14 December 2011

London street markets

Mary Portas has been in the news lately talking about injecting some life into our ailing local high streets. Her solution is to (re)introduce street markets.
Well, nice one Mary – whilst I totally agree (hell, I do stalls myself; and let me tell you it ain't fun when it's raining or windy) it gets me thinking about all the markets that we don't have anymore and the dwindling sizes of some of the ones that are still clinging on. The ones that immediately pop into my mind are Lambeth Walk, Hoxton St, Chalton St, hey, even Chapel market in Angel is only half the size it used to be.
I grew up in Romford and the market was amazing when I was a child. You could spend a whole day there going up and down the aisles of stalls and buy everything from soap and vegetables to puppies and haberdashery. Mum told me stories of the cattle market that used to be there when she was young. But today it's a shadow of its former self, now being ignored by people who just want to shop in the adjacent air-conditioned covered homogenous shopping malls.
A while ago I took some photos of pages of a Picture Post from December 1938 showing Lambeth Walk how it was pre-war. Under one picture about the market it reads, 'There's all kinds of stalls including food and clothes and cats' meat . . . really more of a meeting place". I will type it all up post the whole lot up at some point in the future.
And now I recall that on a wall in a restaurant I go to in Turkey(!) there is a photo showing a bustling street market in Farringdon Road in the middle of the 20th century. I have no idea why it's there, and nor does the owner. To the left of it is another photo from the same period shows the main Britannia junction at Camden during the same period. Strange, and very out of place.
But, back to Mary; she's basically right... we're losing our town centres and our sense of community and something needs to be done to rectify this. Farmers' markets are proving popular (though perhaps their high prices deter most people on a budget), and more and more craft markets are springing up.... bring it on... more pitches for me! (it's all about me!).
Speaking of Mary, I recently went and had a look at her clothes outlet in Oxford Street's House of Fraser. I was very disappointed. Considering she is aiming at selling to women of 'a certain age' the boutique is swimming in man-made fibres; hardly appropriate for ladies who 'glow'. Where are the natural basics such as wool jumpers, silk scarves, simple cotton long-sleeved tops and Ts? It all looked like cheap rubbish to me. I left quickly and went to Uniqlo instead. Yes, that's a high street shop, not a market stall...
Top: Broadway, Shepherd, Exmouth, Columbia
Middle: Hoxton, Lambeth Walk 1938, Petticoat
Bottom: Middlesex, Church, Chapel, Portobello


  1. when I came to London 6 years ago I did the Market Tour, after all that is where the real people are. And I must say, after all those years they really changed, but still they are the heart of the City and we still finding unique products that is always worth to spend some money.

  2. What about reducing the rent and rates on some of those empty shops to allow inovative independent traders indoors? Where I live there is a family run department store which is a cross between Grace Brothers and Acorn Antiques. Real character and I love it!

  3. Dani: these past few years have seen a resurgence in craft stalls, artisan products and organic veg but these things are pricey. Sadly most people are used to supermarket bogofs etc these days. The big giants have us all by the proverbials with a one stop shop. I saw a girl on TV explaining that she doesn't like shopping in the high street because it's full of shops she doesn't 'need' like betting shops, bakers and DIY.

    MO: yes, point well made and I totally agree with you. But we live in a world these days where the masses want bland and shiny. Such a shame.

    Support your local market!!!!

  4. I vaguely remember Farringdon Road market - with books - secondhand books. There was (I've only read about this one) Club Row, where they sold pets - especially caged birds, my old cock linnet - in the 19th century. I don't think you can't keep good markets down. As long as there are hard times, people will put their spare possessions on the ground and try to sell them. Charlie Chaplin did it when he was 9, in I think East Street. Or maybe the Elephant. PS: you can get terrific African fabric (made in Holland) in Petticoat Lane. Nice to meet you yesterday. Happy New Year from Hannah

  5. We actually bought our mongrel puppy from Club Row in 1977. Toby turned out to be a great dog. And intelligent too.
    I used to love Brick Lane markets back then (and going on until the 90s) when it was more of a mish-mash with markets under the railway bridges and lots of toot for sale.
    These days it's way too trendy and full of expensive 'vintage' gear.
    Ah well, that's progress for you.


Please note that comments are vetted by me personally to check for relevant content before they are published, so don't panic when your feedback isn't immediately visible.
If you write anything perceived to be an ad, spam or self promotion, your comment will be deleted and/or marked as spam/blocked.
Thanks, Jane