Secrets of Surrey Street Market: From Spitalfields to Surrey Street
The new school year is a few weeks old and families are beginning to settle back into routines. This time of year brings quiet time for the market. I know I for one made far too big a dent in my bank account over the summer on a holiday, outings.
Then, as ever when your funds are already limited to say the very least, the children try on uniforms only to reveal how much they have shot up over the summer months and you realise the fill enormity of the text book list and exactly how much the materials needed for GCSE art cost!
It’s very little surprise that people are pulling the belts in this month, recovering from the summer and getting ready for the Christmas shopping which will soon be gathering momentum.
I’m a night owl. I thrive in the early hours of the morning, finding it the best time to write and think while the children (and dog) are asleep and the house is still. William, my youngest son, changed schools this term and, with the change, came a complete change in routine. His school bus comes at 7.15, meaning I have to be up at 6 to get him ready.
I have to admit, I’m struggling with this change as it means I am finished at the time I’m usually at my best.
As I struggle to rise with the dawn, I often remember the fruit and veg traders on the market who will have already driven to Spitalfields Market, searched for the best produce at the best prices and be well on their way back to Surrey Street.
During the summer, I went with Fiona Woodcock, Surrey Street Market Inspector, to experience this for myself. We left at 5am so were among the later visitors to Spitalfields. We bumped into a couple of familiar faces but most of the Surrey Street traders had been and gone, some as early as 2am to get first pick for quality and bargains.
I think I expected Spitalfields would be a much bigger version of Surrey Street but it was much more. It’s like entering a different world that appears for a while in the hours before the rest of us wake into ours. Spitalfields Market is VAST.
The car park stretches long and wide and is full of vans and lorries, many loading up with piles multi-coloured boxes. The first thing you have to do when entering the huge warehouses is get your wits about you and be ready to dodge.
There are fork lift trucks coming at you from every angle and they drive very, very fast. I heard takes of a trader (not from Surrey Street) almost losing a foot to one. The traders pay the drivers to whizz around, picking up the stock they have selected and deliver it to their van.
I imagined Spitalfields would operate as one, all be it vast, warehouse market but it isn’t like that at all. Like Surrey Street, each ‘pitch’ in the warehouse is owned and operated by an individual wholesale company.
The traders compare prices and quality among the companies and seek those who will give them the best deals. Some companies were family businesses, centuries old and still very traditional with a man in suits and overalls standing at a high wooden desk. Others were newer and more modern.
The modern United Kingdom has a cosmopolitan society and the market has adapted to this over the years with many more companies coming in offering foreign and exotic goods. This enables traders to literally offer a world of options for us to try.
There is much more to share about my adventures in Spitalfields and how this has coloured my understanding of life on Surrey Street. I’ll share more in the coming weeks.