Underneath the Arches

Underneath the Arches

Underneath the arches of the railway viaducts and in the shadow of Southwark Cathedral is Borough Market, one of London’s best loved food markets.

It’s both a wholesale and retail market and has in recent times become synonymous with speciality foods, both from the UK and continental Europe.

Southwark was the first of London’s 32 Boroughs, and in the early days was just known as The Borough, so it’s not difficult to see how the Borough Market got its name.

Apparently, there’s been a market at the southern end of London Bridge in various forms since 1014, which meant that there didn’t need to be any arm-twisting to celebrate its 1000th birthday in 2014. How the powers that be would have known it started up in 1014 precisely I’m not quite sure, but I’ll take their word for it.

It’s not difficult to see why a market was set up here in the first place though because it would have been an ideal location to sell goods to travellers making their way in and out of London over the bridge to and from the south.

London Bridge and Southwark as seen from the Walkie Talkie Sky Garden

The 16th and 17th centuries saw Southwark develop into the Soho of its time and a magnet for those seeking entertainment from across the river. By now, the borough had become part of London itself and the authorities found it necessary to implement some sort of order into the chaos that had ensued.

For the market that meant better standards and new laws being introduced: The market’s website tells us that stalls had to be set up in a certain order – ‘next to the river were the fish sellers, followed by butchers, oatmeal makers, fruiterers, herb sellers, local bakers and finally poulterers’. Butchers seemed to be the biggest headache with their live animals having a mind of their own and running amok everywhere.

The George, Borough High Street - the last remaining galleried inn in London
The George, Borough High Street - the last remaining galleried inn in London

It appears that all these new regulations didn’t quite have the long-term desired effect because as London got bigger and Southwark became busier, the City of London demanded that the market be removed to stop the chaos affecting access to London Bridge and their commercial interests across the river in The City.

Obviously, the money men had their way and the market was closed down. All was not lost though, because the locals and traders got enough money of their own up together to buy some nearby land where they could start up again away from the bridge. Authorisation was granted and on 25th March 1756 a market on the present site was opened.

The present-day site of  Borough Market (from the Shard)
The present-day site of Borough Market (from the Shard)

During the 19th century, South London started to grow, and with the arrival of the railway the market became an important outlet for the wholesale fruit and veg trade. The market expanded and so did the railway: Viaducts were built right through it, and to be honest I’m not sure that I would have wanted to buy my fruit and veg off of a stall that was being choked with smoke, but then again there was smoke everywhere in those days; I don’t suppose London earned the nickname of the Big Smoke for nothing.

Underneath the Arches
Underneath the Arches

If you visit Borough Market today you might think it’s a busy place to come, but it’s nothing compared to the first half of the 20th century. By the mid-1930s hundreds of porters were employed to keep the stalls ticking over, not just through the day, but all through the night as well.

Stoney Street
Stoney Street
07-The-Market-Porter

Covent Garden was also another major market supplying fruit and veg to greengrocers, but in the 1970s a new market was built at Vauxhall and the old Covent Garden ceased trading as a traditional market. You would think perhaps that Borough Market would have benefitted from the demise of Covent Garden, but that wasn’t the case, because apart from the fact that the new premises at Nine Elms now became the main hub, there was also the relentless expansion of supermarkets into traditional grocer and greengrocer territory.

Places like Covent Garden and Borough Market were forced to adapt to new ideas in order to survive; Covent Garden has found a new lease of life as a tourist attraction in its own right with street entertainment as an added inducement, but Borough Market has managed to turn things around by introducing artisan food, continental delicacies and ethnic street food onto the scene.

One of the first businesses to open up new premises here was Neal’s Yard Dairy, which as the name suggests, started out at Neal’s Yard in Covent Garden; interestingly enough just a few yards away, is the original Floral Hall portico from Covent Garden which was dismantled and relocated here in 2004.

