Skip to content

Postcards from Petticoat Lane

July 3, 2011
by the gentle author

Today I am sending you postcards from Petticoat Lane. Here are the eager crowds of a century ago, surging down Middlesex St and through Wentworth St, everyone hopeful for a bargain and hungry for wonders, dressed in their Sunday best and out to see the sights. Yet this parade of humanity is itself the spectacle, making its way from Spitalfields through Petticoat Lane Market and up to Aldgate, before disappearing into the hazy distance. There is an epic quality to these teeming processions which, a hundred years later, appear emblematic of the immigrants’ passage through this once densely populated neighbourhood, where so many came in search of a better life.

At a casual glance, these old postcards are so similar as to be indistinguishable – but it is the differences that are interesting. On closer examination, the landmarks and geography of the streets become apparent and then, as you scrutinise the details of these crowded compositions, individual faces and figures stand out from the multitude. Some are preoccupied with their Sunday morning, while others raise their gaze in vain curiosity – like those gentlemen above, comfortable at being snapped for perpetuity whilst all togged up in their finery.

When the rest of London was in church, these people congregated to assuage their Sunday yearning in a market instead, where all temporal requirements might be sought and a necessary sense of collective human presence appreciated within the excited throng. At the time these pictures were taken, there was almost nowhere else in London where Sunday trading was permitted and, since people got paid in cash on Friday, if you wanted to buy things cheap at the weekend, Petticoat Lane was the only place to go. It was a dramatic arena of infinite possibility where you could get anything you needed, and see life too.

Images copyright © Bishopsgate Institute

You might also like to read about

Laurie Allen of Petticoat Lane

The Wax Sellers of Wentworth St

Fred the Chestnut Seller

Larry Goldstein, Toyseller & Taxi Driver

Rochelle Cole, Poulterer

31 Responses leave one →
  1. Helen permalink
    July 3, 2011

    I wonder what this place whould have smelt like… not how worse or better than now. Just how.

  2. Gary permalink
    July 3, 2011

    I remember the lane in the 1940’s 50′. There was no smell. fast food was not invented, so no food smells and the people although a lot were scruffy they washed, soap was cheap and they had a sort of pride.. You had to watch your pockets though.

  3. AnKa permalink
    July 3, 2011

    Amazing to see the streets packed with people. The postcards bring the atmosphere to life. Thanks for sharing them.

  4. Joan permalink
    July 4, 2011

    In the 1960s and 70s we used to combine going to church with going down ‘the lane’ most weeks (except for in the summer when we were at our Leydsown caravan). We’d emerge from mass at St Mary’s and St Michael’s church on the Commercial Road and hop on a number 15 bus to the lane. Meanwhile our dad, and other men of the parish, would go to Holland’s pub. Sometimes my cousins who I regarded as living almost in the country (they lived in Ilford!) would join us as they knew that if they shopped with us (recognisable regulars) they would get a good deal on Afghan coats, jeans or whatever else was the fashionable thing to buy. The smells I associate with the lane of those days is the aforementioned Afghan coats (particularly when wet!) and hot jam doughnuts – a smell that regular features in our house now courtesy of my sons’ weekly trips to the Brick Lane beigel bake.

    Best wishes,


  5. Wellwynder permalink
    July 4, 2011

    A wonderful collection. Thanks for showing us these.

  6. Anne Forster permalink
    July 4, 2011

    I remember going to this market in the 70s, it was almost iconic and very trendy.
    Loved the old postcards.

  7. Cherub permalink
    July 5, 2011

    I worked in the City from the early 80s – early 90s, and how I used to love going down “the lane” in my lunch break for a bargain!

  8. LittleCyril permalink
    July 11, 2011

    I love the old place

  9. christine pinks permalink
    July 30, 2011

    My parents had a stall in petticoat lane,before the second world war.i have never been there ,so found the postcards very interesting .thankyou

  10. January 22, 2012

    My great-grandfather, Jacob Katzner had a fruit and vegetable stall in Petticoat Lane at the turn of the last century. He and his family lived in Wentworth Buildings. I thought if I looked closely at the postcards, I might see them. Thank you for sharing them with us.

  11. Sue permalink
    May 8, 2012

    My great grandmother, a dutch jew ,known as AUNTIE MIM[surname SMITH] used to run a secondhand jewellery/pawn shop at Petticoat Lane in the early 1900’s.
    Does anyone know anything more about her.
    Apparently she wore rings on evry finger!

  12. Elsie permalink
    June 19, 2012

    I worked at Wiggins Teape in Mansell Street from 1946-1951, so knew Petticoat Lane and Wentworth Street very well. In those days most shops were Jewish owned; one was a bakers and the delicious smell of fresh baked bread and cakes drew us to it to buy a half pound chunk of warm cake. We also used to buy our nylons from a stall in Wentworth Street at 1/- a pair. They often had the odd ladder! There was a chemist called Sokolov, where we bought Drene shampoo and Nivea cream. I loved the lane.

  13. Stephanie permalink
    June 25, 2013

    One of my aunts went down there and bought what she thought were ‘bargain’ tights. When she got home she found they all had only 1 leg. I loved the man selling plates. He used to throw them around and I don’t think he ever dropped them. I also remember someone trying to sell me a coat. She showed me how nice it was in a mirror while holding in the back of the coat to show a nice fit but these things were expected and added to the fun.

  14. frank hadley permalink
    February 14, 2014

    many thanks for showing old postcards of petticoat lane, i lived there from 1948 until moving away in 1963. many of the buildings were destroyed in the war. so it is nice to see how it looked pre war. the market was the most amazing array of little streets and goods to buy full of all the local characters. never a dull moment. sadly it has lost it’s charm.

