Bermondsey Antiques Market

Last year I did a 12 week Introduction to Journalism evening course at The London School of Journalism. One of my assignments was to find a local news story. I chose to write about the Bermondsey Antiques Market which is just round the corner from where I live. Over many chilly early Friday mornings down at the market throughout November and December, I explored the stalls, spoke to traders and snapped up some absolute steals.

Last Friday popped down there for the first time in 2010 to find a present for my Mum’s birthday and it reminded me that I should post my article. So here it is… and Go Visit!

Fears for future of Southwark Market

The world-famous Bermondsey Antiques Market, which has been open to the public every Friday morning since 1966, is at risk of closure unless drastic support is given soon.

Occupying a prime plot in Bermondsey Square, the market and the square have undergone many changes over the years. Recent redevelopment of the square has brought residential flats, a hotel and businesses. The combination of new and old users and declining market trade has sparked cause for concern amongst traders who fear for their future in Bermondsey.

Lack of investment and reduced visitor numbers mean the market is a shadow of its former self. There used to be a greater range of traders and many more stalls (300-400). Now on a good week customers will find 40-50 traders.

Cameras at Bermondsey Antiques Market. Photograph by read me.

Joan Bygrave, Chairperson of the Bermondsey Antique Markets Traders Association and a trader for over 40 years is a vociferous campaigner for the market’s survival and an icon of its heritage. She leads negotiations with the Council.

“Land in Bermondsey Square has became valuable,” Joan explains, “the Council allowed the redevelopment of the Square for residential flats and businesses, but now the market is squashed into the interior. We feel closed off like a prison. It’s going to be a hard fight to bring it back up.”

Southwark Council recognises the challenges facing street markets in the Borough and recently launched a consultation to determine the support they need. Their market strategy identifies that Bermondsey Antiques Market “is in decline with large numbers of empty stalls, and needs a significant rebrand and re-launch if it is to remain a significant tourist attraction.”

Southwark Council officer Stephen Douglas, Engagement Manager for Environment and Housing, spent a morning at the market talking to traders.

“We spoke to as many of the traders as we could and distributed questionnaires,” says Stephen. The consultation is now closed.

Matt Steele, a market specialist, works closely with the Council and market traders. He was brought in for 3 months in September 2007 to help make a decision on the market but is still here over 2 years later.

“The area was different”, he says, “the buildings are privately owned now. We are fortunate to have the area still but the stalls are antiquated…the market needs to come into the 21st Century, it needs investment.” He also notes they are “constrained until the council makes a decision.”

Steele believes a decision on the way forward for the market will come soon. “The Council wants to find a partnership to make markets as good as they can be and help them survive financially,” he explains.

Staff and guests at the Bermondsey Square Hotel are supportive of the market. Frankie Gaiger, Events Manager at the Hotel says of the market: “We like it, it’s a little story to tell and to invite people to see a piece of history… guests go round it.” Although, she agrees that it is in need of investment: “It would be great to be more aesthetically enticing.”

While traders await the council’s street trading strategy which they hope will provide support for the market, a core group continues to brave the elements each week come rain or shine.

As one old-timer said, “We wouldn’t know what to do on Friday mornings if we weren’t at the market.”

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One Response to “Bermondsey Antiques Market”

  1. ellaberta Says:

    I always loved Bermondsey market, I would hate for it to go down
    completely. It was my highlight on a trip to London ! Have not been there since 2006, but plan to return this year.
    Kind regards, Ellaberta

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