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Phil Maxwell On Sclater St

April 24, 2016
by the gentle author

For the last thirty years, Contributing Photographer Phil Maxwell has been recording the ever-changing life of Sclater St Market. In the seventeenth century, this was known as Slaughter’s Land and Sclater is an archaic spelling of it, yet today the accepted pronunciation is ‘Slater.’ The name reminds us that, in spite of the apparently transient nature of street trading, this is an ancient market. By 1711, it had been laid out as ‘Sclater’s Lane’ and paved by 1723, and for centuries a bird market thrived here, persisting into recent memory at the end of the last century.

But only last year, the yard market to the north of Sclater St was lost to redevelopment and there are rumours that the yard to the south has been sold too. Yet every Sunday, you will still find Richard Lee, the bicycle parts seller, whose grandfather started on the same pitch in 1880 and, whenever I go down Sclater St, I stop to pay my respects to Robert Green and his sister Patricia, whose father Ronald began trading here in the fifties, on my way to carry off some bags of fresh produce at a bargain price from Westley Mattock, who boasts the longest fruit and veg stall in the East End.

Photographs copyright © Phil Maxwell


You may also like to take a look at

Phil Maxwell’s Old Ladies

Phil Maxwell’s Kids On The Street

Phil Maxwell’s East End Cyclists

Phil Maxwell’s Brick Lane

Phil Maxwell in Bethnal Green Rd

Phil Maxwell & Sandra Esqulant

Phil Maxwell’s Whitechapel Market

Phil Maxwell’s Mobile Phone Zombies

12 Responses leave one →
  1. Robert Green permalink
    April 24, 2016

    Many of these photos may have been taken litterally decades ago but in so many ways they still capture the essence of this market every bit as much today as they did 30 years ago, even if you have never been to this place and have no first hand experience of it just take a look at these excellent photos and you will feel as if you were standing right in the middle of it, they capture the atmosphere of this unique place perfectly, the reason this place is so unique is because in a world that has become increasingly artificial, contrived, manipulated and downright ‘fake’ ubove all else this place is REAL, these photos leave nothing to interpretation, they capture perfectly the reality of what this place is all about, look at them, you will see pity, you will see poverty you will even see desperation that is the reality of this place but above all else what you are seeing is real, nothing hear is ‘fake’ and most important of all that applies to the people, the only thing these photos can’t show you is the thoughts that hide behind many of the grim looking faces that you see, because I myself as an integral part of this can tell you that what you can’t see is the companionship the camaraderie and the shear pleasure that many of these people derive from being part of a comunity where for one day a week they can know what it feels like to be truly included, where you will be treated as what you are not who you are and know that it is genuine, no one feels they have to hide hear, everything is on show, the good the bad and the ugly, all equal with no embarrassment, that is why I love this place, in a plastic sterile world where people take endless pointless photos so they can show people they don’t even know and will never meet what a wonderfull time they are pretending to have, NOT SO HEAR, Sclater Street is REAL, the dirt, the poverty, the mess and most of all the sometimes grimy looking people and as part of it myself I make no apologies for it, in all honesty, even if I were a multi millionaire with everything the moden world has to offer me at the click of my fingers, I would STILL be in Sclater St EVERY SUNDAY, only DEATH itself will keep me away.

  2. Shawdian permalink
    April 24, 2016

    Excellent photos, but very sad.

  3. April 24, 2016

    A rich array of human interactions layered with emotional connections emerge throughout these compelling photos. I wonder what decades the above series covers. The fifth photo down depicts a child looking backward who rather resembles a very young David Bowie.

    ~ Congratulations to Mr. Maxwell on his publication ~

  4. Malcolm permalink
    April 24, 2016

    Superb photographs, as always, by Phil. He captures the soul of the people and the street itself so beautifully. It’s yet another historically important area that looks like being subsumed into the ever-expanding City and buried beneath another hideous “development” that has no room for local people or their way of life.