  15. Willy isaacs permalink
    May 2, 2014

    My dad worked the lane 1950 to1990s pics brought back many memories the sounds of the hawkers selling there wares sadly all gone now .

  16. Brian Williamson permalink
    July 6, 2014

    It may have been even more interesting to have had the years during which the photgraphs had been taken noted beside the pictures. Mostly the pictures are not in colour, so that dates them as do also te cloth caps–no baseball caps in any of these pix?

  17. Benjamin Shapiro permalink
    July 6, 2014

    I lived around the corner in Quaker Street. I used to work in The Lane as a barker on a toy stall. I wonder if it was the Goldstein’s I worked for? Earned 5 bob a weekend in 1950. I was only 14, but passed for 16. Loved it, helped me develop self-confidence that has stayed with me all of my life.

  18. David j Gabriel permalink
    July 6, 2014

    Loved the Lane on a Sunday! Especially hot sarsaparilla and apple fritters if I was lucky 🙂

  19. Sonia Murray permalink
    July 6, 2014

    The pictures remind me of Portobello Road Market in the ’50’s and 60’s. Lovely! Thanks so much!

  20. Leah permalink
    December 4, 2014


    I was just wondering if anyone has any images/footage of the markets. My grandad and dad used to sell China and would have a whole set to throw in the air and catch without breaking them. They would sell in petticoats lane and brick lane.

    My grandad died 33 years ago and would be lovely if my dad could see anything that anyone might have captured.

  21. Leah permalink
    December 4, 2014

    Forgot to say it was during the 50’s/60’s

  22. Tracey permalink
    January 2, 2015

    I enjoyed looking at these pictures too. My great-grandfather, Isaac Abraham Nathan, a Jewish confectioner, had a sweet shop in Petticoat Lane in the 1900’s. My late gran, Blanche Solomon used to tell me wonderful stories about the shop and their farm in Wembly where they lived before leaving for South Africa in about 1919. I’m planning to visit (from Australia) in a couple of years and wonder if any of the original shops remain or has it all been totally re-built?

  23. Mark Dines permalink
    January 13, 2015

    Ruth Taylor, I’m pretty sure my Grandmother live in Wentworth Dwellings from the 1930s.
    She also had a poultry stall there in Petticoat Lane.

  24. Mark Dines permalink
    January 13, 2015

    Who remembers Ostwins and the Toffee apple stall?

  25. Sheila butt permalink
    October 9, 2015

    I was born in the east end and lived in Quaker St all my life worked in Wentworth St in a card shop and on Sundays on my friend Benny Joseph’s stall I loved every minute the shop was opposite Mossy Marks where I went lunchtimes to get the Latkas pickled herring cucumbers and beigles making my mouth water just thinking about it sadly it’s not like that any more my buildings have gone Goldstein’s gone the sweetshop on the corner maybe still there but my very good friend harry fishmans who owned the shop sadly has passed away good old days sadly never to return

  26. simon hart permalink
    July 14, 2016

    fantastic photos to find as I am researching my family who were all jewish and had names such as hart dacosta Barnett myers woolf levy felman etc all lived in and around petticoat lane and Aldgate in the 1800s any one have any memories about any of my family they were closthe dealers pencil makers cigar makers etc

  27. Gill Percy permalink
    November 13, 2016

    Wonderful photos!I am researching my Jewish family tree with the Barnett and Lipmann families. the Barnett family owned a coffee house for 2 generations in Petticoat Lane in the 1800s. Also in the late 1800s into 1914 or later a well known kosher butcher business in Petticoat lane, owned by Emanuel Barnett, called the kosher king of the East End. Looking for any photos or information related to this, people and places. Emanuel Barnett moved out of the lane and had a large home in seven sisters road in the early 1900 s. This was bombed in Ww2. Love to see any photosThe Lipmann family ran the Montefiore pub in this area also.
    My grandfather Barnett was born in the petticoat lane area in 1896 and moved to New Zealand in 1910.

  28. Myrtle Goldstein Sitowitz permalink
    December 24, 2017

    I used to help my brother out on a Sunday morning in Petticoat Lane. His name was Bernie Goldstein and he had a stall of mostly coats. This was in the glorious Fifties….sadly he passed away a few years ago. I had my own job in the week but Sundays there I was “dahn the Lane”. The bustle, hustle, bargaining was to say the least quite exciting and entertaining. MGS

  29. SandraD permalink
    May 2, 2018

    There was a wonderful shoe shop called Levits They stocked the most beautiful shoes.We would go there most Sundays Then over to Liverpool Street to have pictures done in the picture kiosk.You could make a record in a little kiosk for Five bob if you were flush.You sang for a few minutes and it came out as a floppy single,just like your photograph kiosk.It was the best days out with all the stall holders giving their spiel about the goods they sold.It was an experience and very exciting.Something for everyone.aaarh golden memories…..

  30. Michael Carr permalink
    May 1, 2021

    I lived in Code street just Brick lane , from the late 40s to the early 60s , Harry Fishmans
    Corner shop was our local shop for papers , magazines , cigarettes and other odds and ends.
    I may be wrong but one day someone knocked on his door and shot him in the eye !

  31. August 27, 2023

    Awesome to look at these photos – I worked at Adastral House, Hight Holborne early 1960s and used to go to ‘Gamage’s’ in my lunch break and able to visit a Lane near by. Would this have been Petticoat Lane? I’m too old to recall!!

Leave a Reply

Note: Comments may be edited. Your email address will never be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS