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For the last week or so the East End has had a large number of events to celebrate the Cockney Heritage Festival.
One of the events was a photo exhibition at Chrisp Street Market by Tom Hurley celebrating a local landmark Ivy’s Café.
For all the events in the festival taking place it seemed that having an exhibition in the market was great way to illustrate the connection between Markets and Cockney heritage.
There is no doubt that the history of the Cockney and the Costermongers are intertwined . Costermongers (street traders) in London have existed since at least the 16th Century but it was in the reign of Victoria that they became common in many London street markets.
The Costers developed their own culture which included their own rhyming slang, a distrust of the police and the election of pearly kings and queens. Much of what we think of as Cockney culture originated from the Costers.
Chrisp Street Market gained a certain popularity in the 1860s when many traders and costermongers migrated from Poplar High Street. It quickly gained a reputation as a genuine street market attracting customers from Poplar and especially the Isle of Dogs which for years lacked its own shopping centre.
Chrisp Market 1900s
In an area devastated by bombing in the war and suffering the closure of the local railway station, Chrisp Street Market struggled post war and it was decided in the early 1950s to relocate the market in a purpose-built shopping precinct. This shopping precinct was built as part of the Festival of Britain in 1951, it was one of the first purpose-built shopping areas in Britain bringing together shops, café, market stalls and flats and was widely praised leading to the design being copied all over Britain.
Festival of Britain 1951
However by the 1970s part of the market was showing signs of age and needed refurbishment which were carried out in the 1980s.
Tom Hurley used local people for his subject matter in his exhibition of portraits taken in Ivy’s Cafe, a Chrisp Street market institution for over 50 years run by the same family for over three generations.
The portraits illustrate that Chrisp Street Market is a bit of a rarity in London, that is a quite large market frequented mostly by local people. Walking around the market it still has lots of places for people to eat and drink or just sit around and talk to other people.
In a rapidly changing retail world, Chrisp Street Market is a reminder of the importance markets played in the local community. Much of the importance was the social interaction with your friends and neighbours. It was this interaction that was at the centre of Cockney Life.
So although London is ever-changing whilst we have places like Chrisp Street Market a bit of the Cockney spirit lives on.
Not being a born and bred Londoner, the image of the Cockney has always been a bit a mystery to me. Many people who live outside London used to believe that all Londoners were Cockneys, so when Londoners start mentioning Bow Bells it gets even more confusing.
Dick Van Dyke (Not a real Cockney)
Did the Isle of Dogs folk see themselves as Cockney ? Well we could all soon be enlightened by going along to the Cockney Heritage Festival in July. In a comprehensive series of talks , walks , Film screenings, Exhibitions and various other events we can discover the diversity and history of Cockney Life.
Some of the highlights include a Danny Boyle curated showing of the classic film The Long Good Friday, talks by authors including Melanie McGrath and Jean Fullerton, an exhibition about the Isle of Dogs by the Island History Trust and of course various Pie and Mash tastings and Knees up.
I will be reporting back on some the events but if you live in London or are visiting in July why not come along, for a full list of events press here