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Spitalfields Market Portraits, 1991

June 29, 2011
by the gentle author

Following yesterday’s selection of nocturnal images chosen from more than three thousand photographs taken by Mark Jackson & Huw Davies in the last year of the Fruit & Vegetable Market in Spitalfields in 1991, it is my pleasure today to publish this gallery of portraits of market traders from the same source.

When Mark and Huw arrived at the market, they often separated to pursue different lines of inquiry, convened regularly through the night to compare results. Huw, the more more experienced photographer of the two, might set up the ambitious wide shots of the market and wait for figures to walk into the frame, while Mark, who did not even know how to load a camera at first, would chat with traders and snap portraits. And thus their different qualities complemented each other, so that today the body of pictures detailing the life of market exists as a totality in which the work of each photographer cannot be disentangled from the other.

All these portraits were the result of conversations as the photographers came to know their subjects. Always, conversation came first and once both parties were comfortable, the pictures were taken. As the traders came to appreciate the project, more were keen to have their portraits done, waving the photographers over and demanding a picture. It was an event that grew more frequent as the closure approached, and those who had spent their working lives there were desirous of being photographed in their market. They wanted their existence recorded along with their fellows.

There was a rigor imposed upon the endeavour by the cost of the film and the limitation of the budget, giving value to every single frame. At first, Mark & Huw bought cheap second hand cameras that broke and then they saved for months to buy new Nikon cameras and lenses, including a precious 35mm lens for portraits which they shared between them. And, to save money they bought great rolls of film and wound it into their cameras, but it quite often got damaged by fingerprints in the process.

Then, each weekend when the market was closed, Mark & Huw filled the bath in their tiny flat with smelly chemicals mixed up from powder and developed the week’s films, hanging them with clothes pegs on strings to dry – and sometimes the mix of the developer was wrong and the pictures came out too dark. Yet in spite of all these limitations, and the resultant pitfalls and mishaps, Mark & Huw were able to produce the splendid, emotionally-charged portraits which you see here and, thanks to them, we are able to meet the Spitalfields Market traders of 1991 face to face.

Photographs copyright © Mark Jackson & Huw Davies

You can see the original selection of

Mark Jackson & Huw Davies’ Photographs of the Spitalfields Market

and read about

Night at the Spitalfields Market, 1991

The Return of Mark Jackson

13 Responses leave one →
  1. June 29, 2011

    Awesome! Thanks

  2. June 30, 2011

    Amazingly old fashioned looking – and poignant.

  3. June 30, 2011

    Fabulous faces, full of character, thankyou.

  4. July 1, 2011

    I am so moved when I see history of a place in a person’s face. Especially when that place is London. It makes me want to cry at the beauty of this world.

  5. Peter Biernis permalink
    January 6, 2012

    Awsome pictures I can remember as a young lad delivering veg to Spitalfields most nights of the week. I remember the characters that worked there. Also the burger bar near the ten bells pub. They used to do awsome egg and bacon rolls.
    The wife used to come with some nights and go off around the market and come back with arms full of fruit think she used to chat the old boys up lol

  6. Carol Servis permalink
    December 20, 2012

    Great pictures, brings back my childhood & teenage years, my father worked & dropped dead there, my brother worked there, and l went to Central Foundation Girls School in Spital Square.

  7. Barbara Hague permalink
    October 15, 2013

    Fascinating pictures. I would really love portraits of people who worked there a hundred years before – including my great-grandfather and great uncle – Harpers by name.

  8. John Millard permalink
    December 27, 2013

    On reading the comments of Barbara Hague, I have also been looking into the history of Spitalfields and have Harpers as relations. James William Harper had a shop in South Street and his mother Jane also had a shop.
    If Barbara would like to contact me I have some more information

  9. April 7, 2014

    Love all the photos , Bought back some lovely memories . Visited three days a week with my Gran & grandad . Thats when most fruit from kent was sol in old wicker barskits . One thing i miss in the photos was one of the old hot &jellied ell stall stood under the clock ..I was six years old then , 70 years ago .

  10. Kathy Harvey permalink
    February 6, 2018

    A lot of my family worked there family name Bates my dad Harry started when he was 14 and left at 75 my two brothers Ashel and Johnny lots of my cousins and my two nephews Johnny Bates and Terry Bates the only job they all had they loved the market
    I know my dad worked for J Bendon

  11. Remo permalink
    January 26, 2019

    Hi , What amazing photos and memories, thank you

    My family used to run the Cura cafe on the corner of Folgate street up untill they retired and moved back to Italy in 1974.
    My dad was Guglielmo Broglia ( Bill to the customers) and my Mum was Ida and my Sister Miria
    and her husband Renzo ran the cafe and I used to help out in the school holidays.
    All I have is and old black and white photo of the original building which is now luxury flats and would love to know if they are any more in existence.
    Thanks again

  12. Dave Freeman permalink
    September 7, 2019

    I went to Spitalfields Market in the 1950’s with GH Grist & Sons Maidstone Kent as a lorry drivers mate…The pics brought back good memories …especially the Barrow Boys with their Barrows loaded sky high….GH Grist & Sons was a wholesaler of Fruit and veg in Maidstone Kent…I remember Doug Grist & Derek Grist who ran the Company…lovely people…at the age of 17 I joined up in the Army …Royal Artillery…The Gunners

  13. Pamela Morrison permalink
    July 20, 2020

    Wonderfully evocative images. Recently discovered family links bind me strongly to Spitalfields. In the 1820’s, Samuel Hewes, my great, great, great, great grandfather lived and worked in Spitalfields. He had a potato and vegetable shop/stall at, no 1 West Street Spitalfields Market. It’s so easy when studying these beautiful photographs to imagine my ancestor day in day out, carrying on life just as these proud market people. I can’t find No 1 West Street Spitalfields though I shall continue searching. One day I shall come to England to see first hand this lively, historic location.
    Thank you MJ & HD for adding rich fodder for my imaginings about new & old Spitalfields.

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