The 2017 General Election was in full swing at the weekend but the Labour activists were putting more effort into taking selfies of each other than canvassing in Petticoat Lane. They probably needn’t bother. The local Labour candidate had a majority of over 24,000 in 2015 and should not be troubled come election night.
The punters of Petticoat Lane market were more interested in bargains than policies. It remains a colourful and noisy production that is a pleasure to walk through on a sunny afternoon. There are still scores of stalls selling cheap clothes and jewelry, fruit and veg and the stall holders still shout special offers to tempt the attention – and wallets – of the hundreds of people drifting through the market. Market goers adopt a special speed whilst browsing that is much slower than normal walking pace, only their eyes dart quickly amongst the racks of cut price clothing. You don’t rush through this sort of market, because you can’t.
I gave in, instead, to the smell of roasting chestnuts and burgers cooking on rarely cleaned grills which hung over the streets and are as much a part of a London market as the wares.
I passed a stall where lots of women rummaged competitively for large pieces of patterned cloth. The stall holder climbed up to stand on top of the stall and began to talk up his offering to the ladies, who in return, barely registered his presence. He upped his volume and theatrically gesticulated his arms like a manic James Brown, imploring his customers to buy lots of pieces of cloth at what sounded like staggeringly good discounts, but he still did not get a response from the rummaging ladies. He noticed me watching him and turned his attention my way, indicating the table of cloth at his feet with the sweep of an arm before begging me to come buy. What he lacked in customer insight, he attempted to make up with performing zeal. Sadly it was wasted on me but when he stepped down on the ground, several of the ladies, now good and ready, handed over cash and bundled cloth into bags to carry home. I left him clambering back on his perch to start his act once again.
These rituals of buying and selling have been going on here for a long time. The market was established at the very beginning of the 1600’s in the time of King James I. It’s actually in and around Middlesex Street; there is no such street as Petticoat Lane.