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A Walk Through Time In Spitalfields Market

February 17, 2022
by the gentle author

Thanks to everyone who has already contributed towards my crowd-funder to launch a COMMUNITY TOURISM PROJECT in Spitalfields as a BETTER ALTERNATIVE to the serial killer tours that monetise misogyny. Please help me by spreading the word.




Map of The Gentle Author’s Tour of Spitalfields designed by Adam Dant


Once upon a time, the Romans laid out a graveyard along the eastern side of the road leading north from the City of London, in the manner of the cemetery lining the Appian Way. When the Spitalfields Market was demolished and rebuilt in the nineteen-nineties, stone coffins and funerary urns with copper coins were discovered beneath the market buildings – a sobering reminder of the innumerable people who came to this place and made it their own over the last two thousand years. Outside the City, there is perhaps no other part of London where the land bears the footprint of so many over such a long expanse of time as Spitalfields.

In his work, Adam Tuck plays upon this sense of reverberation in time by overlaying his own photographs upon earlier pictures to create subtly modulated palimpsests, which permit the viewer to see the past in terms of the present and the present in terms of the past, simultaneously. He uses photography to show us something that is beyond the capability of ordinary human vision, you might call it God’s eye view.

Working with the pictures taken by Mark Jackson & Huw Davies in 1991, recording the last year of the nocturnal wholesale Fruit & Vegetable Market before it transferred to Leyton after more than three centuries in Spitalfields, Adam revisited the same locations to photograph them today. The pictures from 1991 celebrate the characters and rituals of life within a market community established over generations, depicted in black and white photographs that, at first glance, could have been taken almost any time during the twentieth century.

In Adam Tuck’s composites, the people in the present inhabit the same space as those of the past, making occasional surreal visual connections as if they sense each others presence or as if the monochrome images were memories fading from sight. For the most part – according to the logic of these images – the market workers are too absorbed in their work to be concerned with time travellers from the future, while many of the shoppers and office workers cast their eyes around aimlessly, unaware of the spectres from the past that surround them. Yet most telling are comparisons in demeanour, which speak of self-possession and purpose – and, in this comparison, those in the past are seen to inhabit the place while those in the present are merely passing through.

Although only thirty years have passed since the market moved out, the chain stores and corporate workers which have supplanted it belong to another era entirely. There is a schism in time, since the change was not evolutionary but achieved through the substitution of one world for another. Thus Adam’s work induces a similar schizophrenic effect to that experienced by those who knew the market before the changes when they walk through it today, raising uneasy comparisons between the endeavours of those in the past and the present, and their relative merits and qualities.

Brushfield St, north side.

Lamb St, south side.

Brushfield St, looking east.

In Brushfield St.

In Gun St.

Brushfield St, looking south-east.

Looking out from Gun St across Brushfield St.

In Brushfield St.

Market interior.

Northern corner of the market.

In Lamb St.

Lamb St looking towards The Golden Heart.

Photographs copyright © Mark Jackson & Huw Davies & Adam Tuck

Mark Jackson & Huw Davies photographs courtesy Bishopsgate Institute

You may like to look at more of Adam Tuck’s work

A Walk Through Time in Spitalfields

and Mark Jackson & Huw Davies pictures of the Spitalfields Market

Spitalfields Market Portraits, 1991

Night at the Spitalfields Market, 1991

Mark Jackson & Huw Davies’ Photographs of the Spitalfields Market

11 Responses leave one →
  1. KENNY TEOH GUAN CHENG permalink
    February 17, 2022


    Could you create an app please. I’d install it and follow you anytime.



  2. Jennie Thomas permalink
    February 17, 2022

    Our school in Spital Square , CFGS, gwas very involved in the market. We were the recipients of many ribald comments about our uniforms, unwanted vegetables lobbed over the wall and many contributions to our charity fund raising efforts. The buildings were elegant but are seldom included in your pictures of Spitalfields.

  3. Murray permalink
    February 17, 2022

    Wonderfully evocative images

  4. Sue permalink
    February 17, 2022

    Beautifully done.

  5. Adele Lester permalink
    February 17, 2022

    Love the transitional element of these pictures. However, as Jennie Thomas mentioned above, would have loved to have seen something connected to CFGS (Girls School) but unfortunately all that is left of the school is one portion of the gymnasium which was incorporated into the Michelin Star restaurant Gavin La Chapelle.

  6. Mark permalink
    February 17, 2022

    Lovely, jubbly, love these juxtapositions.
    Naturally, the older ones are better, un- gentrified.

  7. Penelope Gardner permalink
    February 17, 2022

    Living in London was hard in 1950’s . Down and outs did not have quilts .Many of them never got over the war and London was a bombsite where you could light a fire to keep warm and pick up the odd job on the market .

  8. February 17, 2022

    I love Adam Tuck’s photographic time travel… it is a physical manifestation of the awareness of London’s history, which I can’t help but feel whenever I visit the city.

    I wish there were a way to see even farther back, into the eighteenth, seventeenth… many centuries of London’s long past. But those experiences will have to exist only in my mind.

  9. Terry C Wendell permalink
    February 17, 2022


    Adored seeing your story in WOI; I felt as though I was visiting with an old friend.
    Both your voice as well as a house and story you have written about here.
    Thank you

    Terry NYC

  10. Christy permalink
    February 17, 2022

    Thank you, Adam. I, also, see our world as a series of overlays…but YOU captured it.

  11. May Sinfield permalink
    February 17, 2022

    Yes, why is an old established school like Central Foundation hardly ever mentioned in the history of Spitalfields? My dad, a greengrocer who puchased his wares from the Market for many decades, was very taken by the history of the school. When l passed my 11+ there was no doubt which school my parents wanted me to attend. A very wise choice, a great school!

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