At Queens Market
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