Nottingham Mushy Peas!
There’s a fine old Nottingham tradition that I noticed has recently been delivered a body blow, that of the ‘Hot Peas stand’ which has now disappeared after many years trading in the Victoria Market, an indoor market situated in the city’s major shopping mall, the Victoria Centre.
The Victoria or ‘Viccy’ Centre as it is often known locally has been around since the turn of the 1970s after the fine old Victoria Railway Station was criminally demolished like so many of Nottingham’s imposing and historic old buildings to make way for it. Before this time the main market in Nottingham was located a few hundred yards away on nearby Huntingdon Street and known as ‘Central Market’.
The Central Market represented one of the more pleasant Nottingham memories of my youth. A high roofed and atmospheric enclosed area with some wonderful aromas, colours, and characters to match. In schooldays I’d visit there every Thursday morning with mum after my swimming sessions at the Victoria Baths, organised by the NHS for physiotherapy purposes after a bad car accident. Familiar sights were of wonderful and showy displays of cut flowers, industrious butchers, greengrocers and all manner of other traders imaginable. For me though the twin targets on those Thursday mornings were the newsagents with their vast array of the latest comics which I eagerly devoured and if I was lucky, a trip to the toy stand with the possibility of a Matchbox model car. The latter could offer a lengthy decision process indeed.
More to the point the Central Market was renowned for its fishmongers with their cold slabs full of produce from the likes of Hull up on the east coast of England. Here you could also enjoy the simple pleasure of standing at a counter and eating a dish of hot mushy peas with a good coating of mint sauce to taste. Perhaps this tradition is not solely a Nottingham one but certainly wherever I have roamed, I have never noted the popularity that mushy peas enjoy in Nottingham anywhere else. Traditionally on sale were cockles, prawns, whelks, oysters and all other manner of shellfish which could be bought on a small plate (if I recall correctly – no polystyrene tubs in those days) and eaten standing at the ‘bar’. The whole idea of the thing was delicious and it took a very good man to walk past those tantalising and alluring smells.
Time moved on and ‘progress’ dictated that the Central Market was sadly no more. The market and specifically the fish market did endure though, on the second floor of the Victoria Centre. On leaving school and working and playing in town, the hot pea stand was always one of the first ports of call I’d head for, given the time. My usual order was for mushy peas, usually drowned in mint sauce and a small container of tasty peeled prawns. Through many a city shopping trip or a lunchtime break from college, a job or University I visited the stall there for my regular treat.
Sadly, I recently walked into Victoria Market to find it no longer. Talking to a friendly second-hand book seller nearby she exclaimed that the little business had been closed a little while and that it had perhaps not diversified enough in its produce to survive, or words to that effect. It seems a little sad that such simple pleasures are not enough to satisfy any more.
Mushy peas are probably the recipient of love/hate emotions with the general public but will probably never go away dare I say. A banker to find them is the annual Goose Fair in Nottingham but what do us aficionados do in the meantime? Man or woman cannot be mushy pea-less for the rest of the calendar year. I’m missing my peeled prawns already too.