Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

In the Market for a Bargain

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

In the Market for a Bargain

Article excerpt


Bermondsey Market has put its notorious past behind it and is still the place to find value for money, says Katrina Burroughs

ARE you after a Shelley tea service or a Victorian writing box? Would an elephant's foot umbrella stand or a Russian icon come in handy in your home?

The triangle of windswept SE10, where Bermondsey Street crosses Tower Bridge Road, is home to the 200-odd stalls of the New Caledonian (or Bermondsey) Antiques Market. It has all these juicy morsels and more to tempt the metropolitan antique-hunter - as long as the magpie in question is a seriously early bird.

Arrive later than 8.30am on Friday and you get the sensation that it was a good bash, but the hostess has just murmured "Coffee anyone?" and brought out the black bin liners. Stallholders from Oxfordshire, Gloucestershire, Essex and Norfolk travel overnight, most starting out on Thursday evening and arriving at Bermondsey around midnight, to be sure of a parking space. They snatch a couple of hours' rest in their cars and then set up by torch light from 3am onwards. By 5am every Friday, trade is in full swing. By 10am, the tables are beginning to look a bit bare and some traders have packed up and gone around the corner for their "full English" before the trek home.

The market began more than 200 years ago as a drovers' fair operating from Copenhagen Fields in Islington.

As demand for livestock dwindled, the market became a flea market until, during the Second World War, it closed down altogether. After the war, the New Caledonian Antique Market emerged on the Bermondsey Square site. It achieved notoriety in the Nineties as a magnet for stolen goods. This was partly because an asinine medieval law, the "market overt" otherwise known as the thieves' charter, allowed buyers to obtain legal title to stolen goods as long as they changed hands in certain markets. Bermondsey was one such market. The most famous case of stolen goods sold there with impunity was when a Gainsborough and a Reynolds, whipped from the walls of Lincoln's Inn Hall, each sold for less than [pound]100 from an outside stall. The law was abolished in 1995 and no Gainsboroughs feature nowadays.

Stolen goods are a taboo subject with the dealers, but business is swift and, Bermondsey being a trade market, bargains are there for the taking.

Colin (most traders at Bermondsey tend to have just the one name) has been selling Victorian china from his pitch for more than a decade. His colourful stock is typically English and includes tea services, part sets and single pieces such as china biscuit barrels, dating from 1850 to 1920. Prices range from [pound]30 (for a plainish biscuit barrel) to slightly more than [pound]300.

The English decorative look goes down well with American buyers and, like many of his fellow stallholders, Colin takes dollars as well as pounds. A charming Shelley tea service features a delicate blue and red bird of paradise design on a white background and includes six side plates and six cups and saucers. At [pound]330, it is the most expensive set on the stall. An Edwardian part service in beige and cream floral patterns with a gilded rim, by a less popular manufacturer, is [pound]80. …

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