THE Stabroek Market is one of Georgetown’s main landmarks and one of the country’s most important heritage buildings. The market was constructed in the 1870s, that is, half a century after the Georgetown Magistrates’ Court and the Public Buildings. The Public Buildings was completed in 1837 and the Magistrates’ Court was built much before that.
The market, almost from the day it was opened, became one of the favourite shopping centres and long remained so. Until the 1960s, it attracted a clientele of all classes and the stallholders themselves were mostly of middle-class backgrounds. Indeed, all the main business houses which were almost all centred in Water Street had stalls in the market and these included, for example, Bookers and Wieting and Richter.
The market was architecturally well constructed. The roofs never leaked and it was constructed in such a way as to ensure maximum light and ventilation. When the Demerara Electric Company began serving the town the market was one its first customers. Electric lighting was very useful as the market stalls were all opened until 20:00hrs and on Christmas Eve until 23:00hrs.
The market was swept at least twice per day and, on Sundays the entire market was hosed down with the help of the Fire Brigade. The market floor was built with a gradual incline going from east to west so that water would drain off easily towards the wharf and the river. Theft of the stallholders’ goods and other property were unknown and goods were left overnight outside stalls.
This was because the City Constabulary which guarded the market was efficient and honest. And shopping could be done at leisure without any fear of being robbed by pickpockets or snatchers. Every visitor from the countryside or from abroad would visit the market, often spending hours there, for it had the deserved reputation of selling every possible thing a shopper would have desired. In front of the market, as part of the market square, was a small, well-kept fenced garden where the marble bust of William Russel, the engineer who was responsible for creating the water supply system of Georgetown was mounted.
The market was an entirely different place from what it is today. The decline began with the coming of Independence in the 1960s. Before that time, persons with business backgrounds conducted the administration of the market, and indeed of the town as a whole, as could be attested by the fact that the Town Council was able to issue bonds which were among the most sought-after investments in the country.
With Independence, there was democratisation in all aspects of society, and persons of lower social and even educational backgrounds had to assume the responsibility of administering both the town and the market. The last great Clerk of Markets from colonial times was a Portuguese gentleman who came from a wealthy business family. His name, Jayme Antonio Machado Pacheco, remains in the annals as one of the great market administrators.
The decline of the market began in a slow crescendo, progressively quickening with the passing of each year. The sweeping and cleaning of the market became less frequent and the floors ceased to be hosed. The reason for this is that the Clerk of Markets began to build stalls on every available space, congesting the market and shutting out light and air, and stallholders were allowed to heighten parts of the passageways in front of their stalls thus making it more difficult, if not impossible, for water to drain into the river. The market became darker and less ventilated.
The congestion and lack of light provided a haven for petty thieves who stole from stallholders as well as from shoppers, and the constabulary only occasionally managed to effect an arrest. Middle-class people now ceased to patronise the market.
The Market Clock was known to carry the most accurate time, and the striking of its bell every hour and half hour could be heard as far away as Albouystown and Vlissingen Road. The Lighthouse and the Market Clock Tower were the highest buildings in the town, and to be allowed to visit the tower and have a panoramic view of the town was one of the rare treats permitted to school children from time to time. From the 1960s the clock and its tower were neglected and the clock has not been working for many years.
The Market Wharf used to be a place where boats bringing a large variety of fruits and vegetables from the West Coast and the West Bank Demerara, and even from Essequibo, used to discharge their cargoes which attracted large numbers of both wholesale and retail buyers; the town and its environs were fed from the market wharf. But the wharf was never maintained and the floors and roof rotted and shoppers ceased to go there. In August last, the City Council itself admitted that the wharf was “a calamity waiting to happen” and the stallholders had to be evacuated.
There are other aspects of the market which have declined, but despite this, it could still be resuscitated and could recapture some of its past glory. The first step in this direction would be for the City Council or the Ministry of Communities to engage a market expert. With the expert, would work a Committee of Concerned Citizens and together, they would produce the resuscitation plan.