EVENT - Talk
Thursday, 18 January, 6:30-8:30
Join Dr. Peter Jones as he illustrates how vibrant informal street markets have played an essential role in shaping modern London. Unregulated, open markets in Victorian London (Leather Lane, Columbia Road, the New Cut, the Brill) defined the commercial and cultural identity of the expanding metropolis, alongside its architecturally grandiose closed markets (Smithfield, Billingsgate, Covent Garden).
And yet, in the historical record these sites have often been treated as fragments of a lost era – worthy of derision, indifference, or saccharine nostalgia. Nocturnal public marketplaces, where costermongers, hustlers and marketgoers gathered beneath the naphtha flares, were engines of development and sustainability, which adapted to the needs of an expanding urban population. City fathers, architects and philanthropists laboured to replace the market with sanitized and ‘respectable’ alternatives. Street markets persisted in spite of the efforts of reformers, like Baroness Burdett Coutts, whose great ‘white elephant’ (Columbia Road market buildings) failed in spite of its efforts to change the retailing habits–and ostensibly the moral condition–of the poor.
Dr. Peter Jones is Lecturer in Urban History at the Centre for Metropolitan History and his research reflects upon the ways that histories of street commerce and popular culture can disrupt familiar narratives of urban progress in nineteenth-century London. He is currently writing a monograph about popular entertainment and cultural improvement in Victorian London, and has a chapter forthcoming about music hall and comic speech. If you’d like more detail after this talk, you can read his article about the history of street markets in the London Journal.