Harry Cowley

Photo:Upper Gardner Street market today

Upper Gardner Street market today

Photo by Peter Crowhurst

The man who made the market

By Peter Crowhurst, North Laine resident

Harry Cowley was a chimney sweep who became a local legend for what he achieved in representing the unemployed and local traders in battles with the local council and government and Mosley's fascists.

Harry's funeral

When he died in 1971, 500 people packed St Peter's Church for Harry's funeral and more watched on local television. All this for a bowler hatted chimney sweep who now has a café named after him in London road. Throughout his life Harry fought for the less fortunate in society. After coming back from the First World War, Harry was to fight for the right of ex-soldiers to have jobs and a men's unemployment centre in Tichborne Street was one of his early successes. Later he was to organise vigilantes to 'requisition 'property to provide housing for the homeless. Many was the time that Harry was fined for trespass, although the police would often turn a blind eye to the activities of the vigilantes.

A stall for 50 years in Upper Gardner Street

For fifty years Harry and his wife Harriet had a stall in the Upper Gardner Street market. When he first arrived in the street stall holders would literally fight for a pitch. Harry soon stopped this and organised the traders into an association which policed the street and persuaded the Council to give stallholders fixed pitches. For fifty years Harry chaired the Watch Committee, which oversaw trading in the market and then helped the Oxford Street traders to have pitches on The Level until the Open Market was built.

Chairman of the market traders

In Upper Gardner Street Harry would go round the traders collecting their pitch rents and woe betide anyone who tried to avoid payment. Harry warned traders against using bad language, leaving rubbish, not wearing or displaying their armbands, which carried names and addresses, and was very hard on anyone who was unlicensed trading in the street It was during Harry's time that the market was in its heyday, with stalls operating all day and into the evening and specialising as a fruit and vegetable market.

What would he think of the market today?

This page was added on 04/03/2008.

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