Sweet memories of Canning Town’s market

Shoppers browse the stalls of Rathbone Market where Joe Larkin kept his peanut stall.

Shoppers browse the stalls of Rathbone Market where Joe Larkin kept his peanut stall. - Credit: Archant

Penny chews, cream sodas and sweet shrimps - growing up surrounded by jars of sugary treats would sound like Heaven to a lot of children, but for Penny Southern a bag of pick ‘n’ mix was enough to satisfy her for a whole week.

J. W. Larkin’s sweetshop was en route to Penny’s school, Tollgate Primary in Plaistow, but a young penny had a special reason to go there every week - her grandparents Joe and Nell Larkin ran it.

“My favourite was cough candies. I just loved the taste,” Penny said. “I loved it on a Sunday my dad would take us round to see my nan and we were allowed to go in and there was a counter with pick ‘n’ mix. My nan would treat us to a bag and that would keep us going for a week.

“It was lovely,” Penny added.

But Penny was able to resist the sweet temptations that surrounded her even though her dad, Charles, nicknamed “Ginger”, ran a sweet stall too.

“We never touched them because they were always there,,” she said.

Joe and Nell’s sweetshop was a familiar destination for customers young and old and a place where the family would often gather, but the couple also kept a peanut stall in Canning Town’s Rathbone Market where Penny and her sister would help out, running to the Home and Colonial supermarket to fetch lunch for Joe.

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The family’s association with the market was so widely recognised that in 1964 Penny was chosen to present a bouquet of flowers to the Mayoress at the grand opening of the new market.

Penny said: “All my family were down the market. I used to bag up peanuts for my grandad.”

And even though the success of the market would wax and wane, the family would pull together to support each other.

When “Ginger” couldn’t go out to work for four months after his heel smashed into his ankle, the result of a fall from a greenhouse, his wife Sylvia stepped in.

“Nothing fazed them,” Penny said. “Everyone looked after each other. You would go on out there and do your best and that’s what they all did.”

A favourite memory for Penny was every Friday lunchtime when the girls from the sugar factories would head down for their bags of sweets.

“There were some colourful characters. They used to come down in their dungarees and hair up. They were always laughing,” Penny recalled.

Although the shop and stalls had brought a sweet-sized piece of happiness to thousands of customers since the late 40s, by 1975 J.W. Larkin’s closed after Joe died of a stroke.

With many fond memories of Rathbone Market, Penny, who now lives in Devon, misses its glory days.

“They were different times. It wasn’t fast paced. It was the best of times.

“People don’t often shop in markets now. Rathbone was brilliant. You could get a pair of tights to God knows what.

“You go to markets now and they’re usually full of fruit ‘n’ veg and “toot” stalls,” Penny said cheekily.