Well Street: Historic market to relaunch

PUBLISHED: 18:12 08 August 2016 | UPDATED: 19:16 09 August 2016

The historic Well Street Market is set to reopen in October, eight years after traders packed up their stalls and left.

Hackney Council has worked long and hard with Well Street Traders and Residents Association (Westra) to bring back the market, which has been at the heart of the borough’s trade industry since the 1850s.

Back then it was a prosperous shopping strip for the Victoria Park locals and was known for its rope making, boot making and leather working.

A revealing passage from author Geoff Taylor’s book A Parish in Perspective: A History of the Church and Parish of St John of Jerusalem, South Hackney, features a 13-year-old boy named Willie Woodland describing the market as one of the “busiest thoroughfares in Hackney”.

He describes traders selling apples and oranges, oilcloth and kettles as butchers hang up meats in their shops, while the smell of fried dish covers the street.

It was the hustle and bustle of the thriving market that attracted the attention of its most famous trader in 1919. Having fought in the First World War, 21-year-old barrow boy Jack Cohen decided to spend his demob money on the forces’ surplus goods to sell at markets.

His business grew under his mantra “stack them high, sell them cheap” and Tesco was born – “Tes” for TE Stockwell, who supplied his tea, and “Co” after his surname.

The Tesco link has somewhat soured in recent years, with the presence of the supermarket in the street credited with driving out traders and taking their business.

Cllr Ian Rathbone, secretary of Westra, was born in nearby Bentham Road and remembers happier times in the market as a child.

He told the Gazette: “My family has lived near Well Street since at least the 1860s. I remember the market as a kid more than 50 years ago – full of stalls and people, and the jellied eel shop where I disobeyed my nan and put my hand in the live and wriggling jellied eels tray! No loss of fingers. It was a great place to meet people and get your shopping. It was a cobbled street and as far as I know, they’re still there under the tarmac.”

According to records, in 1975 there were 166 stalls every Saturday. By 1983 there was an average of 83 traders a day. And like many markets across the country, by 2008, there were none.

Cllr Rathbone set up Westra in 2011 to revive the market and bring jobs back to one of the most deprived areas in the UK. The five-year push will end on October 1 when the monthly market launches, but the community is already getting into the swing of things.

A street party was held on Saturday with street food stalls and live music on offer. Half the money will go to anti-racism charity Hope Not Hate, with the other half going towards a Westra fundraising campaign for the new market.

The group’s Spacehive crowdfunder has been backed by 180 people, with more than £54,000 of the £78,000 target hit so far. Hackney Council has dipped into its pockets to pledge £9,500 and Sadiq Khan has backed it to the tune of £20,000.

The mayor of London said: “I am delighted to be supporting projects like Well Street Market that will help strengthen local communities and help to make London an even greater city.”

If the target is met, the money will go towards new stalls, a teenage market for budding entrepreneurs, training for young and unemployed people, a live music stage and a community bee project with the aim of making Well Street honey.

Cllr Rathbone added: “The campaign will be producing lots of great opportunities for people in all kinds of different ways and building a community round the market as a social hub – a place like it was years ago.”

Hackney Council is looking for traders for the Well Street Market relaunch.

The town hall will choose 30 stallholders to run the market. It will initially be held on the first Saturday of every month, though the intention is to build up the profile and make it a weekly event.

The deadline for applications is Sunday next week.

Anyone interested in applying for a stall can find out more about the market plans and fill in an application form at

Contact Hackney Council’s market service by calling 020 8356 5300 or emailing



To celebrate LGBT history month, Hackney resident Amanda talks about her journey to becoming a foster carer, with the council’s support and training.

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