Borough Market Ghosts

Px01474_800x500 - 12 Mar 2015 Above: The new glass extension to Borough Market – beside Borough High Street.

One day in March I was standing at the corner of St Thomas Street and Borough High Street, waiting to cross the road. It was a sunny day and I realised that, if only I could find a lull in the traffic, it would be a good day to take a picture of the new glass extension to Borough Market. The extension was added after a new railway bridge had been constructed a couple of years back.

Having recently written a post about Borough Market’s history (dated 21 February 2015), which included an old fashioned view of its interior with men standing around, I could not help thinking how the market has changed within my lifetime – never mind the fact that it has been around for many centuries!

The photos had to be ‘snatched’ as quickly as possible, to avoid an almost endless flow of traffic and then a ‘gush’ of pedestrians crossing the road when the traffic lights turned red. There was not much chance of a carefully composed picture. As I looked at the shiny new glass-clad structure, I suddenly noticed that the market authorities had erected large poster pictures just behind the panes of glass, showing market traders working in the market some time in the early part of the 20th century.

Px01475b_800x500 - 12 Mar 2015 Above: One of the enlarged photos of the market traders from about 1950.

The reflections of the light on the glass gave the pictures a ghostly look. It then came into my mind that it was if they were looking out through the new extension, trying to say ‘It was not like this in our day!’.

Px01475c_800x500 - 12 Mar 2015 Above: Scenes from the past at Borough Market.

I can well remember walking through the market in the 1960s. It was a busy place then, with lories parked everywhere, clogging the narrow side streets, waiting to pick up the boxes of fruit and vegetables that had been purchased by the shop owners before driving them back to their greengrocery shop in another part of London. Walking around, there were neatly stacked boxes of tomatoes, sacks of onions or potatoes and further boxes of apples, pears, bananas, grapes and many other fruits. You had to walk through the market early to see all that activity because the market traders worked from the early hours and by about 8.00 am they were all sitting in the local cafes devouring an enormous breakfast before returning home for the day, ready to start some time after midnight the following morning.

Px01479_800x500 - 12 Mar 2015 Above: The new entrance to Borough Market from Borough High Street.

There are a few wholesale traders still operating at Borough Market. Most of the market is now devoted to retail, with the ‘Farmer’s Market’ catering for the needs of the public who seldom arrive much before 10.00 am and are there in large numbers over lunch-time and into the afternoon. They probably appreciate the shiny new glass front beside Borough High Street. I can hear those men in the poster photos saying ‘All this fancy cladding on ‘our’ market is completely out of place!’.


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4 Responses to Borough Market Ghosts

  1. Andrew says:

    I’ve always liked the old market but in the late 70’s, it seemed to go into decline. After early morning trading, the place was dead for the rest of the day. There was just one cafe/restaurant serving vegetarian meals which colleagues from my office in Bermondsey Street used to walk to. At that time, Bermondsey Street was also dead but, on reflection, more interesting and real than today. I recall a signwriter reviving this hand craft on our building in Bermondsey Street and then on one shop/gallery in Borough Market in the early 80’s. Beware the beautifully hand written sign as a prelude to gentrification!


  2. Yes, I have memories like that of the market. In Park Street was a small cafe run by an Italian lady and he very old mother. I have forgotten its actual name but the traders all used it and called it ‘Mama’s’ – referring to the mother. When she died (only a few years ago) they all laid flowers on the cafe doorstep. Needles to say, the cafe has now been gentrified just as you say.


    • Lorraine duke says:

      That was Maria’s cafe. The mum and two daughters still in the borough market. We were the green grocers on stingy st market. Good days in the 80s. B j d cateres.


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