Association when he lived above his pottery shop before buying a house in Hollingbury to bring up his three children.

I personally first met Peter in the 1990s when as a small trader I sought out the help of the NLTA. We then became friends as I then joined the organisation as a street rep.

It was only then that I began to see at first hand the tremendous amount of work Peter did for and representing the small traders in the whole North Laine area. He would even shut his shop to attend meetings to represent the NLTA and thought nothing of it - even when other traders like me would say you can't do that, it's your livelihood. This really showed the mark of the man who put other traders before his own profit. He really couldn’t do enough for other people, friends or traders.

Family was everything to Peter and he was at his best when surrounded by his wife Sally and his children Amy, Cherry and Eliot and latterly his grandchildren.

Through our friendship I and the Café were lucky to have his daughter Cherry work for us for ten years before she started her vocation as a teacher. She had a lot of his characteristics, being honest, hard-working and reliable, to name but a few.

The North Laine to Peter was not just shops but a Bohemian place with 'hidden depths and a real community'. This community he helped to build and to join together, with traders and residents working in collaboration where possible to make the North Laine the best place in the city to trade or live.

Peter and Sally closed the shop in 2008 and moved to Aylesbury where Sally had found an exciting new job and this was such a loss to the North Laine and its community.

Although Peter and Sally would often return to Brighton for weekends, the place has never been the same without them.

Peter was probably the nicest, warmest, friendliest chap I have ever met and this part of the world will miss him dearly.

By David Sewell (Pavilion Gardens Cafe)
On 23/02/2016

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