Gastronomic habits are changing, leading to a rise in the number of new food markets in London. In Southwark, new ventures are being created alongside some of the most famous markets in the country.Kirsty MacAulay explores Southwark's vast array of contrasting markets, from the traditional to the modern and from the well-known to the undiscovered
Markets have been part and parcel of London life for hundreds of years and are currently enjoying a major renaissance. While online shopping may be on the rise, it seems the joyful sensory overload that accompanies a good market – the colours, noises and wonderful smells – have not lost their charm. They are some of London's top tourist attractions; think Borough Market, Columbia Road Flower Market and Portobello Road. London's mayor Sadiq Khan is a keen supporter, evidenced by the recent establishment of the London Markets Board, which he believes will allow the capital’s markets to thrive and remain attractive destinations for locals and visitors. Pledging to protect markets for the benefit of entrepreneurs, small businesses and everyone who visits them, Khan says: "I'm a proud Londoner and a proud Englishman who has grown up with traditional street markets. Markets are deeply woven into the tapestry of English culture and nowhere is that more true than here in London. They are far more than a place to do your shopping – they are places where people meet and talk."
Local markets are the beating heart of Southwark's high streets and the council says it is committed to supporting traders to ensure they can thrive in what can be a difficult financial climate. It is also an imperative for the local authority that markets complement and work with – not against – other local shopping areas. The council claims it is one of only a few in London investing and expanding its markets – and with more than 250 in London, selling everything from fruit and veg to plastic toys, antiques, jewellery, flowers and clothes, it is clear that their popularity is in no danger of decline. But it is the current trend for food markets in particular which has taken the capital by storm – and the jewel in the London crown is the oldest and most famous of the lot; Borough Market in Southwark.
Having existed for around 1,000 years, the tourist destination is today home to 112 traders, ranging from farmers and artisan producers to specialist merchants. Borough Market’s continued success is attributed by its managing director, Darren Henaghan, to the fact it has always been about quality. "Provenance-led food and drink with a genuine and strong story, always underpinned with sustainability at the heart," he claims. "We're clear on who we are and what we stand for, and we work with traders who share those same values. Some of them have been at the market since it shifted from a wholesale to retail operation about 20 years ago. We have a good mix of established traders, as well as newer businesses."
When asked how important the market is to the local area, Henaghan doesn’t hesitate: "vital." He explains: "It brings people together from all walks of life to exchange knowledge as well as produce. “Many of our traders are primary producers and their knowledge of the product, recommendations on using it and ideas on what pairs well with it, allow our customers to understand where their food has come from. In an age where shopping can be done in a very automated way without engaging with anyone, markets are the antithesis of this. That can be a real lifeline for city-dwelling folk who live alone."
Southwark Council has bought Courage Yard on Shad Thames, near Tower Bridge, which it will redevelop to generate income for frontline services.