© Martin Usborne.
I was born right by Old Street roundabout on January 1st, 1927. Some of the kids used to beat me up – but in a friendly way. Hoxton was full of characters in those days. The Mayor was called Mr. Brooks and he was also a chimney sweep. Guess what? Before the coronation, he was putting up decorations and he fell off a ladder and got killed. Well, it happens. Then there was a six-foot tall girl, she was really massive. She used to attack people and put them in police vans. Maria was her name. Then there was Brotsky who used to kill chickens with a long stick. His son’s name was Monty. That’s not a common one is it? ‘Monty Brotsky’.
© Martin Usborne
I worked two years as a cabinet maker in Hemsworth Street just off Hoxton market. But when my sinuses got bad I went to Hackney Road putting rivets on luggage cases. For about twenty years I did that job. My foreman was a bastard. Apart from that it was OK. But if I was clever, very clever, then I would have liked to be an accountant. It’s a very good job. And if I was less heavy … you know what I’d like to be? I’d like to be a ballet dancer. That would be my dream.
© Martin Usborne
I don’t mind people taking pictures of me. But I wouldn’t let a girl take a picture of me. She might have a boyfriend. I don’t want any trouble. And who knows, he might think she wants to run off with me. You got to be careful where you go nowadays. Martin, if you want to take this picture you had better be quick. I don’t take a good picture when my bladder is full.
© Martin Usborne
If I try, I can imagine the future. It’s like watching a film. Pavements will move, nurses will be robots and cars will get smaller and grow wings … you’ve just got to wait. They will make photographs that talk. You will look at a picture of me and you will hear me say: ‘Hello I’m Jospeph Markovitch’ and then it will be me telling you abut things. Imagine that! I also have an idea that in about fifty years Hoxton Square will have a new market with an amazing plastic rain cover. So if it rains the potatoes won’t get wet. I don’t know what else they will sell. Maybe bowler hats. Nothing much changes round here in the end.
© Martin Usborne.
There’s no point crying about things is there? People don’t see you when you’re sad. Best just to keep walking.
Do you know that I can’t eat lettuce? I’ve got no teeth, not for ten years. It’s hard to like lettuce if you haven’t got teeth.
… taken from I’ve Lived In East London for 86.5 Years, photographs by Martin Usborne, the debut publication of Hoxton Mini Press. More details may be found on their Kickstarter page.
Bobby Redrupp and customer, Chapel Market, 1990. © David Secombe.
Leakage in Chapel Market, N1
She’s hanging on. I go to lunch.
An old man with a dewdrop on his nose
shuffles towards the market, inching round
a rotting mango and the discarded cartons
propped against the shop that takes my eye
with its display of candyfloss-pink chairs.
A boy reads from a placard to his friend
that Superman has lost his fight for life.
It’s only the cold wind that fills my eyes
and cyclamen in a new shade of purple.
© Susan Grindley.
Oswald ‘Columbus’ Denniston, Brixton Market, SW9. Photo © David Secombe, 1990.
From Of the street-sellers of textile fabrics: London Labour and the London Poor, Volume 1, Henry Mayhew, 1851:
These street-folk present perhaps as great a diversity of character as any of which I have been called upon to treat.Among them are the strong persevering men, who carry rolls of linen or cotton manufacture in packs on their backs, and trudge along holding a yard-wand by the middle, which – it is a not uncommon joke against them – is always worn down an inch or two, by being used as a walking-stick in their long pedestrian journeys. Some of these men love to tell of the many hundreds of miles they have walked in their time, and in the three kingdoms.
From The Daily Express, 23 June 1948:
Oswald M. Dennison – the first of 430 job-seeking Jamaicans to land at Tilbury yesterday morning from the trooper Empire Windrush – started a £4-a-week job last night. Wrapped in two warm blankets to keep warm, he settled in as a night watchman of the meals marquee in Clapham Common, SW where 240 of the Jamaicans are staying in deep wartime shelters. All of them sat down there to their first meal on English soil: roast beef, potatoes, vegetables, Yorkshire pudding suet pudding with currants and custard. A bed and three hot meals will cost them 6s.6d (32.5p) a day. Most of the Jamaicans have about £5 to last them until they find work. Oswald Dennison, 35-year-old sign painter, got his job after making a speech of thanks to government officials. He called for three cheers for the Ministry of Labour and raised his Anthony Eden hat. Others clapped. Panamas, blue, pink, and biscuit trilbys and one bowler were waved.
When this picture was taken, Oswald ‘Columbus’ Denniston was a sprightly 76, and had been selling fabrics in Brixton for nearly thirty years – the first Afro-Caribbean trader in Brixton market. The photo was commissioned for a Sunday Times Magazine article on London street traders (which never appeared as the ‘London’ section of the magazine folded before the feature was published). By this time in his life, Oswald Denniston had become a potent symbol for the black community in London, his manifest virtues of charm, capability and decency commanding widespread fondness and admiration. The quote from Mayhew seems appropriate here, for surely no-one has ever travelled so far to sell fabrics as Columbus Denniston.
Although only officially designated a market in the 1880s, East Street Market continues a tradition of street trading in Walworth that goes back to Tudor times. Perhaps more germane to the purposes of the current post is the identification of the market with the 1980s & 90s situation comedy Only Fools and Horses, which is set in Peckham and uses photographs of East Street Market in its opening titles.
The popularity of John Sullivan‘s TV series has given this stretch of south London its own place in modern popular culture. Sullivan himself was from Balham, and he knew the milieu very well. He was working as a scene shifter at the BBC when he approached producer Dennis Main Wilson with an idea for a comedy. Main Wilson was a genuine enthusiast for comedy, a quality not always found in producers of ‘light entertainment’, and had an impeccable gift for searching out the genuine article. The idea was commissioned and became Citizen Smith.
Sullivan’s south London is a fabled place: Del and Rodney live in the mythical Nelson Mandela House (although there is a Nelson Mandela Way not too far away), the local boozer is a haunt of cartoon geezers and Peckham the bucolic playground for an assortment of genial chancers, through whom Sullivan has contributed several phrases to colloquial English. Television writers such as Sullivan and Galton & Simpson (Hancock’s Half Hour, Steptoe and Son) have created Dickensian characters for modern times, refashioning London in the image of their creations. Peckham has become Del Boy’s manor, just as any mention of Cheam conjures up the ghost of Anthony Aloysius St John Hancock – and Surbiton still bears the scars of The Good Life.