The former Covent Garden Flora Hall Portico
The former Covent Garden Flora Hall Portico
Street Food in the Green Market
Street Food in the Green Market

The market today is a thriving part of the London food scene, but apart from the food, visitors come here to soak up the atmosphere and character as much as anything else. It’s still a place to come for a real taste of London, if you’ll pardon the pun.

010
011-Lee-Brothers,-Cathedral-Street

The main entrance is in Stony Street, and although you may end up a few pounds lighter in your pocket and a few pounds heavier around the waist, a trip to the market underneath the arches should be on every visitor’s list of things to do in London.

http://boroughmarket.org.uk/

print
Please follow and like us:
error

23 thoughts on “Underneath the Arches

  1. toonsarah

    I love Borough Market but usually come home with more (perishable) food than I know what to do with, so I have to be careful! Talking of perishable food, have I ever told you that the charity Chris co-founded, with which we’re both involved these days, has volunteers who collect left-over produce from the traders twice a week (Wednesdays and Saturdays) and pass it on to local charities. The homeless, elderly and other vulnerable people dine very well on those days, I can tell you, given the quality of the food that would otherwise just be thrown away. So look out for Plan Zheroes volunteers in their purple aprons next time you are here 🙂

    Reply
    1. Malc Post author

      I didn’t realise that Sarah. Well done to you both. Far too much food is wasted these days, so I’ll definitely look out for the purple aprons next time I’m there

      Reply
  2. Stuart Templeton

    A really interesting post Malcolm and as always, some superb photos! It’s hard to believe it’s been going that long – 1000 years is a long time for a market.
    some of the street food looks quite tempting, I wonder what that Veggie tender was selling.

    Reply
    1. Malc Post author

      Glad you enjoyed it Stuart. I can vouch for the street food as you can probably imagine. I take it that you’re a vegetarian then

      Reply
  3. Sylvia

    Nice post, Malcolm! And great photos! Although I’ve never been to one in London, I find green markets interesting not only for the scenes of daily life, but for the characters there too such as in the movie, “To Sir with Love” (said to be filmed at Wapping which is gone I suspect.)

    Reply
    1. Easymalc

      Thanks for your lovely comments Sylvia. I agree that markets generally give a distinct flavour of life on the street, and food markets are a particular favourite of mine.
      The markets in Wapping that you refer to in the film I think are long gone sadly.

      Reply
  4. barbarara49

    What a great story about this historical market. I have only visited once – several years ago – and got there not long before it was closing down but have never forgotten the occasion. Thanks for the memories !

    Reply
  5. Malc Post author

    You have my full support Alli if you down a whole jug of mead next Friday in that case

    Reply
  6. TheRamblingWombat

    Great review Malc and brought back good memories of our meet in the George. Borough Market is one of my favourites anywhere. While you are correct in that it has had to carve out a niche – becoming rather artisan and posh to survive – there is still a rather dated food stall right in the centre which has been there many years. Basic grub .. I had breakfast there very early one rather cold morning – nothing else was open. I dined on a greasy bacon and egg roll washed down with a mug of instant coffee (not something you would associate with today’s Market) all served by a London lady who’s accent defied comprehension. A lovely throwback.

    Reply
    1. Malc Post author

      It was good to meet you that evening Albert even if it was a bit noisy.
      As regards the greasy spoon in the market, I know it well. That’s what I like about Borough Market, it still has a feel of old London to it regardless of how it’s had to adapt. Thanks for your kind comments as always. I’m glad it brought back some good memories.

      Reply
  7. Alli Templeton

    A very interesting history of the big London Markets, Malc. I had no idea Borough was started so early. So, in fact, it’s late Saxon in origin – that’s really impressive! There can’t be many markets that can trace their origins back that far. I guess there must be some form of documentary evidence to pin its beginnings to 1014, especially if they confidently celebrated it’s 1000th anniversary in 2014. I’ve been to Covent Garden – years ago – but not Borough. It sounds as though the latter is a good place to go for specialist food though. And you’ve taken some amazing photos overlooking London from very high places – don’t you get vertigo? I do! I get all woozy at the top of tall castles, especially the likes of Conwy and Caernarfon, so I’m probably not the best person to study them. But, then again, you can’t help what you fall in love with, can you? So I manage somehow – mainly by looking straight out across the landscape rather than down! Great pics, anyway, and they give us a good idea of how it all fits together. A really enjoyable and informative read, and thanks for sharing it with us. 🙂

    Reply
    1. Malc Post author

      Thanks once again Alli for your kind and thoughtful input.

