Petticoat Lane Market
Petticoat Lane is one of London’s oldest street markets; usually referred to as ‘going down the lane’. Although it is open seven days a week it really comes to life on Sundays and the best thing is, you can’t miss it. Forget the car, take a train, tube or bus to Liverpool Street or Aldgate and follow the crowds. The lane spreads along Middlesex Street and throughout all the criss-crossing streets.
If you are looking for a bargain, you should find it here; everything from TV’s, videos to shoes and carpet slippers – all from traders who have pitched their stalls alongside the pavements. My father used to tell me that if you weren’t careful you would have your watch ‘half-inched’ (pinched – stolen) in one street and someone would sell it back to you a couple of streets along.
Look out also for dodgy goods – there are still plenty of traders selling counterfeit perfume and watches out of suitcases with a few mates posted as look-outs for the police and market inspectors. As they say, ‘you pays your money and takes your choice’.
Even if you aren’t interested in buying there is plenty of free entertainment. The really good traders will get a crowd going offering cheaper and cheaper merchandise: ‘I aint gonna sell it for a tenner, not even a fiver; it’s my birthday luv. Who’ll give me a quid.’ Sold. The masters of this patter are as good as you’ll find on any stage. There are still those who’ll put a parrot or monkey on your shoulder and take a photograph and many stalls selling wonderful tools that can cut an aubergine into hundreds of different shapes, with the flick of a wrist. Until you try it at home!
A short walk from Aldgate westwards will bring you into the heart of the City of London.
One of the stone markers of the Square Mile is at Aldgate. Having worked in the City for much of my professional life it is still quite eerie walking through empty streets that on Mondays to Fridays are teeming with people; but it does give you a chance to look at some of the wonderful architecture that exists in the churches and other historic buildings.
Eastcheap leads you to the Monument; built between 1671 and 1677 to commemorate the Great Fire of London in 1666. It is 202 feet high, the number of feet from the base to Pudding Lane where the Fire started. Only attempt climbing the steps if you are fit. The spiral staircase is narrow and there are no resting points. Visitors must pass each other on the stairs – all 311 of them.
Having worked in the City I often thought that the increasing high buildings would block the view from the top of the monument. I was pleasantly surprised. The view from the top is as spectacular as ever. Only surpassed perhaps by the London Eye; and now The Shard. You can walk around the top and see most of the City’s recognisable landmarks from a viewpoint usually only obtained from helicopter. The view is uninterrupted in every direction.
Once you have descended the same 311 steps you are given a certificate confirming that you have climbed to the top and detailing the Monuments history. Our one hangs proudly on my daughter’s bedroom wall.
Then back on the Underground to Camden Town.
Like Petticoat Lane, Camden Town is a seven day a week shopping centre. It has lately been gentrified having once been more closely associated with the working classes through the novels of Charles Dickens and its association with George Bernard Shaw.
On Sundays you are only allowed off the trains at Camden Town until late afternoon and then only allowed back on from which you will gather that you will have no problems finding Camden Lock. You just follow the crowds.
To the north of the station exit is Parkway at the intersection of the crossroads and traffic lights. This leads up to Regents Park, with the Rose gardens, boating lakes and is the home of London Zoo.
The market goes all the way up to Chalk Farm and specialises in leather goods, antiques and bric a brac. This part of Camden used to be quite anonymous but as you go over the bridge you will see the Regents Canal below and the lock which now gives the place its name.
The canal leads up to Little Venice and down to the Thames, passing through Islington where it goes underground. The canal was once a thriving transport link, carrying barge drawn horses and if you look under the bridge you might see the lines cut into the brick made by the thick ropes that were attached to the horses.
On the left is the Roundhouse. This has led a chequered career and at various times has been left derelict. It was once a goods yard and turntable space for the trucks that carried Gilbeys Spey Royal whisky and London gin to the rail termini at Kings Cross and St Pancras. Seasoned travellers will recognise Gilbey’s gin as being sold in most duty free shops but rarely on the shelves of English supermarkets.
Just before the bridge mentioned above was a road to the left. Up here was Gilbey’s distillery at Park Royal where my mother and aunt worked. My grandfather looked after Gilbey’s shire horses that were part of the annual Easter Monday parade around the Inner Circle at Regents Park – still I believe, being held.
The Roundhouse was left to decay when Gilbeys moved up to Harlow and for a time during the sixties was sold on as an arts centre but not before it was a popular rock venue; I saw the The Doors and Jim Morrison perform there.
The market ends just before Chalk Farm, the next stop on the Northern Line.