Bermondsey Square, between Abbey Street, Bermondsey Street and Tower Bridge Street, SE1 3UN
Tube: Borough, London Bridge (Northern)
Rail: London Bridge
Open: Fridays 6am-2pm
Bermondsey is London's oldest antiques market with origins dating back to before the war, when it traded in a square off Caledonia Road in Islington, which is why some still call it ‘New Caledonian Market’. Visiting the market today is still a fascinating experience and many of the traders are old timers that have been selling their antiques and collectables here for many years and can tell you about when the market traded from a rough piece of wasteland that once occupied this site. In recent years the area has been transformed into a smart pedestrian square surrounded by modern flats and offices. David has been trading at Bermondsey since 1983 and looks on the changes with some scepticism, 'Some people call it progress… I don't!' He tells me while still keeping a smile on his face.
There is some dissonance between the traditional antiques market and its now modern location, but the place still has charm and some vestige of its history that makes it unique and still brings tourists from around the world seeking rare antiquities and collectables. The tourists usually arrive at their own leisurely pace around midmorning, unaware that most of the serious antique dealing has taken place at the crack of dawn or even by torch light in the winter months. The early morning trade can involve serious money being exchanged for silverware, jewellery, clocks, glassware, prints, china and porcelain, with a good deal of scrutinising and haggling between traders long familiar with each other and not afraid to argue.
It's less tense and more friendly as the morning wares on and its always fun to visit and observe people from around the world haggle over the value of an item without the aid of a common language. The traders vary from dedicated specialists who can talk at length about their stock and its value, to more general dealers in all kinds of things from Dinky toys, to old dental equipment and jewellery. Some of the traders are professionals who also trade at other antique markets in and around London, while a few of the characters here are semi-retired and trading here as much for the fun as to make a living.
The downturn in the antiques trade generally and the upheavals the market has faced in past years have taken some toll, but Bermondsey Market is still a unique and special place and one well worth visiting if only to get a glimpse into another and very different world.
This is a feature taken from our forthcoming book:
by Andrew Kershman