East Street Market

Originally the area through which East Street now runs was rural fields and Walworth Common was where people could graze their animals. There had been street trading in Walworth since the 16th century when Kent and Surrey farmers rested their livestock on the common before continuing to the city. People would buy produce directly from these drovers and eventually a market was established.

By the 1770s, land near the junction with Old Kent Road was cultivated as a flower nursery by the Driver family who were also responsible for commissioning the buildings at nearby Surrey Square. A legal document from 1780 describes the sale of the land which led to the creation of East Street as a public highway. In the 1860s, Walworth Common was developed.

The area to the north was known as ‘Lock’s Field’ and in 1878 it was still described as little more than ‘a dreary swamp’. Conditions improved and four years later it was recorded as a site for gypsies to stay during the winter months.

The old markets were moved onto the Walworth Road and vegetable sellers were joined by an array of other traders. In 1875, the electric tram ran down Walworth Road bringing an end to the market. After negotiations with the traders, the market was split up and moved into the side streets of Westmoreland Road, East Lane and Draper Street. East Street Market has only been officially running since 1880.

The original traders did not have allocated plots. At 8am, a policeman blew a whistle and traders would rush to claim the best pitches. Shop owners on the Lane claiming the patches outside their front doors. In 1927 a stall licensing system was introduced. Many locals were called up in the Second World War and the market declined.

As the population of the area has diversified post war, the goods on offer changed and, along with the traditional fruit and vegetables, the market now sells a mix of Caribbean food, ethnic clothing and household goods.

Draper Street was built over in the 1960s by the Elephant and Castle development. The construction of the Aylesbury Estate led to the decline of the Westmoreland Road market.

The market now only runs down East Street from the junction with Walworth Road to Dawes Street. The main entrance is from Walworth Road.

Saturday is the busiest day at the market including the weekly plant market. A small flea market operates on Sundays near Nursery Row Park towards the Old Kent Road side of East Street.

The stalls featured in the title sequence to the television programme Only Fools and Horses.

Leave a Reply