“It’s a form of time travel, that takes people back.”


Some market stalls have a unique resonance, embodying history, like a kind of tactile time travel. John Andrews’ is such a stall: tiny pieces of fishing tackle with instantly striking craftsmanship, books and ephemera with distinctive typefaces and colours that are instantly evocative. But they’re not stuffy – these are items designed to be used and handled. Fittingly, just as these items send the viewer on a journey, they have sent their seller on his own journey, one that tells of both modern London, and an older Britain.

Why fishing equipment?
I worked at Creation Records – I was marketing manager there. When the label folded at the end of 1999 I had been collecting vintage fishing tackle, rods and reels and bits and bobs for years, which I used to go fishing with. When I would go fishing I’d talk loosely with a friend of mine about writing a book and the idea was I’d write it when I got a lot older. The night Creation finished we went to the pub, and he said, Now you can write your book!  So I started writing when Creation stopped and got a deal for it. And off the back of that I started to do bits and pieces of freelance journalism on angling, and the social history of angling. And obviously I earned very little money doing that, so I started to sell bits and pieces of my fishing tackle collection.

Then, by chance we had a clear-out at home, took a stall at the old Camden Passage, and we sold general antiques down there, with my wife. Then when it got really cold I just carried on with the fishing tackle. I was at Camden Passage for a few years, then we all switched over to Spitalfields, and it’s grown from there.

What was your role at Creation – did you ever consider staying in the music industry?
I was Marketing Manager – I worked with great artists, including Teenage Fanclub, the Super Furry Animals, The Boo Radleys. I never thought about going back – I made a conscious decision to leave [the industry],  mainly because I didn’t think I’d find another label like Creation. I’d worked in the business for 13 years and Creation was a highlight, it was where I wanted to end up. I thought, I’m not gonna have so much fun and job satisfaction, and work with such good artists and have such freedom and autonomy ever again.

Explain the magic of antique fishing tackle.
I think it’s do with with its reliquary. All the objects are artefacts. When people pick them up, and this applies not just to me, it’s a form of time travel, that takes them back to when they first used that tackle when they were younger, or a relationship they had with a father, or an older person who taught them fishing. They just have a kind of votive quality. It takes people somewhere else.

And the other aspect is, the tackle in itself is beautiful because a lot of it was made by hand in Britain by specialist makers, either in small cottage industry workshops, or large factories, where people made them for their entire life. In, say, the float department at Allcocks, you’d start as an apprentice at age 14 and work your entire life for the company. So there’s an  integrity to the products. And you have dozens and dozens of lost brands of tackle because as the 20th century developed the soul fell out of British fishing tackle-making, eroded by cheaper imports from the far East, and eventually most companies either went bust or were bought out by aggressive American companies whose marketing relied on cheap products at a low price. Whereas British fishing tackle had always relied on expensive product at a high price – and that represented, I think, better  value than buying cheap tackle. British fishing tackle makers, or Abu of Sweden, Mitchell of France, Dam of Germany and other Italian makers, they were all great makers.They’re now celebrated by collectors and dealers across the world. It’s like somebody buying a good brand of jeans. Why would you buy a vintage pair of Levi’s when you could go down to TK Maxx and buy something for a tenner? It’s about quality, integrity, where that item takes you on a journey in your head.

Tell me about fishing itself, how it makes you feel.
The reason people do it is very hard to describe to somebody who doesn’t fish. I think people have a fishing gene and it’s in them. It’s something that goes back generations, to  when in this country 150 years ago every adult male fished, pretty much, across all the social classes, it was deep in people’s DNA, their connections to the landscape, the water and all the elements. As industrial society grew people were removed from that. Now people are detached. Ultimately for me when I go fishing it’s like going through a door into another world. Once you’ve gone through that door you can’t ever come back.

Is there one item, that you’ve come across, that you particularly love, or that embodies all those feelings?
It was probably the first time I bought a cased fish. Taxidermy is quite a tricky area, mainly because there’s a lot of bad taxidermy out there, fake, reproduction and plastercast  taxidermy. But an original piece by an original maker has a real atmospheric quality, and can be quite possessing. And it’s an art-form that’s coming back – you have modern taxidermists like Polly Morgan reinvigorating it. The first cased fish I bought was was a pike. That had been mounted by PJ Horton,  of 112 Fernhead Road Paddington, a 20lb pike caught in 1928 on the Thames. I bought it at auction at Bonhams and I paid far too much money for it. It’s got a real presence. It’s on my wall with lots of other examples.

It’s places like market stall that help perpetuate this culture that you love. But how do you see the future of market stalls in London?
I think it could go one of two ways. I think there’s a renaissance in people visiting markets and using them to buy things, items for their lives, partly driven by food and farmers markets. Then the whole phenomenon of ‘vintage’ has created a new generation of people into fleamarkets. However, I think the traditional places where you’d have a fleamarket, a piece of waste land or abandoned parking lot, because of of the growth in the value of land they are now few and far between. Spitalfields is a really good example. When we started it was a big empty space, with multiple uses, a football pitch at night, then the house clearance vans would come in and there’s a full on proper market. And then.. they turned [the building]  really into a retail theme park.

The market sits in there and it works well because of the local community, the Bohemian feeling in this part of London. But it needs to be be managed very sensitively, so that the soul of the market, the style of the traders and the essence of dealing isn’t lost. We don’t want to become a theme park. It’s got to remain real. It’s got to be somebody with a van, with a load of gear, coming in, chucking it on a table – and people coming in and finding treasure.

John Andrews is at Spitalfields Antique Market on Thursdays. You can find his blog, on fishing and ephemera, at Andrews of Arcadia


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