  5. pauline taylor permalink
    April 24, 2016

    Well said Robert Green, but why oh why do street markets create so much mess? I know that these excellent photographs were taken many years ago, but we still have the problem here in Colchester. Our market has been moved to the High Street and last night the rubbish was thick on the ground outside our town hall and blowing about everywhere, why do traders not pick it up?

  6. sarah ainslie permalink
    April 24, 2016

    Great pictures and each one tells such a wonderful story.

  7. April 25, 2016

    Drawn from life!

    Love & Peace

  8. Andrew permalink
    April 25, 2016

    I remember this so well from when I lived in London in the 1980s. Five or six years ago, the last time I was in London, I went down Brick Lane/Cheshire St/Sclater St on a Sunday morning, and was sorry to see so much of the atmosphere gone. Cheshire St in particular seemed to have been so gentrified with posh boutique shops that it had lost its soul.

    Anyone else remember queueing for the most delicious latkes at Marks deli on Cheshire St, and then on weekends when feeling a bit flush, getting some of their superb smoked salmon? Then as you went further along Cheshire St, on the right and just off the street were a couple of covered yards where all sorts of stuff was sold, including at least one stall which always used to be covered in a large mound of electric drills. There was always a feeling that at least some of this stuff must be knocked off, and I seem to remember – though may be wrong – that part(s) of the Cheshire St & Sclater St markets may have been classed as markets overt, meaning that one could buy stolen goods, with no fear of recourse from the law/legal owners.

    Returning to Brick Lane, there were some greengrocer’s barrows, with an opportunity to pick up fruit and veg for the lowest prices imaginable. I always assumed these were the barrows that used to trade up in the West End during the week, returning to the East End to sell off the leftovers from the Saturday trade up West.

    Heading north up Brick Lane, you came to Bacon Street. Turning left onto Bacon St took you to the rear of the northern market yard of Sclater St. Importantly on a cold winter’s day, there was often a stall selling apple fritters on Bacon St. I remember the bicycle stalls, hardware stalls, the seafood stall, with its piles of eel bones on the ground where customers, myself included, spat them while enjoying a portion of jellied eels. You could get a great bacon sandwich in the southern market yard on Sclater St too. Then as you walked along Sclater St towards Bishopsgate and Liverpool St, the stalls started to peter out, and become less formal and more saddening, till you were confronted with what seemed to be the desperate trying to sell whatever trinket they might have or have come across. And then you came to Bishopsgate and reentered the late 20th century.

    Although I have ancestors who lived on these streets in the 19th century, I was only ever a visitor to this world, which it is sad to see is now all but lost, yet lives on in photographs like those above.

  9. Richard permalink
    April 25, 2016

    Great photos and comment from Robert.
    I remember the slight culture shock of experiencing the market in the 70s, having never seen anything like it in the Midlands! The mess and clutter were an integral part of it I think.

  10. martin permalink
    April 27, 2016

    Alas it is all now gone. The last of the authentic street life of old London that has prevailed for centuries has at last been obliterated by the developers. When i look at these fab photos i feel slightly vindicated i left London when i did in 2002. What’s left now is buffed and polished real estate with no soul and people who can’t afford the crazy rent and house prices. In the 20 years i lived there I felt connected to the real authentic old London that manifested itself in the street markets, cafe’s and pubs. At least Borough market is still there – for the time being.

  11. May 2, 2018

    Anyone know any more about the various animal dealers, or who relatives who mentioned them? Becoming a bit intrigued after seeing a couple of cabs being pulled by Zebras and finding out that Sclater Street was once the place to stock up your private zoo with exotic animals or just a caged bird if you couldn’t go to an Elephant or camel?

  12. Maurice permalink
    June 9, 2019

    I grew up in Vallance Rd and went down the Sunday market almost every week. So many memories. The City is closing in fast. A terrible shame.

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