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Brick Lane Market 3

March 13, 2011
by the gentle author

This is John and his father Alf in the charismatic old shed they have just opened up beside the railway bridge in Brick Lane. Two stalwarts who have spent their working lives buying and selling all manner of commodities in the East End – Alf entered local lore when he bought a lion cub off a ship in the docks forty years ago and sold it at Club Row animal market, while his son John has always traded around Brick Lane.

“I used to to have the biggest railway arch here, then I was in Cheshire St and once I had the biggest yard in Bacon St.” he boasted, explaining that for the past six years he has lived in the tiny caravan nestled snugly at the rear of his shed. When you enter the tall red wooden doors leading off Brick Lane into the huge shack with a multiplicity of stalls and a tea stand, you enter John’s world where he sells “all and everything, from a-z.”

“Is this bric-a-brac or junk?” I ventured, casting my eyes around the ramshackle mixture filling the cavernous space, where Tom the weather-beatened and tanned sailor lurked in the shadows at the rear with his big black dog. Raising his brows at the impudence of my question, “It’s shabby chic!” John declared, twisting his stubbly features into the leery smirk of a showman – “’Shabby chic’ was invented in Brick Lane.”

“I used to come up here with my dad and it was like a day out. If you wanted something you could get it for pennies. This place is what Brick Lane was like twenty years ago,” he continued, introducing his personal view of the changing currents of the market. “Saturday is better for us than Sunday now,” he said,“People come to all the vintage clothes shops but I don’t know how they make any money. I reckon that’s why they call them ‘pop-up shops’ because they pop up and then pop off.”

Over a cuppa from the tea stall, I settled down to enjoy Alf’s lyrical stories of the old East End, of Spratt’s dog food, Twining’s Tea, Percy Dalton’s peanuts, and of the former magnificence of Wellclose Square and when Wilton’s Music Hall was a rag store, and of his poor old pet fox, and Quackers, his pet duck, that followed him around the streets. “I think it’s a more violent world now,” he confided in a whisper, “beyond Vallance Rd is a dangerous place with gangs and drug wars. I won’t go there.”

When John’s two sons arrived from school in their smart green uniforms, I asked them if they planned to continue trading here on Brick Lane but they both shook their heads in unison. “I want them to be traders in the stockmarket,” said John, accompanied by nods of enthusiasm from his boys, “I take them for walks around the Docklands and tell them which companies to work for.”

“You want them to be bankers?” I queried. “I want them to make money,” he confirmed, “A lot of successful people have come out of Brick Lane, Alan Sugar started round the corner and the old man used to sell records to Richard Branson.” And then, turning to his father, their eyes met in a moment of shared realisation. “Where did we go wrong?” he asked, raising his hands with a grimace of bewilderment.

Photographs copyright © Jeremy Freedman

2 Responses leave one →
  1. March 14, 2011

    It was nice to see this open a couple of weeks ago. All the brickabrac sheds and under-the-arches of the area have been on the wane over the last few years, so to see one re-establishing, complete with an un-ironic tea stall, was good.

    A massive police operation cleared the fly pitchers out of Cheshire Street a week or so ago, very heavy handedly. They’re seemed to be the same people who have been selling nothing anybody wants much on the pavement since my dad used to bring me here, but they were being treated roughly.

  2. George permalink
    March 18, 2011

    I had a good rummage around in there last Sunday ( 13 March ) and picked up a bargain too.
    Had a bit of banter to add to the enjoyment. I hope John has some change next time so I dont have to run down the frog to get some…

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