It’s on those wretchedly wet weekends that we’re so prone to in this oft grey and unpleasant land, that you console/ torment yourself with the vision of a fine spring day (as you clasp your hot water bottle in broad daylight, for fear of losing feeling in your extremities). A day which you might spend wantonly skipping through a bustling street market, making idle chatter and gathering rosebuds and frippery while you may, satisfying your every whim with each passing stall… I can smugly and contentedly report that this weekend I revelled in just such a day, eschewing housework and coursework to go and gape at the handiwork of other, more enterprising folk for whom Sunday is just another daily grind.
Sunday 20th March marked the eagerly anticipated return of Chatsworth Road market for 2011. It had all the buzz of a neighbourhood favourite (or Notting Hill Carnival, as one of my accomplices put it, getting ever so slightly carried away), despite this only being its fourth ever outing since the series of trials before Christmas. The Traders and Residents Association of Chatsworth Road E5 waged a long and vocal campaign to win the right to reinstate a weekly market after over 10 years of absent pavement trade. In 2009 I interviewed spokesman and architect of the early plans Ashley Parsons, when approval from the council was still an uncertain prospect.
Fast forward 18 months and the handsomely proportioned Victorian thoroughfare is gratifyingly alive with ambling feet, discerning eyes and perusing hands, as leisurely shoppers saunter in from Clapton, from Homerton, via the streets of Elderfield, Rushmore, Glenarm and Dunlace. A residential artery of East London connecting Lea Bridge Road to Homerton Road, Chats Road is a fiercely independent high street, albeit less well-heeled than Stoke Newington Church Street or Exmouth Market (the campaign argued that bringing a market back to the community could have a positive impact on social deprivation). With incremental expansion in size and scope (growing from 20 to 40 stalls) the market now boasts everything from gourmet cheesecake to artisan beauty products (with the odd sausage roll and sugar cane shot thrown in). The plan is to run fortnightly markets until September and move to a weekly set up thereafter, pending review.
Turning the corner off the main drag on to Glenarm Road, punters could also happen upon the main market’s smaller sibling- Hackney Homemade, itself making a comeback after a bleak mid-winter break. Nestled in the cosy courtyard behind Book Box independent children’s book shop, there was a distinctly domestic feel to the wares on offer. Locally-based travel writer Jane Eggington felt there was room for homegrown vintage and craft items alongside the mainstays of fresh veg and coffee and cakes, so gathered a collective of creatives to set up shop with their latest finds and creations.
Spilling out of the yard and on to the street were all the dressing up box delights a gaggle of over-grown girls could wish for, and after a minute or two of polite cooing over the rails we had a good rummage through crocheted cardies and tea dresses galore. Thankfully there appeared to be no ‘look but don’t touch’ policy. One of our number showed incredible restraint in passing up an All Saints black pencil skirt trimmed with gold piping that she’d spotted with magpie-like swiftness, which was surely snapped up as soon as our backs were turned. Among Irregular Choice canary yellow heels, swathes of print scarves, an enticing MOMA brand wristwatch and a gloriously kitsch purse emblazoned with amorous pairings, I settled on a pair of metallic-pink flower studs (yes another pair), that I felt struck just the right balance between Barbara Cartland and Bjork. For 3 quid, I’d rather choose my Christmas cracker gems off a blanketed-flagstone than out of a locked cabinet any day.
Once inside the mini market square we enquired about an elegant wooden lamp stand from a stall of collectible and vintage homeware and furniture, and lusted after a matching pair of silver candlesticks until we remembered the mantle piece was already awash with tea lights.
We had a chat with Adam Cobbold about the exotic provenance of his exquisite blankets (Morocco, Iran, Cambodia and India) and admired the cushion covers handmade from his grandmother’s collection of early 20th century screen-printed fabrics. Student budget constraints prevented us from investing in these textile treasures but its gratifying to know they’ll be soon be adorning another elegant living room, just as grandma intended.
I now wish I’d bought one of jewellery designer Hazel Thomson’s funky laser cut plywood and acrylic pieces- all art deco geometric shapes and angular avairian beauties that would have been perfect for a friend’s birthday this week. Oops. More classic tastes were catered for by the ropes of amber and peridot beads, cut-gem pendants and bracelets glistening in the pale March sunshine at the far end of the yard.
Hidden behind pin cushions and foil wrapped chocolate eggs, Hannah in the house provided me with just the striking piece of statement jewellery that will do the job for Mother’s Day- a pistachio coloured ceramic broach with embossed lace detail for only £8. Shh…
It’s safe to say the selection on offer was heavily swayed towards the feminine, but the Manga-esque hand printed hoodies of White Monk were a nod towards more masculine, monochrome preferences.
Cursing myself for already falling prey to L’Epicerie deli, I saw that Evi, the only pit-stop stall in the yard, had been doing a roaring trade in traditional Greek foodstuffs- Cretan courgette pie (kolokithopita), spinach pie (spanakopita) and moussaka. Lots of crumbs by the time we’d worked our way round.
But it’s not all sheer-indulgence. Hackney Homemade and the Book Box have pledged to donate a stall to a good cause at each market. This week’s was Akany Avoko, selling a rainbow array of bags, baskets, shawls and toy cars made from recycled tin cans. All profits go directly to supporting abandoned babies, children and young people in Madagascar.
Still in its infancy, the compact Hackney Homemade is a charming concept proving that E5 can do vintage chic and quirky design just as well as your Spitalfields and your Broadways (and cheaper, with more elbow room). Don’t go expecting acres of choice, but do go with an eye for bargains hand-picked or hand-crafted on your doorstep.
Photographs by Kirsty McQuire