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`Walthamstow- a Bit of Rural England in London`


by Sandra Shevey  -  All rights reserved


An age where men were men and markets were markets is alive and well in Walthamstow c2010.  The barking cries of costermongers and fishwives can still be heard in almost all precincts of the town centre Tuesday - Saturday and over the din of car horns, bus transport and the noise of school children.


`Come on luv, a pound for a pound.  A bargain`, cries a cockney coster.  `A pound for fifty pennies...come on...come on...`


`Well, do I at least get to keep the bucket?`  I ask.


`Who does your script?` mocks the coster.  `Who does your script?....Get real`.


Walthamstow market, dating back to 1885, is still the longest if not the largest market in Europe.  It snakes down the High Street from the market square along a path which until the Seventies was a proper working road.  Since the Seventies, it`s been cobbled and pedestrianised.


How and why Walthamstow has been able to maintain its high number of stalls is anyone`s guess.  It is after all though a good omen.  There used to be 450 traders.  Currently there are 320.


The working-class character of the neighbourhood, still way off from gentrification, secures the longevity of the old street market.  But what will happen once development goes  ahead at the east end of the famous market street?  St. Modwen`s, the same developers who want to interfere with Queens Market in Upton Park, envisage building a Primark supermarket along with an eighteen-story tower block.  


Anyone who remembers what the Paddington Basin development did to the Church Street market in Lisson Grove will recoil, as the influx of Yuppies who wouldn`t go near the old market encouraged the expansion of supermarkets and accelerated the decline of Church Street.


Another variable is lack of interest as sons whose fathers and grandfathers run and ran stalls want to pursue careers in business or IT.  Who who knows?


Still, a wander around Walthamstow market on a cold Friday morning in January 2010 (just after the snow storm) is a nostalgic treat.  I didn`t see one Costa or Starbucks and even the McDonald franchise (evident in working-class Bethnal Green) hasn`t got its oar in over here.


There are a prodigious number of cafes, even one where you can still get c1950s ic-cream like Knickerbocker Glory and English public school sweets (Bread and Butter pudding and Spotted Dick) as well as traditional breakfasts of Cumberland sausage and squeak (bubble and squeak to the non-cockneys amongst you)


The fish and chip shops prevail as do pie and mash shops.  Manze`s is a find, this shop very much like the one in Chapel market, Islington.  Sawdust on the floor.  Marble tile floors and walls.  Edwardian oak settles right out of some Ruritanian romance.  Pie and mash with ladles of liquor is still everyone`s favourite for tea, and I had to chuckle at the reference to `sauce` as `liquor` especially as some posh restaurant I had  lunched at recently separates itself from its cockney kind by literally using liquor as a condiment over puddings and ice-cream.


Ethnicity integrates at Walthamstow.  There`s a great Polish restaurant which opened last month where you can get stuffed cabbage, dumpling, croquette and gulash.  Whilst a West Indian bakery, around for a few years, proffers harde bread, bulla cake, coco bread cornmeal porridge and spicy fruit bun.


Some things never change.  Such is the reality of Walthamstow market.  Thank goodness for small mercies.



Sandra Shevey runs walking tours around markets in London and the countryside.  She has also produced a DVD about four ancient London markets.  It is obtainable at


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