Is it just me, or are London’s major markets going to pot? I mean, I know there’s a tendency to assume that everything was better when you were younger (hence all these Facebook groups entitled “When I was your age, [something was different in some way] that don’t have a single member over 25), but I reckon I can back this one up. At least, in three cases.
Ah, good old Portobello Road. If you don’t know it from having visited, the chances are you’ll remember it from Bedknobs and Broomsticks, one of Disney’s better films in Yr Humble Chronicler’s opinion. I liked the bit where Bruce Forsyth threatens the dad from Mary Poppins with a knife. He should do that sort of thing more often.
Unfortunately, so say locals, the market is at risk of suffocation. Last month saw the opening of a too-large branch of All Saints, knocking out several independent traders and raising a great deal of criticism. Royal Kensington Borough Council have been singularly useless about the whole thing, muttering about how a clothes shop and an antique shop are basically the same thing in planning terms. In 2006, a film called Portobello: Attack of the Clones showcased the threat, but for all the critical acclaim it received, the threat remains. Back in 2007, the Commission of Retail Conservation warned of dire consequences of Portobello Road turning into Just Another Street, yet the urban gangrene that is the chain store continues to advance through Northern Kensington.
Okay, Kensington, here’s the thing. Portobello Road is a major tourist attraction because of the market. If you lose the market, you will lose the tourist attraction and the money that comes with it. This is me stating the obvious.
Also, Paddington Bear loves that street. He’ll probably give you a Hard Stare, and you won’t like that.
I’ve railed against the changes taking place in Camden before now. I think I’ve said enough about the rebuilt Canal Market, which I believe I described in terms of “Union Jack-slathered shit.” I’m also not a huge fan of what they’ve done to the Stables. I do recall that there was a group on Facebook frantically warning that they were going to demolish the whole thing and turn it into another high street. That, happily, is not the case. Indeed, the size of retail units has specifically been set to favour the independent trader.
What I don’t like is the irritating pseudo-historical refit. Lots of naff ironwork and horse statues. I appreciate that they want to be historic, but it’s like they picked up a load of random sentimental Victorian fakes from a souvenir shop and plonked them down wherever they could. It’s like visiting an elderly relative.
This isn’t so much “under threat” as “annoying to me personally,” so let’s move on.
This is somewhat less touristy than the other two, catering as it does largely to foodies. As a result, it has a certain idiosyncratic charm, having no need to play up to the expectations of visitors. However, it’s one of the oldest – if certain sources are to be believed, it’s almost as old as the City itself. The present market dates back to the mid-19th century.
The market is under threat from – oh God damn, another railway. Yes, friends, not only is Crossrail smashing its way through London like a laughing fat man in a steamroller, but it seems Thameslink has decided it doesn’t want to be left out. To improve capacity on the lines into Cannon Street and Charing Cross, a new viaduct is being built that will take out many of the Grade II-listed historic premises in the area. Not only the market, but much of Borough High Street in what might be the worst thing to happen to the area since Boudicca.
Incidentally, Harry Potter fans, one of the buildings that has been taken out is one used to represent The Leaky Cauldron from Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. The hand of Voldemort is suspected in the planning office.
Alas, this one’s a done deal. In fact, it’s already started. There is nothing anyone can do about it. And another one bites the dust. Still, at least we’ll look good for the Olympics with our shiny new railway and a few less shabby old shops crapping up the place.
Christ, this is all rather depressing. I think I might have to stop here before I upset myself further. Support your local shops, take advantage of the markets while they last, and meanwhile I’m off to have a cry.
http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=1860581838291486332# – Portobello: Attack of the Clones, Part 1. The rest is linked to on the page.
http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/portobello/ – Online petition for Portobello Market. Whether this speaks more loudly than another Starbucks is another matter.