Middlesex Street, Wentworth Street (and adjacent streets), E1
Tube: Aldgate (Metropolitan, Circle),
Aldgate East (District, Hammersmith & City),
Liverpool Street (Circle, Central, Hammersmith & City, Metropolitan)
Rail: Liverpool Street
Open: All streets Sunday 9am-2pm,
Wentworth Street only Monday-Friday 10am-2.30pm
(shops, fruit and veg and a reduced amount of clothing and general stalls)
Petticoat Lane was renamed Middlesex Street back in 1830, but the name has stuck largely because this main thoroughfare and the streets leading from it have remained a place for the sale of clothing – what used to be called the ‘rag trade’. The glass and steel towers of the city now loom in the distance but these modest streets are still home to one of London’s most famous street markets, although now rivalled by Brick Lane and Spitalfields which are both within walking distance.
Despite the competition, Petticoat Lane is still impressively big and busy on a Sunday, when thousands of people flock to the market from Liverpool Street Station to buy a cheap outfit or just soak up the atmosphere. The streets are lined with hundreds of stalls, concentrating mainly on new clothing, shoes and accessories. Just the sheer amount of people selling shirts or ties is enough to send you into option paralysis. Price-busting multi-packs of knickers, socks and boxer shorts are everywhere, and there is a massive volume of ladies dresses and separates. Although most of the clothing is basic street fashion, there are enough well-made and stylish garments to make a trip here worthwhile. One stall to look out for is the specialist in French Connection seconds and end-of-lines on Wentworth Street, which is popular on a Sunday and is also a feature of Roman Road Market on a Saturday.
In places Petticoat Lane resembles the rag market of Victorian times with stalls selling crumpled nylon clothing in large piles for just £1 and an ever changing flow of the East End’s poor sifting through the piles for a bargain. Many of the traders call out for business with one shouting ‘So cheap you’ll buy it for someone you don’t like’, while another just hollowed ‘cheap, cheap, cheap…’ like a demented canary. There is more to the market than just clothing however, with quite a few toy stalls selling cheap and tacky plastic stuff for the kids with the occasional quality item showing up here if you’re lucky. As with everything at Petticoat Lane it’s a matter of looking around. Petticoat Lane is a good place to find cheap luggage and bags with lots of stalls offering bargains. In addition, there are always one or two decent shoe stalls offering fashionable and cheap footwear for as little as £20 a pair.
Petticoat Lane is also well known for the international textile shops, which sell everything from African wax prints to Indian sari fabric. The prices are very competitive so you can easily afford to do some fairly dramatic curtain-swagging or make yourself a sumptuous dress or skirt. The Middlesex Road end of the market is also a magnet for demonstrators – the people whose job it is to flog us the fragile hope that our lives will be better if we can shred, shine or sharpen something five seconds quicker. Few can resist the power of the patter. Mr Euro-Tool, Mr Shine-Wipe or Mr Borner V-Slicer are performers in the old tradition, so watch, admire and learn. The evangelists at the Liverpool Station end of Middlesex Street might not have such funky props, but the sales message is just as heartfelt: their energetic sing-songs are now a market staple on a Sunday.
Although Sundays is the main day for Petticoat Lane, there is a much smaller weekday market that caters for the locals with a limited selection of clothing, fruit and veg and other staples. The weekday market is a shadow of the Sunday event and only occupies a small part of Wentworth Street.
This is a feature taken from our forthcoming book:
by Andrew Kershman