Men on the Market Cross

This photograph and following extract is from Heaviside’s Almanack, dated 1906:

‘…The passerby in our High Street, who is at all observant, will have noticed during the summer months, a number of men sitting or reclining in all manner of forms on the steps under the Doric Column. I have noticed that they move around the column in degree as old Sol makes his daily round, for in the morning they will be facing east, whilst in the afternoon they will be found on the south and west sides. Nowadays, there are open-air sanatoriums in different parts of the country for the cure of certain diseases and possibly this may be some local economical attempt to put in to practice the sun cure. Whatever it is I remember the day the photograph was taken as the weather was lovely and the attendance a record…’

4 thoughts on “Men on the Market Cross

  1. The photographers (who took this 1906 photo) Messrs John and Michael Heaviside, conducted a publishing business situated at 4 Finkle Street, Stockton. I assumed the men shown sitting on the ‘Market Cross steps’ were wearing their Sunday best clothes but they are not. The clothes they are wearing were standard throughout the whole of the UK during that period, and even further afield being found in the same style and colours in places such as Nova Scotia, Oakland, California and San Francisco. I have spent a pleasant hour ascertaining that workers in a paper mill in Dunfermline, cotton workers in Lancashire, shipyard Workers in Greenock and Clydeside, and railway workers in North Shields, all wore similar clothing to work. Which raises the question when did boilermakers, moulders, brassworkers, bricklayers, coal miners and other manual trades adopt tradesmen clothing and when and why did work clothes and leisure clothes diverge?

    Some of the men in this photograph do not appear to be in the best of health, and in view of this we need to remind ourselves of the District report prepared between 1931 and 1934 by Dr George Cuthbert M’Gonigle, the Medical Officer For Health for Stockton-on-Tees, who investigated the relationship between mortality rates and unemployment in the Borough, and who showed that a group of slum dwellers in Stockton who were re-housed into a new council estate, whose rents were significantly higher than they had previously paid, (they paid an extra 5/- week rent) meant, with the resulting reduction of money available to them for purchasing food that suffered poorer diets and higher mortality rates than similar slum dwellers who refused to be rehoused. Dr M’Gonigle declared in a letter to the Times …”insufficient money to buy food and not the ignorance of food values, is the dominant cause of malnutrition.” (26 March 1936) He also highlighted the generally poor state of health of the English population. For instance, only around half the male population was fit for active military service in World War 1. Looking at these old photos makes me very proud to be a Stocktonian, and bred from such wonderful people ‘Cleveland Bay’ and mining stock people.


  2. Some assumptions being made here, the dress is early 1900’s as Heavysides Almanack states, I have no memory of a dining rooms in that building to the right in my time. The housing in the area was small and very crowded so the men could well be getting out of the way of the women who would be doing the daily chores at a time work was scarce. By the 1950’s they would have been hard pressed to collect so many together as there was plenty of work and by then most workmen wore overalls to and from work or in lots of cases their old army uniforms. Office workers were expected to be wearing shirt tie and jacket as we had to at ICI until the day I retired.
    It was nearer 70 years before lighter clothing was worn.
    As for suffering diseases that often killed, we knew that overcrowding, lack of baths, the old tin bath on the yard wall and a bath on Friday whether you needed one or not, all the family in one lot of water, often only one cold water tap to a house, coal fires if you could afford coal. They all led to bad conditions and people suffering, rickets were prevalent in my time and I knew boys and girls who never made it to their teen years, it was a fact of life in the poor area’s of Stockton. It is probably why so many of us old Norton folk are still around we had plenty of fresh air and because of large gardens plenty of good food, that was not the norm in the 1930 to 50 era.
    And they talk about the good old days – for some of us yes, but not for all.


  3. Mr Heaviside’s comment about sanatoriums now seems a little patronising, in view of the fact that many were established to help cure T.B. or ‘consumption’ amongst the working-class by getting sufferers into ‘fresh-air’ and away from the air-polluted industrial centres. Little did these gentlemen realise that it would be another 50 years before working class men adopted (or could afford) an alternate array of lightweight ‘summer clothes’, this in contrast to the heavy woollen jackets, waistcoats, trousers and leather boots they are all seen wearing on such a warm day.
    The men are probably using the Market-cross steps as a traditional ‘male’ gathering-place, for when Stockton was a more agricultural area, this is where the ‘hirelings’ took place as to the recruitment of requisite day-labourers.
    Interesting also to note, that the shop-owner on the corner of Finkle Street, although having ‘pull-down’ sun awnings fitted (but not down) to the front and side of the shopfront, has sought to protect the displayed stock in the exposed corner window from ‘spoiling’ (due to the effects of warm sunlight) by merely draping a full-height tarpaulin to the outside.


  4. I have a sneaking suspicion that this photograph was ‘posed’ by the photographer. During the 1940s/1950s, I worked on a market stall nearby and during that period there was never more than 2-3 men sat on the cross at anyone time including market day, men always sat on the bottom step looking south towards the Sun and the Shambles.

    Opposite were the men in the photograph above are siting is Finkle Street, Stockton, which in those days sloped 200 yards down to *Stockton Docks’, the ship berthing and unloading points on the River Tees, which suggests that these men might have been down to the docks to see if there was any casual work unloading ships or coming away from it. I have compared their clothing with London dockworkers clothing for this period 1906, and was surprised to find it was identical in every respects. It appears our forbears did go to work dressed like these men, that they wore waistcoats when doing heavy manual work such has unloading ships and the only difference between them and the ‘gaffers’ was the ‘gangmaster gaffer’ wore a bowler hat and the men flat caps.
    *Stockton Docks must have had an official name, and one wonders what it was and which company ran the docks?


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