Underneath The Arches

Every town has at least one market and London, being a rather sizeable town, has, erm, well how many exactly? Being the lazy researcher that I am I asked Wikipedia how many markets there are in London and it’s around 60. Except it’s not – there are many more. But you get the drift.

The names of some slip off the tongue and I have previously written about the Brick Lane, Spitalfields and Petticoat Lane markets, plus the foodie Borough market but famous doesn’t always mean good. This week for example, I visited Portabello Market which despite calling itself one of the top London tourist destinations was almost completely full of overpriced tat and patronised exclusively by hundreds of Italian tourists. Somebody is doing a good job of marketing the place in Rome.

Via Potabello
Via Potabello

So I don’t want to inflict Portabello Market on you when there’s a new and exciting market developing around Maltby Street on the South bank beneath the railway arches that extend westward into London Bridge station. I picked up on this place thanks to a London Evening Standard article a few months ago and it sounded worth a visit.


When you think of business operating beneath railway arches you expect them to be dodgy, dirty places trading cars or knock-off goods but that’s not the case here. For starters the arches have been spotlessly cleaned and there’s a new wave of clientele here – young foodie businesses selling things that are organic or home made.

Going underground
Going underground

There’s artisanship here and most of the customers have walked or cycled from home to pick up something special for the weekend.

Lets have a butchers
Lets have a butchers
Say cheese
Say cheese

Perhaps 20 percent of the arches are occupied but there are signs of ongoing renovation in some and I can’t help thinking take-up here is going to rocket. That’s one of the nice thing about London – it’s so big that if a small number of people start something then like-minded folk will swell the ranks and before you know it there’s a whole community.

Fruit and veg
Fruit and veg

I love the fact that there’s a very genuine, homely feel about the stall-holders an their produce.

Squashtastic!
Squashtastic!

This is an antidote to the cynical merchandising of the Portabello Road Market.

Give us our daily bread
Give us our daily bread

Perhaps most exciting for me is the discovery of The Kernel brewery under one of the arches on Druid Street. I had never heard of this outfit despite my well documented interest in real ale & pubs. I learn that The Kernel has but a week ago been named “Brewer Of The Year” by the British Guild of Beer Writers and take it from me – they deserve it. Admittedly they tend towards the stronger darker brews that I favour but just their range of ales is mouthwatering…

The Kernels recipe
The Kernels recipe

I’m not a heavy drinker and certainly not one for a jar at lunchtime but… oh go-on then. I chose their weakest – the Pale Ale on tap at 5.3% and it was just divine!

Oh go on then
Oh go on then

We’re going to hear a lot more about The Kernel, I’m sure. Let’s hope the Derby beer festival organisers are reading this blog. There’s good looking coffee down the road, but wouldn’t an Imperial Brown Stout (9.8% !) be more fun?

...or you could have had this
…or you could have had this

And that’s Maltby Street, but I’m already looking forward to my next visit. Afterwards I strolled west to Borough Market which – despite its huge popularity – has retained a level of integrity. The South Bank just gets better.

Fashion and Passion

A multitude of markets

Native Londoners always seem to be griping about public transport. I’m sure it is different when you have to rely on it every day for the commute but as an unapologetic tourist it has served me well so far and this morning I’m wandering down the Petticoat Lane Market near Liverpool street station a mere 25 minutes after leaving my cupboard in Marble Arch. I do have a gripe of my own however. The public signage leaves something to be desired. When you arrive at the train station there are signs to Bishops Gate market – well known but hardly a great tourist draw – while the world famous Brick Lane and Spitalfields Market a few streets away go unmentioned.

Petticoat Lane market is an old fashioned affair akin to something out of Eastenders with low grade clothes and poor quality knock-offs touted by locals who would bleed forth jellied eels if you cut them in two. The physical landscape deserves a mention. Old grubby bricked shabby frontages sit cheek to jowl with modern clean cut city flats, both sitting in the shadow of monolithic financial district glass and steel high rise office towers, including Norman Forster’s “gherkin”. As I leave Petticoat Lane I am confused to discover that it resides in Wentworth Street. A furtive glance at my map (nobody wants to look like a tourist) reveals no street in the area named Petticoat Lane. Perhaps I imagined it all.

Onto the next market at Spitalfields which is an entirely different proposition. There has been a market here since 1638 that has continually evolved and today it is an attractive glass roofed affair. It hosts countless stalls run by independent creative types selling frocks, handbags, jewelry plus a range of other bespoke goods. Where Petticoat Lane was about basics and bargains Spitalfields attracts a modestly affluent crowd looking for beautiful items that feel individual and bohemian.

Cake stall
Cake stall

A sit down with a hot chocolate enables me to assess the demographic more precisely. The average client is a yummy mummy with children Josh & Eugenie in tow and she is absolutely thrilled with her purchase of an organic yeti pube hat.

