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Brick Lane Market 12

June 12, 2011
by the gentle author

This is Kevin Stocker from Harlow who once served in the Royal Fusiliers. “Need brought me here,” he revealed to me with a phlegmatic grin on a slow Sunday in Sclater St, “Most of the regional markets are dying out, so you’ve got to go where you can find the customers. And I like the hustle and bustle here, it’s a very sociable place.” Of expansive temperament, Kevin is a skilled man who has done many jobs in his varied career – “I trained as a plumber and hated every minute of it” – but now he sells bric-a-brac at boot fairs and antiques markets to earn a living. “I’ve been doing it fifteen years, this July,” he calculated. I joined Kevin for a cup of tea behind the stall to enjoy a chat with him and his pal, the neighbouring stallholder Christine, while the clouds gathering overhead scattering the last customers. “I called her ‘Lucky’ because every day she bought off me, I had a lucky day,” he informed me, catching her eye, as we sipped from our plastic cups.

“We’re all here by default, because it’s what we know,” said Christine with a knowing chuckle, “For me it’s all about the people, it’s the social aspect as well as earning enough to pay the odd bill. It’s not my primary focus, like Kevin – although next year it might become so.” A woman who has travelled the world and seen life, Christine worked her way up from trading at car boot sales to international antiques fairs, until she started a theatre group exploring the subject of mental health inspired by her own experience of mental illness. Two years ago, she quit the theatre and now she is back in the market again. “I live in Dagenham and I own a Skoda,” she explained, puffing on her cigarette excitedly, “when I first got started again, I used to come on the bus with all my things and it almost killed me!” A popular character in the Sclater St Market, Christine knows her stuff, and is renowned for her raucous humour and splendid corn-rows.

This is Chris & Vince of Abco Wiping Cloths & Janitorial Supplies who deal in secondhand textiles from the former railway workers’ chapel in Sclater St. Here, in this atmospheric shadowy space beneath the foliate Victorian cast iron roof brackets and lancet windows, you can find a wonderful selection of old roller towels, boiler suits, cotton bed sheets and pillow cases, catering uniforms, aprons and coats – even socks at twenty pence a pair. Vince’s grandfather started the business (which also operates from the Coppermill in Cheshire St) in 1920 as rag merchants and they have operated here in the chapel for the past thirty years. “I was probably about three or four when I first came down here, I don’t remember not being here,” recalled Vince with a sentimental smile, taking in the magnificent old store and then gazing out to the building site across the road where the future is being constructed, “But it’s just a hobby now. We’ll be history very soon.”

Photographs copyright © Jeremy Freedman

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