Reclaim the Street Markets
– Don’t let the moneymen destroy the markets, says Catherine Chambers
Known for quality goods at knockdown prices, London’s markets are an irresistible lure to tourists and locals alike. Part of London’s heritage for centuries, street markets such as Portobello Road are a vital ingredient of London culture. But with the increasing threat of re-development from big business, the capital’s long-established haggling haunts are in danger of being knocked out of the picture.
Walthamstow and Berwick St markets have witnessed a gradual decline over the last few years, while Spitalfields has fought off five attempts of closure for business development. More recently, Camden, long a stamping ground for the alternative masses, came under threat in face of plans to redevelop the Underground. At times where corporate giants such as Nike and Virgin are invading every little nook and cranny of space, and where chain pubs are doing away with London’s heritage (take the closure of The Wag for example) street markets are becoming one of the last bastions of London culture.
Such is the seriousness of the issue that campaign groups such as SMUT, (Spitalfields Market Under Threat) and a website dedicated to keeping Camden free of re-development (Camdenlock.co.uk) have been set up. Both Camden and Spitafields markets play a pivotal role in the areas. Spitalfields market, in particular, is integral to East End life. Bethnal Green MP Oona King emphasised the importance of the market to London’s heritage.
“The demolition of this historic site would be a blow to the heart of the community – residents and businesses alike. The unique appeal of the market both as a building of architectural importance and as a focus for local community has endured for generations.”
Camden Market, along with the Electric Ballroom, is now under threat due to the proposed rebuilding of the tube. Overcrowding is a major problem and the plan is to extend the tube station thereby doing away with the market. Not only that, but the area is now a target for businesses invading its space. A few years ago it would have been unthinkable, but now GAP and Starbucks occupy the same street as famous indie pub venue Dublin Castle. Local councillor, Anne Swain commented: “We need a large commercial development like we need a hole in the head.”
There are 100 markets in London, ranging from those specialising primarily in fruit and vegetables (Spitafields, Berwick St), to handicrafts (Portobello) and alt.fashion hangouts (Camden).
Camden has five markets. Inverness St, off Chalk Farm Road, is mainly for food, vegetables and cheap watches! A stones throw from the tube is the Electric Ballroom, full of CD stalls and clothes for the avid clubber and er, Goth, while further along is the open-air market selling home-designed clothes and trendy fashions at affordable prices. Those who are a dab hand at haggling can usually strike a good bargain. Camden Lock is good for new and used clothes as well as interesting bric a brac. Further along Chalk Farm Road, The Stables is a must for folk after finely handcrafted goods. Mainly though, tourists flock to Camden to soak up the atmosphere. Let’s just hope it doesn’t lose its charm, or indeed its home, if the Tube developers have their way.
Heading north towards Islington, there’s the confusingly named Camden Passage, an expensive but interesting stop for odd obscure items. Nearby in Angel is a contender for the most un-touristy of markets; Chapel Market is mainly a haunt for locals and on Saturdays takes on the aura of ‘flea-market’ – while the area is privy to a smorgasbord of shops, bars, and cafes.
Camden Lock Market Every day apart from December 25th 10pm – 6pm.
Camden Lock Village Every day apart from December 25th 10pm – 6pm.
Camden Market Every day apart from December 25th 9.30pm – 5.30am.
Chapel Market Tuesday – Sunday 9pm – 6pm.
Electric Ballroom Saturday and Sunday 10am – 5pm.
Camden Passage Wednesday and Saturday 9am – 6pm.
The Stables Every day apart from December 25th 9.30am-5.30pm.
Inverness St Every day apart from December 25th Mon-Sat 8.30am – late.
Tube: Camden, Chalk Farm, Angel.
Portobello Rd is a popular stop for tourists and is rammed at weekends. Despite being a magnet for sophisticated urbanites, Notting Hill comes second after Camden for its laid-back vibe and youthful funkiness, with didgeridoo players and Rastas loitering among the stalls. Here you’ll find everything from vintage clothes to dog-eared books and a wide-range of antiques. Leave at least half a day to cover the whole market, which stretches over a mile long.
Portobello Road Market Monday – Wednesday 8am – 6.30pm. Thursday 8am – 1pm. Saturday: 8am – 6.30pm.
Tube: Notting Hill Gate, Ladbroke Grove
Covent Garden offers a selection of crafts, mostly aimed at tourists, hence the ridiculous prices. In the summer months you get to see someone juggle batons or some rather daft souls eat fire. Hungry shoppers wanting to escape the vacuous shopping area of Oxford St might do well to turn off down Berwick St. Other than being a haunt for good record shops, Berwick St is home to a food market where you can pick up fresh fruit and veg. There’s also a popular fish stall, a good selection of fruit and nut, and exotic foods. Saturday is best for bargains.
Covent Garden Every day.
Tube: Covent Garden.
Berwick St Monday – Saturday 9am – 6pm.
Tube: Oxford Circus, Leicester Square.
Spitalfields may be the best known market in East London, mainly because of its extraordinary range of food from around the world, organic produce and ornate crafts, but it isn’t the only market in the bustling East End. Brick Lane market on Sunday is heaving. In amongst the junk and bric-a-brac, there are 24 hour bakeries that have become a post-clubbing institution, pubs and of course, being in the heart of the Asian community, you’re never far away from our national dish (according to former Foreign Secretary Robin Cook), Chicken Tikka Masala.
Another East End stop is Petticoat Lane. Famous but not as trendy as, say, Camden, this East End jaunt requires a full day to tackle its stalls of cheap fashions, old watches, leather goods and shoes. Early birds will get the best stuff.
While it may not be filed under trendy or touristy, Walthamstow Market can lay claim to be the longest Street Market in Western Europe, with 500 stalls stretching for over a mile selling food, leather goods, clothing, and fabrics.
Spitalfields Every day 9am – 5pm.
Tube: Liverpool St.
Brick Lane Sunday 9am – 5pm.
Tube: Aldgate East, Shoreditch.
Petticoat Lane Monday – Friday 10am – 3pm. Saturday closed. Sunday 9am – 2pm.
Tube: Aldgate, Aldgate East, Liverpool St.
Walthamstow Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays 8am – 5pm.
South of the river, Brixton’s Electric Avenue pulls the punters in every day except Sunday. Exotic produce, cheap reggae tapes and records lie juxtaposed to stalls selling toiletries, soap and shampoo. Those hankering after new furniture should head off to Bermondsey Market, near London Bridge, on a Friday. An antique-hunters paradise, Bermondsey market is the biggest antiques market in the capital.
Before it got lumped with the O2, Greenwich was already attracting visitors through its impressive under-cover market. Hand-crafted goods, blankets, rugs, lampshades, jewellery, antiques you name it. The market took on a Camden-like aura in the 1980s because of the tourist industry. Nowadays you can find tacky second hand clothes, books, polished stones and arty furniture traded at varying prices.
Bermondsey Friday 4am – 1pm.
Tube: Borough, London Bridge.
Brixton Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday 8am – 6pm. Wednesday 10am – 3pm. Friday 8am – 7pm.
Greenwich Tuesday – Sunday 10am – 5.30pm.
Train:Greenwich BR/Docklands Light Railway.