Greenwich Market will retain its special atmosphere

Greenwich Market  ©CristinaHontanilla

Greenwich Market
©CristinaHontanilla

Greenwich Market may be smaller than Portobello, Borough or Camden Lock markets, but it has nothing to envy its larger cousins. As a jewellery stallholder, Ali Paton, puts it, the market “has always been really unique… Its main strength lies in it being renowned as the destination for talented craftsmen”.

A talented craft-woman herself, Ali has been running a jewellery stall for 27 years. Her friend Les Grayson, a clockmaker, has held his pitch for that long also. Both admit that the last few years have been tough on business. “Sales have declined gradually,” Les adds, “although many people still visit the market – but simply to look round.” Despite these hardships, however, the pair remain loyal to their market because of its special reputation and agreeable atmosphere. It made them a more than healthy living before the recession hit, and they see no reason why this can’t occur again in the future. Ali maintains that “Greenwich Market is a great place for people to test out their work and see if it succeeds”.

Next to the more traditional crafts on display at Greenwich, there are fresher and more innovative ones to be found. An original photographer, Naomi Bid, opened her stall only 18 months ago. The 23 year old was snapping pictures in her spare time, and decided to try and make a go of it professionally. She sells ‘letter pictures’ whereby scenes and objects from London or further afield form letters of the alphabet, and has found them to be popular amongst shoppers. “My work is about noticing things that are overlooked and seeing the beauty in them,” she explains. “It is about being imaginative…” Naomi says she chose her stall’s location over others because of its atmosphere and that it is “more friendly than other markets”. The proximity of the prestigious Trinity College of Music provides a throughput of arty and contemporary students, who are interested in such new crafts.

Michiel ‘Kader’ Witkamp ©CristinaHontanilla

Michiel ‘Kader’ Witkamp
©CristinaHontanilla

For artistic designer, Michiel ‘Kader’ Witkamp, there a number of different reasons for selling at the site – not least its proximity to his home, which he shares with Naa, another trader. ‘Kader’ has been plying his customised bags and fashion accessories for over a year. He uses airbrush and other mediums to put his art designs on these items. Dutch Michiel Witkamp’s view is that other markets, such as Camden Lock, are “mass-markets with so many stalls and traders that you can easily get lost in the crowd”. ‘Kader’ concurs: “Although Camden is a great market to start out at, Greenwich has a much more personal atmosphere. Because of its smaller scale, the management is quite keen on having original stalls and products, rather than having too much of the same”.

Greenwich Market is open every week from Tuesday to Sunday from 10am to 5.30pm. Stalls sell arts, crafts and food on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays. Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, meanwhile, are dedicated to antiques, vintage gear and collectables.

Of course, this hasn’t always been the case. Greenwich Market has gone through many transformations since the 14th century. In its current physical structure, it dates from the 1700s when a royal charter to run two markets was granted to Greenwich Hospital, which still owns the site. It became a thriving attraction and a key part of the area’s identity, which has continued until this day. It underwent extensive development in the late 1950s during the economic boom. Since the 1990s, however, it has decreased in size and become slightly less well known. Writer, editor and ex-stallholder, Paul Trynka, describes this: “When I moved here 20 years ago the market was an intrinsic part of the attraction of Greenwich… sadly we lost the big market on Stockwell Street and the market is not what it used to be or should be…” He suggests that the market has to be better supported by the owners and its community – in particular the affluent Docklands workers nearby.

Greenwich Hospital Estate has for some time had plans to redevelop the market. The controversial proposal aimed to develop an area of over 1.5 acres for mixed use, comprising an100 bedroom hotel, retail space and 155 extra trading stalls. Some residents and most of the stallholders did not believe any improvements were required, and were concerned about the disruption it would cause. This led to a tough confrontation between the estate and the traders.

The plans have now been reviewed, however, and after discussions with stallholders and local residents, a compromise has been established. Property Manager Gillie Bexson states that following this review, the estate concluded “the most effective way to invest in the town centre and the market” was to “bring forward a programme of enhancements and improvements”. These will be nowhere near as extensive as the complete overhaul that was originally proposed. Bexson mentions it will include “a new, lighter covering of the market roof, relaying of the cobbled floor and substantial investment in the public realm in and around the market”. The roof was put up in the 1900s, so will be highly weathered and is certainly due for a refit. Bexson believes all this work will make the site “a more pleasant environment for leisure activities”.

Clockmaker Lee Grayson ©CristinaHontanilla

Clockmaker Lee Grayson
©CristinaHontanilla

Clockmaker Lee Grayson is satisfied with this: “They’ll make it prettier with this renovation”. Ali the jeweler agrees: “It’s great that they are not going to do the complete redevelopment and turn it into a generic shopping market. We don’t want that for Greenwich”. Even the most outspoken critics of the original development plans, Paul Trynka, is relieved, and feels the new floor and roofing will prepare the site for the rest of the 21st century.

So with calm once more restored, the future looks promising for this great old London market. Greenwich is a well-known tourist spot, with an estimated 15 million visitors heading there each year. The Royal Observatory, park and National Maritime Museum featuring the Meridian Line are hugely popular, as well as the Visitor Centre and the recently restored Cutty Sark. The surrounding Grade 2 listed Georgian architecture in Greenwich town such as the Royal Naval College is also of renown, along with the two theatres and the Fan Museum. The attractive plain of Blackheath with its walkers and antique shops is not far away either. The market has enjoyed residual trade from these attractions in the past, and with a forward-looking facelift and some word-of-mouth about its unique wares, it can surely look forward to enjoying a whole lot more. So why not take a train, a river clipper or the foot tunnel down there and check it out?

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2 pensamientos en “Greenwich Market will retain its special atmosphere

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