Trading Histories

The Markets During War

Adapted from research by Pam Courtenay.

World War I

At their annual meeting in 1916, the National Market Traders Federation debated a resolution calling for insurance for traders against damage to stock because of air raids. The same year Sheffield set an example by obtaining a promise from the Markets Committee that everyone who had to give up a stall because of the war should have them restored after the war. Others followed this example.
No-one knows how many men returned to take up this offer.

The war made a huge difference to market trading. The Federation ensured that market traders could carry up to sixty pounds of luggage on the railways free of charge-an important step in helping traders make a living.

World War II

Black marketing, the illegal trade in rationed goods, was rife in the markets during the war. Everything from petrol to canned fruit and silk was available for a price. These goods were stolen from anywhere ranging from warehouses and shops to military depots.

Traders were not able to sell goods which were rationed on the market. Fortunately, fish and vegetables were not rationed. However, a wartime law was brought in stating that allotments belonged to the council, and people were not meant to use them for financial gain. People got around this by selling carrier bags or boxes, and if there was produce in the bag then it just meant the purchaser was lucky. Following a heated session of the Market Traders Federation on how to deal with this, news came through that Germany had surrendered.

Beating the Ration

All manner of things were rationed. Some were rationed to give the military priority when it came to allocation, others because of desperately short supplies. Some of the items rationed included petrol, meats, sugar, coffee and nylon. Fresh fruit such as bananas and oranges were also in short supply.

Sheffield wholesalers often travelled long distances to obtain fresh produce. They got supplies by offering to pay growers a substantial black market premium. Buyers judged untrustworthy by growers or a commercial threat by rival wholesalers risked their actions being reported. Sellers on the black market toed a fine line between advertising themselves to shoppers and attracting the attention of the authorities.

For those unwilling or unable to source goods on the black market, there were some novel coping strategies. For example, women unable to procure tights would sometimes brown their legs with gravy powder and draw a “seam” down the backs of their legs with eyeliner pencil!