I was following one of Geoffrey Fletcher‘s old walks through 1970’s London which he’d documented in his excellent book London At My Feet. Practically all of the “old London” that he delights in at that time has disappeared . Church Street Market, however, remains. Alive and kicking, still selling the combination of food and tat that Fletcher delighted in.
The market extends from Edgware Road through to Lisson Grove and is pedestrianised with stalls set up on both sides of the road and customers walking up and down between them.
As well as the food and the tat, there are many stalls now selling clothes. This guy was keen to have his photo taken in front of his stall.
Although most of the stalls would be familiar to Geoffrey Fletcher, the stall holders and clientele have changed since his time. The vast majority of people who were buying and selling come from the Near and Middle East and North and East Africa and you can hear many languages being spoken up and down the road on market day. There are some unusual fruits and vegetables on show – I’d never encountered a Pummelo before (a giant grapefruit-like fruit). Most of the women shoppers were wearing the veil. Putting those differences to one side, though, the market remains largely as it would have been in the 1970’s; bellowing stall holders, pregnant women pushing prams with shopping and kids hanging off the side, people foraging for bargains and a smell of cups of tea, cigarettes and hot snacks in the air.
I’m sure that the quality of the hot food being served to the punters has gone up in the last fifty years. The fish dishes and the paella looked very good and the people working those stalls were especially friendly.
Church Street has claim to one of the poshest public toilets in London. Its mock-Tudor look is very Margot Leadbetter.
The shops at each side of the market nearly all deal in antiques. Fletcher was bemoaning the arrival of these beasts in the 1970’s and he would no doubt be disappointed to see that they have taken root. The largest of the antiques shops is Alfie’s. Although it looks cheap and cheerful, it isn’t always so. I heard one customer’s enquiry as to the price of a rather lovely art deco lamp that was in the window get the reply that it was going for £12,500 plus VAT. Gulp. Perhaps not this time.
Other local landmarks are The Cockpit Theatre which Fletcher mentioned in his walk. He admired the gumption and energy of the young people who ran the theatre in those days if not the lefty tone of their productions. As I walked past I heard a huge swearing argument taking place in a first floor room above the Theatre. A table was turned over. It sounded very aggressive and I can only hope that it was a rehearsal of an upcoming play and not a member of the public demanding their money back.
Opposite Alfie’s is the red brick former pub (The Duke of York, established 1932) which is now the Lahore Restaurant, part of the well-known chain of Indian restaurants.
When you have reached the end of Church Street Market you hit Lisson Grove. If you have resisted paella and curry, turn right and after five minutes walk you reach the fabulous Seashell of Lisson Grove for some of London’s best fish and chips.