History of Londons’ Markets
Welcome to the markets.
With a rise in demand for organic produce, a boom in lifestyles such as Veganism and the want for pesticide and chemical free produce, there have been a huge increase in people attending markets across the nation for their produce. The Veganism society claims that it was the biggest food trend in 2018, and many people are lookingthwards a healthier lifestyle with an array of fresh fruit and vegetables. With more and more farmers markets popping up every day, let’s look at some of London’s most famous market place and discover why they’re having such a powerful comeback.
The oldest surviving market in London and arguably the whole of Britain was first mentioned in historical texts in 1276, but is thought to have been around from as early as 1014. We are talking about the famous borough market which sits in Southwark under the London Bridge stretching down the side of the Thames. In the 19th century it became one of Londons most important food markets.
The market first established itself on the London Bridge and acted as a hub to sell to travellers who crossed the bridge from the city of London to Southwark town. A larger market was then set up which sold a wider range of produce near the foot of the bridge which was known as Guildable Manor. In the 1270’s, the City of London forbade its citizens to go to the markets as they began to undercut the cities traders by buying produce and reselling it for their own value.
As the time passed into the 16th and 17th century, Southwark was absorbed into the city of London and the authorities did it’s best to maintain order around the markets. They were supervised to maintain price control and inspected goods and were also required to set up fixed stalls as unlicensed trading was a big problem of the era.
In 1666, the Great fire of London burned down the main market house and a large portion of the bridge and it’s markets, and in 1756, nearly 100 year later, the government ceased trading on the market as it was taking away from the high street shops which were part of Londons growing economy. Outraged, the residents began petitioning to be allowed to begin a new market, independent to the city, away from the high street in order to not interfere with their business.
They quickly raised £6,000 (£1mil) and bought an area called the triangle and within two years the place was enlarged and a market house was built. The modern borough market was born.
Over the years, with the rise of national supermarkets which killed off the small grocery and market business, the market developed a niche for speciality meat and cheese. It has become great tourist attraction, with around 16 million people visiting Londons oldest fruit and veg market every year.
The rise in demand for vegetable produce is doing wonders for markets across Britain.
Another famous market which is sometimes forgotten, is the beauty and uniqueness of Columbia Road Flower Market. Named in honour of the heiress and philanthropist Angela Burnett Couts who built the Original Columbia Market in the 19th century. It was her aim to bring cheap and good quality produce to the poorest of East London, so in 1868, she built a huge market building with over 400 stalls and apartments for the traders built above.
Unfortunately, due to limited transport connections and with big markets such as borough and convent garden which were closer to the centre of the city, the market couldn’t thrive. So, in 1871, the market hall was gifted to the city of London and was used for workshops and workhouses for 80 years till it was demolished in the 1950’s to make way for new housing opportunities. You can still see the gates and lion statues which sit outside a local primary school. The market continued on Columbia Road but with a swift change in produce from food to mostly bright, beautiful flowers helped the market survive.
The market suffered in WW2 due to rules regarding food rationing and part of the market received significant damage during the blitz, but in the 1960’s new rules meant traders had to attend regularly and with a resurgence in gardening, the market gained popularity. The changing of opening days to a Sunday instead of a Saturday also meant local jewish traders could bulk up numbers. Traders from other markets began flocking to the market selling left overs from the week, such as convent garden, but over time the market specialised in flowers.
Columbia Road Flower Market sound clip
One of the youngest but possibly one of the most globally famous markets is Camden Market. Although time wise, Camden market is only 50 years old, it remains one of the busiest, well known and popular destinations for tourists and residents of London.
Camden Market officially begun on the 30th March 1974, with a brand new Saturday market which housed a total of 16 stalls which sold antiques, jewellery and arts and crafts. However, previous to this the history of the famous Camden Locks has been slowly forgotten.
Famous scenes from the early 20th Century are recreated in TV productions such as ‘Peaky Blinders’ which shows the locks being a big import and export place for beverages such as whiskey and gin. Distilleries and warehouses would sit along the locks, all dedicated to the booze.
As the towns market developed, this art slowly depleted, lost and forgotten until 2014, when the tradition was reborn when Mark Holdsworth created ‘Half Hitch Gin’ which is distilled in Camden Town. The alcoholic drink can now be found in prestigious London hotels like the Hilton, St James and in establishments like The Shard and Selfridges.
It’s fame can be reflected in the numbers – over 28 million people visit the markets every year. In 1973 a wine merchant called John Armit and his business partner Tony Mackintosh were responsible for turning the ‘run-down packaging warehouse’ beside the canal into Dingwalls Dance Hall and the venue was soon a notorious place for punk-rockers. There have also been many famous faces walking the streets such as David Bowie, Lady Gaga, and is also where Amy Winehouse worked pre-fame as a teenager.
Nowadays, even though some of it’s traditional areas have been lost (the old lock keepers cottage is now a Starbucks) and the authorities have had a major push to eradicate the drug culture that had remained since the 80’s, the general vibe of the market makes it unique. It feels stuck in a period of punk rock with a tad of ibiza markets with the rage of counterfeit products making their name on the market alongside niche food products such as halloumi fries, vegan burgers and the infamous Cereal Killer cafe, which offers the widest range of breakfast cereals from across the globe, with an amazing collection of memorabilia.
Markets once were the entire economy in the UK, but with a rise in convenience stores and the demand for fresh, high quality produce, people are now looking for more substantial, economic sources. This has meant the market world which was once in a crippling decline, is being resurrected to supply those who are wishing to live a healthier lifestyle. In the future we could g straight back to markets and our local supermarket could be a desolate wasteland.