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Long Nights At Old Spitalfields Market

December 5, 2018
by the gentle author

Although they were taken only a quarter of a century ago, these photographs by Mark Jackson & Huw Davies preserved in the archive at Bishopsgate Institute, seem now to be images from the eternal night of history – with fleeting figures endlessly running, fetching and carrying, pushing barrows from the flaring lights out into the velvet blackness, where a bonfire burns beneath the great tower of Christ Church, Spitalfields, looming overhead.

Mark Jackson & Huw Davies were poets with cameras, aware that they were in an epic world with its own codes and customs, and they recognised the imperative to record it before it disappeared. No one asked them and no one paid them. As recent graduates, Mark & Huw shared a tiny flat and worked, as a courier and in a restaurant respectively, to buy film and subsidise their project. Each evening they took the last tube to Liverpool St Station and spent the night at the market, taking pictures and befriending the traders, before going straight back to work again in the morning, often without any sleep.

Like many of the most inspiring cultural projects, this remarkable body of photography was the result of individuals pursuing their own passion. Mark & Huw were committed to record what no one else was interested to look at. Neither became photographers and their greater project to record all the London markets was reluctantly abandoned when they went off to pursue other careers, but their Spitalfields Market photographs are unrivalled in the photography of markets.

Photographs copyright © Mark Jackson & Huw Davies

You may also like to take a look at

Mark Jackson & Huw Davies at the Spitalfields Market

The Return of Mark Jackson

Ivor Robins, Fruit & Vegetable Purveyor

Blackie, the Last Spitalfields Market Cat

A Farewell to Spitalfields

12 Responses leave one →
  1. Jill Wilson permalink
    December 5, 2018

    Very atmospheric… You can almost smell the cabbages and fruit, and hear the scuttling of rats!

  2. James Harris permalink
    December 5, 2018

    That is the way I remember the place. I can almost smell it. I loved that smell. It was a beautiful place. It still is up top in my head.

  3. Greg Tingey permalink
    December 5, 2018

    Reminds me of Borough market, on a February night in 1996, before the current “fashion” one opened, very tentatively ( And, yes, I was there, on the first day … )

  4. Milo Bell permalink
    December 5, 2018

    I remember stopping off there for a rest after i had taken it into my head to walk back from a friends place on the Isle of dogs to my place off Westbourne grove. It was about 4 in the morning and the place was alive with people and movement. These photos conjure it up perfectly. A wonderful memory.

  5. December 5, 2018

    Magnificent archive that should be published.

  6. December 5, 2018

    —- and this is why I look forward to visiting this remarkable blog every morning.

    I so appreciate the opportunity to experience people, places, and passions that I would not have
    known about, otherwise. The photos, so excellent in their own right, become elevated by the
    story that accompanies them. These images are soaked in cinematic vitality — I am THERE, in that market.

  7. Helen Breen permalink
    December 5, 2018

    Greetings from Boston,

    GA, great shots of Spitalsfield Market at night by these young men with silent Christ Church standing sentinel – thank you.

    The workers with their barrows remind me of the old Haymarket in downtown Boston, back in the day. How hard they all worked!

  8. Nicola Davies permalink
    December 5, 2018

    This took my mind flying back to a night in the late 70’s when I accompanied my husband (who was my boyfriend at the time) to London in his truck to do a delivery in Spitalfields. We arrived early evening and went to a pub for a drink. I so wish I could remember its name. I came from a small town in Wales and I think the boyfriend was keen to show me a slice of life I had never experienced. The pub was wonderful – lots of wood and glass and unchanged for decades it seemed to me. There was a pianist – and a stripper! At a strategic point in her performance she passed around an empty oval Castella cigar tin into which customers were encouraged to put money for a ‘full strip’!! The piano played on, the full strip was duly performed and much beer was consumed. I remember an elderly Sikh gentleman’s turban had started to unwind and he was so tipsy he couldn’t get it back in place. We went back to the truck for a sleep before the delivery was due. Because of the overindulgence in beer we slept for too long and woke to find ourselves almost entirely surrounded by a busy market in full swing around us! He was so embarrassed! Forty years later, in July 2018, I visited Spitalfields again but didn’t find the pub!
    Thank you, Gentle Author, for a blog I look forward to every day. Today it has been a time machine which made me 21 again!

  9. December 5, 2018

    Lovely, lovely work.

    I used to shoot a lot of stuff like this in the 70s and 80s…small hardware and paint shops, auto mechanic garages, vacuum cleaner shops, small electric motor shops…people working in those places were always interesting folk, and all the bric a brac and tchotchkes they would decorate their work areas with was always fascinating, and usually had a story…I love seeing work like that which is displayed here.

    Camera phones and Instagram were the final nails in the coffin of REAL photography.

  10. Davidmil permalink
    December 5, 2018

    As David says above, those shots were taken in the days of real photography. They must have been extremely difficult to take by the available light – and probably a lot of processing was involved to ‘push’ the speed of the film so as to get a useable image.

    All credit to the photographers.

  11. Liz permalink
    December 6, 2018

    This brings back memories of living close to the market in the early 1980s. In the week coming up to Christmas sleep after 2:30am was a rare thing. The market started much earlier than normal and the volume of lorries, vans and traders working in the early hours made a spectacular, if noisy, scene. It did have it’s compensations though. Every day there was always some surplus that you could get cheaply or for free at 6am. You just didn’t know what your (healthy) diet was going to be each day.

  12. London jack permalink
    December 7, 2018

    A wonderful collection of black and white images that really convey the nature and characters of the market as it really was. Beautiful, thank you.

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