Two markets down and it’s onto the main course – Brick Lane. I’ve been once before and it was rammed but today on a wet February morning it is busy but tolerable. Brick Lane is a verb, such is it’s vibrancy, colour and youth. Other landmarks may acquire a label and then try to live up to their reputation resulting in a pale and desperate pastiche of a former glory but Brick Lane, for all of it’s obvious distinguishing physical attributes, doesn’t stand still and it is defined by the dynamic people that trade, visit and live there.

Brick Lane sweet stall
Brick Lane sweet stall

In case you haven’t already guessed I LOVE this place. I could never adequately describe the vibe so if you want to understand the experience please click on the links I have included and more to the point go and visit it yourself next time you are down instead of one of the predictable shows you intended to see. In basic terms there is a street market with stalls selling almost anything imaginable. The street is adorned by some amazing grafitti and it is home to many asian shops and eateries plus Jewish beigel bakeries.

Grafitti
Grafitti
Mixed signs
Mixed signs
Wrestling mask stall
Wrestling mask stall

The smells, sounds, flavours and hubub are intoxicating. Adjoining the lane are an expanding range of indoor markets occupying otherwise derelict warehouses. The eclectic Backyard Market sells all sorts of everything and includes a growing number of food stalls selling afternoon tea through to Egyptian salads.

The larger Sunday Up Market situated in a former brewery is a living beast and hundreds of stalls now extend across three floors. Vendors on the ground floor tend to sell things they have made themselves such as T-shirts, cards, bags, brooches, coasters, cakes, etc.

Palm Reader
Palm Reader
Salad stall
Salad stall
Cake mountain
Cake mountain

There are some wonderful designs and ideas on show. An extensive range of fresh food spanning numerous cuisines competes for your trade. I opted for a turkish stuffed pitta but I was sorely tempted by Dim Sum and a Moroccan stew.

Its a wrap
Its a wrap

Head upstairs and you step into a nirvana of second hand vintage clothing attracting a devout following of fashionistas. I presume this is where the Sunday paper fashion magazine supplement photographers come to snap their material.

Up for the cup

I’ve a ticket for the Fulham vs Notts County FA cup 5th round match and a dozen stops on the district line gets me there.

Tim on Thames
Tim on Thames

As a Derby fan I’m notionally supporting Notts because work colleague Matt is a Magpies devotee. Craven Cottage is so quaint and dated it could also be home to Hansel and Gretel. I’m sat in a wooden stand with wooden seats (this in 2010) and I can just about make out the Thames behind the far stand. I wonder how many balls get hoofed into river each year by carthorse defenders. The match kicks off and Fulham boss it. They are 2-0 up by half time and that’s a fair reflection since Notts haven’t had a kick.

It becomes apparent that I am sat in a hotspot for die-hard Fulham fans. Some of the guff spewing forth from my neighbourhood beggars belief. There’s the guy sat next to me that spends 35 minutes slagging off Bobby Zamora for being a workshy showpony (fair comment) even when he is at the opposite end to the action. Then when Zamora scores he is singing his praises. I would advise this man to look at the word “irony” in the dicitonary, once he has conquered the basics like “cat”.

Fulham vs Notts County
Fulham vs Notts County

In the row behind me a neanderthal bigott spends the entire match shouting insults at everyone who moves. It is valentines day and he is in love with his own voice and even laughs at his own offensive and unfunny jokes. Later on during one particularly unjustified tirade on an opposition player the guy next to me who isn’t exactly well adjusted himself curses this captain caveman – quietly but just loud enough that I hear. He must endure this every game. At full time it is 4-0 and that’s about right.

Fulham play a superior breed of passing football that would be unattainable for better teams than Notts but they failed to make a nuisance of themselves and get stuck in. I can’t even recall any bookings. It was as if they realised this was the end of their cup run and thought they would have a cosy day trip to London, which isn’t fair for the 4000 away fans who made the journey. Fulham have had their day and next week they play in Europe. These are heady days and I can’t help thinking this is a club punching above its weight. The fans have got complacent with success and I have an uncomfortable feeling that a downward curve lies ahead.

The final whistle blows and as I leave I notice Steve Claridge signing autographs from the exposed press box 5 rows in front, but there is no sign of Her Majesty Robbie Savage.

Lost in translation

I really should have taken a pedometer with me. Must have covered miles today. Any thought of a tumultuous finale to my circumnavigation of Londinium has disolved, especially since it is Valentines day and anywhere popular will be geared up for couples tonight. There’s a Wetherspoons up the road at Marble Arch so I head there for sustenance and to write this blog entry courtesy of their WiFi.

It is packed and I’m lucky to find a table. Every voice I hear is foreign, including the bar staff. The chap next to me at the bar is from Ethiopia and we discuss the undeniable merits of the African token based system for ordering beer. Then I strike up conversation with some folk who have just flown in from Portugal. The only discussion I struggled to understand was with an Irishman who I think was extolling the virtues of the Neeps and Tatties I ordered but could have been telling me about his day at the bookies. The food was fine and so was the gorgeous and fittingly entitled Russian Winter ale. That’s as much and more than I have any right to expect from this particular Sunday.