Few places in the Guyanese capital of Georgetown are quite as hectic or historic as Stabroek Market. Built by the Edge Moor Iron Company of Delaware in 1880, the iron and steel structure is possibly the oldest building still in use in the city.
The site on which Stabroek Market currently stands may well have been a marketplace for at least a century prior to the existing construction. Accounts exist of a marketplace at this location in 1792, where enslaved Africans sold their produce on Sundays. At that time Georgetown was under Dutch rule, and the city itself was known as Stabroek.
In 1799, the English traveler Henry Bolingbroke described Stabroek Market as such: “There is a market place where the Negroes assemble to sell their truck such as fruits, vegetables, fowls and eggs and where hucksters expose for sale articles of European manufacture in addition to salt beef, pork, fish, cheese, pipes, tobacco and other articles.”
It wasn’t until 1843, with the city under British rule and renamed Georgetown, that the location was officially recognized as a market. With this now clarified, the Town Council set about building a marketplace using local hardwoods. It was a fine structure by most accounts, but by 1870 it was deemed inadequate.
A committee was formed to discuss plans for a new market, and by 1879 six plans had been submitted. The Edge Moor Iron Company of Delaware, USA, won the contract, with a structure estimated at a cost of $132,855 including freight and the erection of the building in the colony of British Guiana.
Construction began on August 17, 1879 and the new market was completed and declared open on November 1, 1880. A report in the Royal Gazette described the inauguration: “The market was opened this morning without any ceremony what so ever, the only signs of festivity being the flags disposed about the buildings and on the stalls. In the course of the day however a band of music made its appearance and discoursed sweet strains of music to the intense satisfaction of the mob, which had gathered. Some ladies keeping their stalls forgot their dignified station so far as to indulge.”
The Stabroek Market, then as now, covers an area of about 80,000 square feet (7,000 m2), making it the largest market in Guyana. The steel-framed structure is estimated to weigh about 635 tons.
Above the main entrance to the market is a steel tower holding a four-dialed clock, which was ordered from the E. Howard Company of Boston, Massachusetts in 1880. The clock tower also houses an iron bell manufactured in Sheffield, England, which once struck every half hour. Currently, however, the clock is out of action, a source of much argument, especially in light of the $41,000 donated by the United States Embassy in Guyana in 2016, specifically for the restoration of the market’s iconic timepiece.
The absence of a functioning clock has done nothing to diminish the market’s frenetic atmosphere. Stalls are often mixed in random fashion, selling everything from fresh produce to jewelry, electronics, books, shoes and live birds. At peak market hours it’s the busiest place in the city: a chaotic, colorful and clamorous space where crime is common, so keep a tight grip on your bag.