I’ve not met anyone that doesn’t love London’s Borough Market. It’s not just the fabulous range of fresh produce, meat, seafood, products, herbs, spices, bread and street food, it’s the atmosphere it evokes. Like much of London, its history colours your sense of the present. I defy anyone to walk towards the Market nestled under the iron girders of the railway bridge above and not find themselves cast back to any number of films, novels and exhibitions that describe the sights, sounds and smells of historic London. You feel you are walking in the footsteps of thousands of others stretching back hundreds of years who have come to this place to meet and to trade.
And indeed you are, the market is believed to go back possibly as much as a 1000 years. It is situated at one end of London Bridge, for centuries the only route over the river and believed to have been built originally by the Romans (which then became a strategic defence against the marauding Vikings as they sailed up the Thames).
Fast forward to the 16th and 17th Centuries and Southwark was a thriving commercial district, bringing in local traders as well as farmers from the countryside with their cattle, poultry and grain. In attempt to bring order to the chaos, the city authorities began to enforce regulations, ensure weights were correct and put price controls in place. Unlicensed trading was a constant problem, as were the livestock that frequently ran loose and created mayhem in the market. You can stand in the centre of the market and it takes no great imagination at all to transport yourself back to those times, I swear you can hear the shouting and the braying.
As the market grew the chaos it caused eventually generated petitions to have the place closed down. In 1676 a huge fire did the job for them. Despite this the market began to come back to life, frequently blocking and hindering access and trade into the City until eventually it was closed down by an Act of Parliament. Local pressure saw it reinstated in 1756, set back from the main road. In 1862 the South Eastern Railway Company built a viaduct over the market, making it more accessible and creating the space we experience today (still with rumbling trains as background sound but without the soot and the smells).
The revival of interest in artisan products and the provenance of our food has ensured the Market continues to flourish and is now a bit of foodie “must do” with a lecture and events programme, a regular newsletter, and comprehensive web-site.
The history of the market is visible in every corner and, daft as it sounds, the simplest, artisan loaf can only be improved by knowing that someone has probably selling similar bread there for a thousand years.
I know, I know, I am such an old romantic.