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At Queens Market

October 5, 2015
by the gentle author

Asif Sheikh

Contributing Photographer Colin O’Brien & I spent our Saturday morning at Queen’s Market in Upton Park and we were inspired by the vitality of the place and the infinite variety of cheap goods on sale. Brightly-lit stalls gleam beneath a cavernous dark roof that seems to recede forever, sheltering an intricate labyrinth of booths, kiosks and shops offering some new wonder at every corner. It is one of those places where you can buy everything you need and want for nothing in life.

Like the porter at the gate, Neil Stockwell greeted us from the very first stall in the front of the market where he sells fruit and vegetables at bargain prices. “My grandfather was here before me in 1955,” he informed me, “As a child I worked with him, and when he retired in 1979 I took over his hawker’s licence and I’ve been here ever since.”

Understandably, Neil is very protective of his beloved market. “This is the jewel of the East End,” he assured me authoritatively, “Its survival has been very much to do with all the different people who have come here – once upon a time, we only sold apples, oranges and veg but now we sell everything. There’s no divisions in this market, it is a community within a community.”

With this in mind, Colin & I set off through the market and – even at that busy time – we received a welcome from the traders, graciously permitting us to take their portraits. We met Zulaikha, Qasim & Aisha Tasawer on their first day of trading and David Martin who has been selling fish for twenty-seven years, and it became evident that this is a prospering market.

Astonishingly, it might have closed forever if not for the tenacious campaign by Friends of Queens Market who fought for ten years to see off a high-rise development plan and get the market designated as an asset of community value. Now the future is secure, yet the level of maintenance has been pitiful and – as traders face another winter with leaks in the roof – a protest took place on Saturday in an attempt to underline the importance of this basic provision.

If you have not yet made the pilgrimage to Queens Market, then I encourage you to do so. Once you have been there, you will want to go back regularly. You can see life, get all your weekly supplies fresh and cheap, and never go near a supermarket again.

Neil Stockwell ‘This is the jewel of the East End”

Carol Porter has been selling fruit & veg for nineteen years in Queens Market

Zulaikha, Qasim & Aisha Tasawer on their first day as stallholders

Joan Thompson has been selling jewellery here for seven years and was in Brixton before

Ahmed Nassr has been selling olives and honey for just two months in Queens Market

David Martin has been selling fish in this market for twenty-seven years

Mrs Wheatley has been selling jewellery at Queens Market for thirty-two years

Mr Baig has been trading in textiles here for four years

Friends of Queens Market protest about the lack of repairs to the leaky roof

Photographs copyright © Colin O’Brien

Read about how Queens Market was saved on the Friends of Queens Market website

8 Responses leave one →
  1. Robert Green permalink
    October 5, 2015

    Almost every day of my life for over 50 years I spent at Queens Road Market as I lived only a few hundred yards away further along Green Street, having lived through all the changes of the 60s an then the totally DISASTEROUS redevelopment in the 1970s I can assure you this market is now only a mere shadow of its former glory, during the 50s and 60s Upton Park was often refered to as “the Oxford st of the East End” boasting a host of department stores and representation from almost every famous retailer on Britains high street and at that time Queens Rd market was second to non, attracting litterally thousands of shopers from across East London on a weekly basis, Tuesday thursday and of course Saturday wer the biggest days for the market, but after it’s total demolition and redevelopment in the early 1970s that changed the market from a traditional open street market to a more formal and eventually undecover “square” it destroyed the atmosphere and the market quickly slid into a decline from which it never recovered its former glory eventually leading Newham council to again propose total demolition of what had I am afraid become a total mess, but as mentioned, the market survived, for now, but how long it can continue in its current state remains to be seen and in spite of the spirited opposition to council plans I am in no doubt that eventually some further radical changes to this market will have to be implemented.

  2. October 5, 2015

    Glad to hear that people managed to save the market – well done! It looks so bright and lively, good luck to all stallholders, old and new, and hope the owners fix the roof soon! Valerie

  3. Greg Tingey permalink
    October 5, 2015

    A PROPER fruit-&-Veg market.
    Unlike my local one (Walthamstow High St) which has declined rapidly of late ….

  4. October 5, 2015

    Great that you did this. Newham Bookshop is just further down the road stocking all Spitalfields Life books.

  5. Debra Dycaico permalink
    October 5, 2015

    This was a very interesting and enlightening piece. I live in San Diego, Ca but I will definitely try to visit it the next time that I am in London. I definitely endorse the stance of buying fresh food from local vendors. Thank you for the piece and the great photos.

  6. Aktar Hussain permalink
    October 5, 2015

    Love this market. The sounds, the shouting, the smells, mix of people, stuff on sale… it’s real grit. It’s international without the branded nonsense.

    I’ve given up shopping at supermarkets and now shop at Queen’s and a few local shops which suits me much better.

    The council’s fight against the traders is silly. Just because the Mayor doesn’t shop there doesn’t mean thousands of others have to be moved on. Suppose it’s the land price issue.

    Queen’s Market is like a sponge to the local area. You can feel the heart of Newham.

  7. Susan Diamond permalink
    October 6, 2015

    My great grandparents, grandparents and aunts and uncles had shops and stalls in the original Queens Road Market starting in 1911, until 1950′s. The remaining cousin left in the 1960′s. I feel for the present market traders and glad to hear and see it is still thriving although away from the
    original market. Sorry to hear about Walthamstow market it used to be a wonderful market with shops alongside it.

  8. Jean Gaffin permalink
    October 6, 2015

    A very nostalgic piece for me. Born in Queens Road Market in 1936, then evacuated with sister’s local school to Oxford, dad’s carpet shop with a market stall outside and our home within was bombed. We returned once dad came back from army service abroad to live in another part of West Ham (Forest Gate) and I went to Stratford Grammar E.15. My first job as a teenager was selling end bits of carpet in the stall dad had in the Market. Many friends from the old Upton Park Synagogue had stalls, as did loads of wonderful fruit and veg sellers and lots else besides. It was a wonderful old fashioned street market. Couple of years back I organised a walk, led by Rachel Kolsky, of the area and felt that Queens Market was too different to compare to my memories. An unexpected treat was that Ahmadiyya community who now have their Mosque in the old Synagogue were so very welcoming to us.

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