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Spitalfields Antiques Market 18

August 5, 2010
by the gentle author

When Marlene was a child growing up in Jamaica, her parents used to have their furniture and even clothes made up locally – copying illustrations from old catalogues – thereby giving Marlene an education in taste and appreciation for the styles of yesteryear that remains with her to this day. Dealing in old china and kitchenalia, Marlene also uses it at home every day. “I never buy anything to put away and I never buy anything I can’t use.” she declared firmly as a matter of principle, before adding with a sentimental smile, “It’s so nice drinking out of an old cup and saucer!” As one who eats off old plates everyday too, I recognise a kindred spirit in Marlene.

This is the erudite Dudley from Kent, once a military photographer in the RAF, pictured here wielding a fine old bell made by Warners of Spitalfields, impressed with the name “Seabird,” indicating its nautical origins. “I like things with a story,” he confided in understatement, showing me a humble bookcase made from the teak of HMS Valiant, nearly sunk in the bay of Naples by a limpet mine in 1948, and a pair of stylish candlesticks of 1929 made from the timber of HMS Ganges, the last sailing ship in the British Navy. Dudley told me his father was an antique dealer in Shropshire dealing exclusively in old oak, revealing the origin of his passion, as a branch of the same tree.

This is Anita from Rochester, bubbling over with irresistible enthusiasm for the costume jewellery and old lace that she sells,“I’ve only been doing it ten years but I wish I’d been doing it longer because I love it so much.” she announced with gleeful vivacity, tossing her wayward blonde locks flirtatiously and showing off the lavish Whitby jet necklace and glittering diamante spider she was modelling herself.“I bring a different selection every week” she emphasised, gesturing persuasively to the sparkling array of trinkets before her,“Where else are going to get a nice vintage necklace for eight pounds?”

This is Tony Travis whose area of expertise is Tudor & Stuart hammered coins, but in Spitalfields he trades in ethnographic currency from Africa. When Tony explained that the iron manillas he sells were cast in Birmingham in the eighteenth century, exchanged with tribal chiefs in Central Africa for slaves, which were then exported to America in return for the cotton that was in turn brought back to Birmingham, it was a moment when the inescapable reality of history became apparent in a single unlikely artifact. A sobering reflection in the market on a Summer’s morning in Spitalfields.

Photographs copyright © Jeremy Freedman

One Response leave one →
  1. Yves permalink
    August 5, 2010

    I find it amazing how Tony’s slave currency has come full circle back to the UK and truly is a sobering reminder of our societies recent history. I saw this sort of iron work in the Gambia and the Ivory Coast many years ago. It’s mind boggling that human being were once sold for scrap metal.

    I look forward to visiting Spitalfields market when I’m next in London.


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