Trader’s Story – Fred Gibson

June 27, 2013

Wherever you turn at Leicester Market, you’re sure to meet somebody with a story to tell.

With 799 years of history behind it, the Market has not only become one of the city’s most famous landmarks, it has also enriched the lives of the people that have both traded and shopped at both the indoor and outdoor markets over many years.

Fishmonger Fred Gibson is a wonderful example of such a person. Fred has been trading at Leicester Market since the late 1950s, when the indoor market was located adjacent to its current location. In a special interview, Fred reminisced about his time at Leicester Market…

“I started in the old market in 1959,” recalls Fred.

“I took a couple of years out of it to work in a garage, but I still helped at weekends. After that, I had a mobile fish round for five years. Whilst I was doing that, I still bought my fish from the old stall and I still helped out. When I gave up the round, I went back to the stall and remained there until the current indoor market building was built. We moved in on November 5th, 1975.

“I used to work for a company called John Collins. They had a shop on Queens Road and a shop here at the Market. I started and did a week up there before coming down here to do a week. When they needed me to cover at one of the shops, I would often do that too.”

Whilst starting out in the trade, Fred reveals that he was fortunate enough to have a unique teacher, who taught him all aspects of fish mongering in thorough fashion.

“My gaffer, where I used to work, was a brilliant man,” says Fred.

“He said that he’d teach me the trade. There were four of us and there Kipperswas a bit of a school here for it, but it wasn’t recognised. I went to sessions run by the White Fish Society, which were more like evening classes, and I went to those for six months. Later, I was put on a cookery course, and this was when I was 17 or 18.

“However, after that, he took us out on the boat. The way we were shown to do it was through the life of a fish. We went out fishing and it was terrifying. The sea was calm and I was asked to pull the net and suddenly the ship tilted. You fight to stand up straight. You have to relax and just lean over, but it was terrifying. Then you would pick a fish and label it and then gut it.

“It was a whale of a time and, when you got to the docks, you more-or-less pretended to be the auctioneer. One would sell, whilst the other three bought and bartered. Then you would fillet it and cost it; you became the wholesaler. After that, you’d become the customer, go home and cook what you bought – so there was an emphasis on taking you through every aspect of selling fish – from the water to the kitchen.”

As for the technical elements of the trade, including gutting, filleting and cutting, Fred also reveals the tough measures that were taken to ensure that he completed a job as precise as possible.

“My boss was the best way of learning new things,” he says.

“When I started, I was taught to clean for three months. I never touched a knife, I just learned to clean. He did it properly. Then, you progress from that. In those days, you were cocky. I look back on it and I’m both proud and ashamed of it! One day, my boss saved all of the fish bones from my filleting. He scraped all the fish off and weighed, and after that, he took the value of that wasted fish out of my money! The next Monday, I was the best filleter that this country has ever seen! I learned from there that when you do a job properly, you do it quicker! In those days, plaice was very expensive!

00

“My boss was magnificent – and to this day, he’s the only person I know that could bone a rabbit. In fact, I don’t think I’ve even seen anybody attempt it! Ernie Peasley his name was.”

As time has progressed, a lot of things have changed. In 1975, Fred moved his stall to the current indoor market and has since passed the stall down to his son, Stuart, whilst his wife Sandra and his grandson also help on the stall.

“When we first came over to the current indoor market building, there were 11 fishmongers,” Fred recalls.

Plaice

“You look at the place now and most of the units are boarded up, but there were 11 individual fish stalls, five butchers, four cheese stalls, a baconstall, a poultry stall and a tripe stall. We had all of that in the heyday.

“I’m proud that we have a family business,” continues Fred.

“My son, Stuart, has been around the trade since he was four-years-old. He used to come into the old market and people would teach him lots of different things, including dealing with lobsters and everything else. As time has passed, he has now become a big part of it and, now, my grandson comes in and helps us out. In addition, my daughter helps out and my wife, Sandra, has been here with me ever since we moved into this building; she’d be looking after the children, but she’d also help out on the stall.”

Despite Fred now being a senior citizen, and his sight very much diminished, he still works on the stall on a daily basis and, remarkably, reveals that still has all the skills he possessed before.

“I can still fillet and gut a fish,” insists Fred.

“Nowadays, I couldn’t bone a chicken, so I leave that to Stuart, but other things when it comes to fish, I can still do. You’ve heard the phrase ‘I can do this with my eyes shut’, well I have to. There are certain jobs that I can’t do, because of speed. I’m okay working in the back, provided I’m able to go at my own pace.”

Fred’s story is truly incredible and just one of many examples where trading at Leicester Market is more than a job. It’s a family affair; one that has linked him with many of the city’s residents over a huge number of years.

It’s a prime example as to what makes Leicester Market both special and unique.

CLICK HERE to find out more about Fred Gibson & Sons fishmongers.