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Postcards From Petticoat Lane

October 8, 2017
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 courtesy 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

9 Responses leave one →
  1. October 8, 2017

    Magnificent! Some of these remind me of the Les Halles scene from the French film ‘The Officers’ Ward’, with their sense of how humanity teemed in an age when almost every activity was a communal experience. Technology and social change have given us so much, but how lonely our lives have become!

  2. Jamie Surman permalink
    October 8, 2017


  3. October 8, 2017

    Wonderful postcards from the past. Valerie

  4. frank hadley permalink
    October 8, 2017

    wonderful photos, brings back happy memories of growing up in the Lane,
    i lived there from 19-48 and although i moved away i still miss the old market. sadly it’s not now the market it was.

  5. rosemary Hoffman permalink
    October 8, 2017

    Even in the late 1950s it was crowded and was the busiest day in the pub where I lived Charavters included Tishy (Bebber) who sold fish on weekdays .

  6. Paola Moore permalink
    October 10, 2017

    Wonderful photos of an area that has changed so much. My gran lived in Wentworth Street as a child and these scenes would have been her life; who knows family members might even been amongst the crowds….interesting how the smart boaters and bowler hats gave way to the cloth caps. The women in the cards seem to be working on stalls rather than in the crowds where it mainly seems to be men.

  7. October 14, 2017

    When hats/caps ruled

  8. Richard Phillips permalink
    October 15, 2017

    Beautiful collection of postcards. They are so often under appreciated by many people. As a collector of postcards that is quite good, but not when you are also the chairman of a postcard club always looking for more members who appreciate the scope for building up a collection and further research.

  9. George Dickinson permalink
    January 3, 2018

    Wonderful memories of my working life from 1962 in Wentworth St. I worked for Jackie Brafman, Ladies dresses which were auctioned every Sunday. Great fun picking out the buildings which somehow had not changed. Many thanks for stirring old memories.

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