LAST OF THE REAL HIGH STREETS
WORDS BY DIVYA SEHGAL AND PHOTOGRAPHS BY PAUL HICKIN
It’s the year 1963. A 10-year-old girl hops off her mum’s lap, rings the bell on door number 12, Millfields Road, greets her grandmother and, along with the two older women, skips towards the bustling Chatsworth Road Market, a five-minute walk from her nan’s house. It’s a weekly treat, and she loves seeing her mum and nan pick up the fresh fruit and vegetables that would be laid on the dinner table each day. They move on to the stalls run by local seamstresses, where her mum buys all her dainty dresses, pinks and lilacs, delicately sewn with lace trim and embroidered collars. It’s a world of wonder for little Sharon, who walks among the 200 stalls that extend along the full length of the street.
Fifty-eight years later a couple drives down to Chatsworth Road Market, not knowing what to expect. They pass Millfields Road and wonder who lives in the house that was once home to the man’s great-grandmother. Reaching the market, they look around to see if there’s any resemblance to what it once was, to see if the stories that Sharon told them about her trips to the market still hold true today.
It definitely wasn’t bustling outside. The market road, quite wide and long, didn’t hold the promise of 80 stalls, as mentioned on the website. Luckily, a warm and sunny day in London makes everything okay. A market to me screams food. Fresh meat and vegetables, French saucissons, olive tapenades, harissa and the ever-popular jars of fresh pesto. Chatsworth Road delivered. There was no pesto, but hunks of smelly cheese, a sizzling Souvlaki stall and bottles of honey lined the street.
On our walk back to a creperie we had spotted earlier, the fishmonger was busy weighing fresh produce for customers, the pies and scotch eggs had fast disappeared from the counter and the Souvlaki seller’s pan was sizzling with lamb kebabs.
If you’re a market enthusiast, you’ll see that each one in London has at least one “ethnic” stall. Or maybe it’s just me, and they tend to follow me around. I love nit-picking at their wares and instantly convert the selling price to Indian rupees. This stall, of course, took the cake. If you’ve gone to school in India, you’ll fondly remember the lunch baskets we carried with our 10-stone school bags. You’ll also remember the two or three-storeyed steel dabbas, made famous by the Mumbai dabbawallas. I’ve only ever seen these products in the dusty corners of South Asian affiliated regions of London – Wembley, Ilford, East Ham and Southall. Usually manned by old men, their stores stock everything from Prestige cookers to idli stands.
So imagine my surprise when I saw a stall in Chatsworth Road Market selling (among Rajasthani shawls and bed covers) colourful plastic weaved lunch baskets for £18. The steel dabbas, on the other hand were going from £20 a pop. I may have been living in the UK for six years, but this was still daylight robbery! Don’t even ask me how much the “ethically sourced cotton bedding” cost.
The Chatsworth Road Market may not hold a candle to its historic run in the early 1930s, but it still draws a crowd on late Sunday afternoons. There’s more to the road than just stalls. Hailed as the “last of the real high streets”, it has small independent cafés dotted around the length of the road. Charity shops that house second-hand books and clothes. An antique shop with ornate teacups that piqued our curiosity. And even a “London Borough of Jams”. On our walk back to a creperie we had spotted earlier, the fishmonger was busy weighing fresh produce for customers, the pies and scotch eggs had fast disappeared from the counter and the Souvlaki seller’s pan was sizzling with lamb kebabs. Meanwhile, I sat down to a savoury crepe filled with Camembert, rocket and cherry tomatoes and thought of how underwhelming my version of Chatsworth Road Market would seem to Sharon.
Chatsworth Road Market takes place every Sunday at Chatsworth Road E5.