Walking back from Intaglio Printmaker in Southwark, I thought it would be a good idea to walk through Borough Market. It was not. The crowds were so closely pressed together, and walking and stopping, that I could make no headway through the main part of the market. So I went round the edge, and glimpsed the Shard, high above the roofs.
The roofs, and the lights, look old but they are not really old. The lights, the nearest ones, are gas lights, with real gas flames. They are recent. The market was re-created and enlarged in the late 1990s. It’s now easy to believe that it’s always been a thriving London market. But it hasn’t. The “Blueprint” website from developers CBRE says:
In the 1980s, the surrounding area of Borough Market had undergone severe decline. The market’s days as a wholesale hub were threatened by the growth of supermarket retailers and the nearby development of the New Covent Garden market in Vauxhall in the 1970s. By 1994, the market had as few as nine traders and an income of less than £400k per year…..
The first “green shoot” for the market emerged … in 1996. The market had hit rock bottom with little left but a few traders and a mobile barber’s stall operating from a caravan. Neil’s Yard Dairy approached the market seeking additional space in damp conditions for the preservation of their expanding cheese business. Damp space, according to [George] Nicholson [market chairman], “was something we had lots of.”
I drew this picture standing up in Stoney Street. There was a strong wind. Papers, mostly takeaway food wrappers, rushed along in the air as if they had somewhere to go.
There were huge crowds outside Monmouth coffee. The whole of Stoney Street, to the right of my picture, was occupied by people.
Astonishingly, cars appeared. This picture took about 45 minutes and in that time I must have seen about 10 cars, one every few minutes. They arrived and stopped, seeing the crowds. Then, no doubt consulting a GPS which said this was indeed a street, they pushed on.
People walked past me, eating food from wrappers or drinking beer from cans. One drinker rolled over to me. “Are you drawing a picture?” he leered, ready to make fun.
“No,” I replied, “I’m riding a bicycle.” In his drink-fuddled haze, he had a problem to process that.
He turned to his fellow drinkers. “She says she’s riding a bicycle,” he announced. His wise companions hurried him on.