      I don’t think it’s that surprising that the market can be traced back to 1014 as Southwark was an important crossing point even in Roman times. I would imagine that it’s an educated guess that the market was around from at least 1014.

      You make me laugh to suggest that I might get vertigo from taking pictures high up when you don’t like looking down from a castle – from someone who can fly a small plane thousands of feet up in the sky? 🙂 🙂

      Reply
      1. Alli Templeton

        That would make sense then if it was important as far back as the Romans. That’s a long time! And worth celebrating…

        It surprises a few people that I get vertigo. 🙂 Weirdly, I’m fine in a light aircraft, what freaks me out is being high up and still connected to the ground. Don’t ask me how that works, but apparently it’s not uncommon among pilots. I think I got it from my dad. He was fine flying, in fact he loved it when I took him up after I got my licence, but he couldn’t stand heights either. He passed out once at Edinburgh Castle just because he was looking at my mum sitting on a high wall with a sheer drop the other side! 🙂

        Reply
        1. Malc Post author

          I think I do have an idea on how it might affect you. It’s probably the same feeling I’ve had when I’ve been up a tall building and had the urge to jump – don’t ask me why – now that is wierd!
          On the other hand my dad was the sort of person who managed to get the sack for larking around up on a roof. Mind you he wasn’t scared of heights as he was a paratrooper during WWII which meant jumping out of a plane thousands of feet up into enemy territory!

          Reply
          1. Alli Templeton

            Oh my goodness, now that is brave. I’ll fly an aeroplane, no worries, but jumping out of one – never! And into enemy territory as well – the man had no fear! Amazing.
            I don’t think you’re alone experiencing the urge to jump off a tall building. Poor you, that must feel pretty scary. I’ve read about that before, and I seem to remember it’s called the High Place Phenomenon. It’s something to do with the brain over-compensating for the sense of danger. So at least your brain is working – I just get the urge to pass out! Many moons ago, I used to work for an aerobatic pilot, and he did some crazy things in his stunt planes, but he always said he’d never get on a rollercoaster. That’s how I am… 🙂

            Reply
            1. Malc Post author

              LOL ! I’m not brave at all. I’m quite happy to leave all that daredevil stuff to others. On a more down to earth level I’m grateful for your comments Alli. I really like having interaction on here. It makes writing these blogs all the more worthwhile don’t you think?

              Reply
              1. Alli Templeton

                Oh yes, I very much agree Malc. It’s the interaction that makes it worth doing, without doubt. And for me it’s particularly welcome, as I’m at home on my own studying most of the time, so it can get pretty bleak and lonely at times. So the interaction on the blogs is a bit of company I wouldn’t have otherwise, and I really appreciate it. 🙂

                Reply
                1. Malc Post author

                  I’m pleased that you see it the same way. I hope you’re studying for something worthwhile

                  Reply
                  1. Alli Templeton

                    Latin this year towards my history degree with the OU. Then onto York for an MA in medieval studies. The Latin will be useful for all those medieval manuscripts. Very worthwhile because it’ll make me a medieval historian, but boy it’s hard work!

                    Reply
                    1. Malc Post author

                      I’m impressed to say the least. I’ve no doubt that all your hard work will pay off and I shall be following your progress with avid interest. Well done Alli, you’re a star

                    2. Alli Templeton

                      Oh thank you Malc, that’s made my day! It’ll certainly buoy me up during this next gruelling week. I’ve got my last assignment to get in by next Thursday, and it’s a big and scary one. Then it’s the countdown to the dreaded exam. Thanks again. 🙂

Please feel free to leave a comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.