“It’s tragic – what are they going to do, put another hotel here? ”

 

In the fifteen minutes I’m chatting to Tim Nichols, five or six people come past, asking the most obscure questions about how to unlock an old folding camera, or how a modern plastic 3D contraption works; he’s never stumped. Yet the objects on his stall account for perhaps a century of industrial history, from Victorian cameras and frames, through charmingly clunky  devices made in Soviet Russia in the fifties and sixties, and quirky Japanese cameras of the seventies and eighties – although admittedly, in the four or five years we’ve been keeping an eye on his stall, it’s remained a digital-free zone. Sadly, over the last couple of months, Tim has become only an occasional visitor to Greenwich covered market; still, I was pleased to spot him last Thursday. His Victorian and Edwardian photo frames, originally made to view negatives from both sides, make beautiful Christmas presents, but grab them now – when they’re gone, they’re gone…

How long have you run a stall in Greenwich?
I’ve been coming to Greenwich since the day after the London bombings, July 2007. Before that I had a shop for 15 years in Arundel, then when we gave the shop up, we were doing fairs, antique fairs, camera fairs, and this was a great place to come inside of London -  it was  no hassle to get here, the stalls are reasonably priced. But now the price of fuel has gone up, I’m not doing Greenwich market every week, I’m just here for the Christmas period.

How did you come to sell cameras?
It’s in the blood. My father had a retail shop in Salisbury for years. I went abroad, I came back from travelling, and basically got into selling old cameras to  help the business survive. I was selling a lot of stuff to dealers up in Portobello Road, then I opened a shop in Arundel in 1990.

How do you like running a stall versus a shop?
It’s harder work – you’re up earlier, you got to set the stall up, then pack it up at the end of the day. But it gets you out and about – you’re not in the shop all day twiddling your thumbs, waiting for people to come in.

Is there more camaraderie among market traders than shop keepers?
Oh I think so, Yeah. In places like an antique centre you get a lot of bitchy dealers, whereas here everyone gets on.

You’ve got a very distinctive, but eclectic aesthetic, from sophisticated Edwardian plate cameras, through plastic 3D cameras. Are you selling to users, or collectors?
Seventy five per cent of what we sell probably ends up abroad. All ends up in the foreign trade.  Most of the cameras go to collections or for ornamentals.

Are you taken by the design of these objects?
I am,  especially the vintage wooden and brass cameras – if they come in in bits then I restore them. I have all the bits to do it and I put them together again, that’s what I tend to do. Without overdoing it, making them too perfect. I enjoy doing it, it’s a hobby, and I’m making money

What about the way cameras we made in Edwardian times?
They were obviously made by cabinet makers – craftsmen, really.  I don’t tend to like modern goods. I prefer these objects.

What’s the most precious object you’ve come across recently?
It is a Magic Lantern, an early slide projector. I found it in an open market in Sussex, and  rebuilt it, so it’s finally all complete – and up for sale for £2000 if anybody wants it.

How much time do you spend tracking objects down?
I got out around two or three mornings a week and that’s it.  I’ve been doing it for such a long time, things come to me now, people ring me up, which is a much easier way of doing it. It is getting harder, though, some things are definitely drying up. Then it comes up in one big hoard normally, you can go for weeks and weeks and weeks with nothing and you think nothing else is going to come in – then it suddenly all happens. It is still out there but you have to be on your guard.

Although you’re now only an occasional visitor to the covered market, how do you feel about the state of Greenwich, with one market gone, this one under thread, and only the smallest one safe for now?
It’s tragic, really. What are they going to do, put another hotel here? Where’s it going? It’s crazy.

Tim Nichols is at Greenwich Covered Market this Thursday, 22 December. You can also find him on eBay, user name Clickten.


Damilola, Hollandaise Source

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“Yes, I miss Nigeria. But what can we do? ”

 

As the weather turns chilly, our thoughts turned to Damilola, who doesn’t like the cold, but whose fabrics summon up sunshine and warmth.  Ridley Road is among the most gloriously chaotic of London’s markets, a joyful collision of colours, sounds and smells. There’s plenty of cheap’n'cheerful discount stuff – batteries, postcards, CDs, T shirts, fruit and veg – but the main attractions are the riotous collection of African and North african food and fabrics. This is the place to come if you fancy cooking goat, pig’s trotters or anything involving yams – and of course things like fresh herbs are cheaper and better quality than you could find in your local supermarket. Alongside Brixton, though, Ridley Road is one of the best sources for African fabric – if, by African, you mean Dutch or Swedish. “Hollandaise” are colourful, slightly shiny fabrics in a riotous range of colours, printed using blocks of wax; they’re unusual in that the pattern is printed on both sides. Derived from Indonesian batiks, Hollandaise has been popular in West Africa for nearly a century. In recent years, it’s started to become crowded out by cheap Chinese fabrics in Africa. But in London, many people still seek out traders like Damilola, who sources the real thing directly from Holland.

How long have been selling Hollandaise? And who are your customers?
I’ve had my stall for three and a half years. You have to register with Hackney before you start. I get my fabrics from Holland. And my customers… they like to buy the clothes for when they want to party. It’s for summer clothes, party clothes.

Can you remember your first dress made from Hollandaise?
Oh… it’s a long time ago. My first dress was when I was, like, 10. In Nigeria. If you buy the cloth, you give it to someone that  will sew it for you, into a dress. My dress, it was blue, it looked really nice on me.

Do you miss Nigeria?
Yes. A lot. I miss Nigeria a lot but what can we do?

Did you always wear Hollandaise before you started selling them?
I always liked them myself and always wore then. And tomorrow is Saturday, and I shall wear them tomorrow.

