Petticoat Lane Market

Petticoat Lane Market

Petticoat Lane Market is a fashion and clothing market located on Wentworth Street and Middlesex Street in East London.

The Modern Market

It is one of a number of traditional markets, lying to the east of the City of London. A few hundred yards to the north is Old Spitalfields market, and across Commercial Street, to the east, lies Brick Lane Market. A half mile further east is the Columbia Road Flower market. Petticoat Lane Market was not formally recognised until an Act of Parliament in 1936, but its long history as an informal market, makes it possibly one of the oldest surviving markets in Britain.

The market is open Monday-to-Friday on Wentworth Street alone, but on Sunday extends over many of the surrounding streets, with over 1000 stalls. It closes on Sundays at about 2 pm, and is closed on Saturday. The markets are well signposted from local stations. It should be noted that, despite its fame and its history, Petticoat Lane market is not designed to be a tourist attraction and the casual visitor should be aware that there is a high incidence of street crime in the market area. A more 'tourist friendly' market is the newly-refurbished Spitalfields Market nearby, which houses a more upmarket selection of stalls and is noticeably better policed.

History of the market

In Tudor times, Middlesex Street was known as Hogs Lane, a pleasant lane lined by hedgerows and elms. It is thought city bakers were allowed to keep pigs in the lane, outside the city wall [ [ Stype (1720) in 'Middlesex Street', A Dictionary of London (1918)] . Date accessed: 7 October 2006.] ; or possibly that it was an ancient droving trail. The lane's rural nature changed, and by 1590, country cottages stood by the city walls [ [ Petticoat Lane article at East London History] . Date accessed: 7 October 2006.] . By 1608, it had become a commercial district where second hand clothes and bric-a-brac were sold and exchanged, known as 'Peticote Lane'. [Ryther's Map of 1608] This was also where the Spanish ambassador had his house, and the area attracted many Spaniards from the reign of James I. Peticote Lane was devastated in the Great Plague of 1665; the rich fled and London lost a fifth of its population.

Huguenots fleeing persecution, arrived in numbers, in the late 17th century, many settled in the area, and master weavers settled in the new town of Spitalfields. The area already had an association with clothing, with dying taking place. The cloth being pegged out on hooks in the surrounding fields. These were known as tentergrounds.

From the mid-18th century, Petticoat Lane became a centre for manufacturing clothes, and the market served the well to do in the City, selling new garments. About 1830, Peticote Lane's name changed again to Middlesex Street, this was to record the boundary between Portsoken Ward, in the City of London and Whitechapel, which concided with the Lane. However, the old name continues to be associated with the area. [There is a popular "canarde" that the name change was to protect Victorian sensibilities about undergarments, but the change occurred during the reign of William IV.]

A further wave of immigrants, this time Jews fleeing persecution in eastern Europe, settled in the area from 1882. The chapels, that had previously served the Huguenot community, now became synagogues; and due to the grinding poverty in the area, many Jewish relief societies were founded. [Some of the buildings of Jewish relief agencies can still be seen in the area. Many now, ironically, converted to luxury flats.] Jewish immigrants entered the local garment industry and maintained the traditions of the market. The severe damage experienced throughout the East End during World War II, served to disperse the Jewish communities to new areas, and the area around Middlesex Street suffered a decline. The market, however, continued to prosper, and a new wave of Asian immigration beginning in the 1970s restored the area's vitality - centred on nearby Brick Lane.

The market was always unpopular with the authorities, being largely unregulated and in some senses, illegal. As recently as the 1930s, police cars and fire engines were driven down The Lane, with alarm bells ringing, to disrupt the market. The rights of the market were only finally protected by Act of Parliament in 1936.

As late as the 1990s, if Christmas Day fell on a Sunday, many of the local Jewish traders would assert their right to open on a Sunday. The market remains busy and vibrant, reflecting both its immigrant history and its continuing popularity with locals and tourists.

'The Lane' was always renowned for the 'patter' (see Cockney rhyming slang) and showmanship of the market traders. Some, selling crockery, would pile an entire setting onto a large plate, and then send the lot, high into the air. Catching the construction on its way down. This was to demonstrate the skill of the vendor, and the robustness of the porcelain.

The prominent businessman, Alan Sugar got his start as a stall holder, in the market.

Notes & references


*Aldgate East tube station
*Aldgate tube station
*Liverpool Street Station
*The area is well served by buses, on Bishopsgate
*Parking restrictions apply, throughout the area, on all days of the week

ee also

* Tenterground

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