Hunt for the missing history of Dalston’s famous Ridley Road Market
- Credit: Hackney Museum/ Hackney Council
Emma Bartholomew finds out more about the not-very-well documented history of Ridley Road Market after coming across a Gazette article dating back 60 years to its 30th birthday – give or take
Sixty years ago, Bob Monkhouse was “mobbed” in Ridley Road as thousands of people turned out to celebrate 30 years of the market being registered as a licensed trading centre.
The Gazette reported at the time – May 1957 – that the TV personality received a “tumultuous welcome” and cheers as he cut tape stretched across the road to launch a special “cut-price week”.
The crowd sang “Happy Birthday Dear Market” as Sidney Leonard and his band played, and a massive iced cake was paraded around the strip, later donated to the kids’ ward at a local hospital.
Dignitaries in attendance included three local mayors and the MP for Hackney Central who “all made appropriate speeches praising the well known east London market as fulfilling a worthy cause in supplying the local shopper with goods at reasonable prices”.
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After that, Monkhouse entertained the crowds with his wisecracks as they all toured the market.
“There’s more people here than on a Saturday,” one aghast shopper was heard to say. But a less-shocked Monkhouse told the Gazette: “This is nothing new to me. I used to work in a market selling comics that I published.”
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Ann Hart of Amwell Court in Stoke Newington, came along – a recent contestant on Monkhouse’s show Bury Your Hatchet, which saw people with a grudge against each other compete in a money quiz with the loser agreeing to let it drop.
But the market has been in existence for longer than the 90 years it has now been licensed, dating back to the 1880s. At that time it was in Kingsland High Street; it moved around the corner to Ridley Road when a tramline was installed.
But not much is known about the market’s history, with a “gap” in Hackney Archives’ material according to its manager Joanne Anthony.
It’s a gap photographer Tamara Stoll is looking to plug. She has spent the past six years taking photos of life on the market and wanted to find out more.
“I realised it’s an overwhelming place. I started going to libraries and archives to find out about its history and actually there is no written history,” she said. “There were newspaper archives in the ’60s when Mosley and the fascists turned up there, but there’s no official or written-down history of the market.”
Tamara has now started interviewing traders in their 60s and 70s to collect their stories and anecdotes – and wants to publish them in a book with her own photos.
“They have told me about the characters that used to trade there and the shops and buildings,” she said. “There were unusual, extroverted and flamboyant traders and it used to be that the traders would put on a show. It used to be busier than it is now.
“Now it’s a bit more regulated, but in the past traders would have turned up in the morning and the market inspector used to blow his whistle and people would run to the pitch they wanted.”
One of her interviewees is 63-year-old Larry Julian, a fourth generation market trader who is also the chair of the traders’ association.
He has worked on the market since he was 15 – first on his family’s fruit stall, and now on a toiletries stall. And he’s “passionate” about the market where he was “born and bred”.
His earliest memory dates back to the late ’60s when it was predominately a West Indian market.
“I’ve found every decade you start to get a change of clientele,” he said. “In the ’50s it was a very Jewish market; in the ’60s and ’70s it was a Caribbean market; and then it moved into a Turkish and Greek market. They say time goes into reverse, and now we are starting to get a lot of English traders coming to the market.”
When he was young the market was run mainly by five families – the Julians, the Mayos, the Lamberts, the Cains and the Moseleys. “My memory is being in the market in the morning with the horses and carts and the costermongers – that was what a fruiterer was called at that time,” he explained.
“The old guys would come around with their barrows and cigarette hanging out of their mouth and they always wore a shirt and tie and a hat, either a cheese cutter or a trilby. That’s how the scene of the market was set out in the mornings. It was all shouting and a lot of bantering.
“To sell their goods the older traders would be shouting and screaming what they were selling. It still goes on today but it’s not as noisy as it used to be.”
Tamara hopes to raise money for the book by selling postcards at the market in July – but anyone who gives her an anecdote gets a free set.