Where do you source your waxed fabrics from?
We have a lot of different people. I  haven’t been over to Holland, sometimes they send me samples and I choose the ones I want. I think I do have a special eye for what my customers like. Well, some of them like it, some of them don’t. I like blue, pink, orange yellow, bright colours. Then the lace is from Sweden, and also we have French lace and organzas.

This looks like a bustling, friendly market. Is it?
Sometimes it’s busy, sometimes it’s not. But there’s friendship here. It’s a nice place.

We often hear that life for stall-holders is harder than for people who have a shop. Would you like to move to a shop eventually?
Yeah, we work hard. Because we have to set up, and to carry everything. But I prefer doing a stall to a shop. Because it’s free-er.

Damilola’s stall is roughly halfway down Ridley Road. The market is open every weekday, plus Saturday.

 


“Things go in circles and things change. And we’ve got to change with it or we disappear. ”

 

Leather Lane is a market in flux; although one of London’s oldest markets, with a wide variety of goods, it occupies an area that is changing rapidly, and stallholders feel they are suffering from an indifferent local council. But for all its troubles, it’s a vibed-up, bolshy, exuberant place thanks to its traders. There’s none of the po-faced, self-regard of some of London’s foody places; Leather Lane is pretty cheap, and exceptionally cheerful. One good example is Tim Driscoll, who with the Friends of Leather Lane is on a campaign to return the market to its former glory. He’s got a fight on his hands – but I suspect, somehow, he enjoys it.

What’s your role in the market?
Years ago we used to have an official market committee and I was the chairman. So I use it to my advantage when I can, so I’m an unofficial representative now. When it’s busy, nobody’s bothered about what anyone does so long as you’re making money. And now it’s getting a little bit hard we need a bit more effort from traders, and from the council. What we’ve needed for a long long time on this market is a bit of advertising and some strong leadership – which we ain’t getting from the council! Now round the corner we have an architects firm, they’ve taken up the gauntlet and tried to help, and with the [Friends of Leather Lane] involved we’ve spoken to so many more people than we would have on our own. They’re more connected, more switched on than councils. And it seems to be a little bit better than it used to be.

Tell me about Leather Lane’s history – it’s reputed to be one of London’s oldest markets.
There’s so many different stories, I’ve been down here 31 years and I’m by no means the longest-serving trader here, everyone got their own version, some say it was set up to settle a debt of King Charles, I heard it was a chartered market, someone said it came from people living down here and it sort of evolved. I don’t think anyone knows for certain – but I know it’s been a thriving market for hundreds of years.

How’s it changed in your 31 years?
It’s not as busy. I think that goes for a lot of markets. One thing we’ve got that other markets don’t, is we’re a four-five days, lunchtime market, from twelve to two. Historically, it always was a lunchtime market. Thirty one years ago it was loads and loads of fruit and veg. And you had one stall doing leathers, chammy leathers, one store doing dresses. Then we had the Turks coming in and selling a lot of clothing, now that seems to be petering out, and you have food. Things go in circles and things change. And we’ve got to change with it or we disappear. But what you’re finding now is the people in charge don’t know about running markets. They know about working in councils, and having their days off and they don’t realise it’s got to be governed, it’s got to be planned – you can’t have too many people selling one thing.

Have you sold flowers for all your 31 years?
Just flowers – I fell into it, I used to work in Smithfields Meat Market, I was a trainee butche, I was 16, 17 and I was invincible, scared of no one. And I had a row with the bloke I worked. And a mate said, you want to come and help out on the flower stall? I ended up working with him for 15 years and for myself for 16

Has that been hard work?
It’s very hard work. It’s all perishable. And it’s also a luxury. Having a luxury perishable in a recession ain’t fun. But you’re getting less people doing this so I’m competing against less. And now you’re competing against bigger firms. But they don’t specialise. So if Sainsbury’s are selling loads of one thing, I can go for something different. You can chop and change and that’s the beauty of this game. But when people like me have gone, all you’ve have left will be what the big firms want to give you. But I survive ‘cos I work very very hard, I have no social life whatsoever. I get up between half three and five, six days a week. If anyone told me five o-clock was a lie-in when I was a kid I woulda laughed at them!

Your stall looks lovely, lots of orchids, poinsettia and Christmas trees – but I heard you had a problem with Christmas trees and the council?
They come and they probe. So yes, they asked me, Do I have a licence for selling Christmas trees. Now, I’ve sold Christmas trees all the years I’ve been here. So I’m going, No, I sell plants, floral sundries, that’s what Christmas trees are and that’s what I’ll do. They do is try to probe, to get a little bit more. Honestly, they act like parasites sometimes, just taking off people. And I would think the purpose of the council is to look after local people. The thing that most upsets me is, a place like this with a big estate at the back, through the years lots of kids would would see someone from their estate, their own area, going to work and earning money. Not relying on the government, not relying on a big company, just doing their own, thing, not necessarily being an Alan Sugar and earning millions. When this sort of thing goes, that’s all gone too. Because this adds so much more to the community.

What’s your plan for what’s next?
My plan is to sell a lot of Christmas trees! And no one knows what’s gonna happen, we had a meeting, and they said lovely, good idea – but we ain’t got no money. All I’m trying to do is bring it to their attention that this is a really good market; it’s established, it’s got a hard core of very, very good traders, we’re central to everything, we’re five minutes from the West End, you’ve got Crossrail that will hopefully open and and this will be a developed place. And Camden’s got a market in the centre of it – and if the time and effort is put into it, this could be as big as any market in London.

Tim Driscoll is at the Clerkenwell Road end of Leather Lane,weekday lunchtimes.You can find the Friends Of Leather Lane here.