“They’re easy to get on with, they have two ends, a biting end and a back end.”

 

There’s an irony in the fact that Borough Market, once a leading symbol of the Slow Food movement, has now become a Fast Food destination, more popular with tourists than with locals. Thankfully, the market’s best food retailers are time-proven, and still hold their magical lure over true foodies. Sillfield Farm is a slow food champion,  working to revive old breeds of pigs – and Alan is their porcine ambassador in London.

How long have you worked for Sillfield Farm?
Just about two years, I’ve been here at Borough about five months, then back there I work outside with the wild boars in the wood.

Explain the charm of pigs.
They just have that cute face, don’t they? They’re easy to get on with, they have two ends, a biting end and the back end, stay away from the biting end and everything’s ok. They are quite adorable really – they listen to you, they follow you round, as long as you’ve got a bucket of food with you they’ll do what you want. And they’re very intelligent, they know what they want.

Do they have personalities?
I suppose they do. They’re sort of blind in a way, they have tunnel vision, so if they see a figure coming towards them, instead of running away they actually charge at you… which is stupid in a way. But they do have personalities, for definite.

The business was started by Peter Gott, and his wife Christine, and you’re known for your rare breeds of pigs, correct?
Peter started up with rare breeds. He was renowned for Cumberland ham, bacon and sausages – then his brother bought him a wild boar as a joke for his birthday, I think, and now he has about 50 wild boar. We have a real variety of pigs, including the Middle White, and some crosses as well, and Gloucester Old Spot. Middle white are quite an old, rare breed, and we have the old Cumberland Sow which you don’t see many of.

There’s been a huge change in Borough over recent years, a move away from fruit and vegetables wholesaling, towards takeaway food that people actually eat on the spot.
There’s definitely a drop [in non-takeaway], and a lot of takeaway food around the market. But we still have us regulars, who come week to week.

I’m guessing you had to come to Borough and sell direct to consumers, and restaurants, because British farms are under such pressure in terms of prices, is that correct?
It’s true, British pig farms are under pressure, what you find now with the supermarkets is that it’s all cheap, pumped with water. Whereas our stuff, especially pork and wild boar, the pigs are normally bred for a 36 week minimum, whereas for the supermarket they have just a 12 week cycle, fatten it up and it’s on the plate that soon. Whereas we have more passion in getting a nice bit of meat on the plate, it’s quality over quantity, completely different.

The Sillfield Farm Shop is at Borough Market, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, 7.30am to 6pm.


Shane Forrester, Story-seller

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“I often wonder how they started out life, who had these things. You get this sense of history, of lives, all of that.”

 

Day by day, the Victorian corners of London are being spruced up, tidied, painted brilliant white. But the distinctive stall run by Shane Forrester and his partner Anna is defiantly worn, distressed, all browns and battered gilt.  These are objects that have lived a life – a life that, in some cases, speaks to us from beyond the grave…

You started out rummaging round markets, even as a teenager?
I was born round the corner in Blenheim Crescent in Portobello Road, so the Portobello Road thing was always something I was aware of, there were always people round the corner selling things when I was growing up.

This area must have changed a lot – when did you start trading yourself?
I started doing market stalls way way back in the mid ’80s, I always loved spending my pocket money when jumble sales were thick and fast, I’d go round flea markets, antique fairs et cetera and gradually stumbled across all the wonderful London markets like Spitalfields and Brick Lane. Gradually I found out that I really liked taking things apart, taking buttons off one thing and redesigning stuff, then I realised there was a possibility I could sell bits and pieces. And that’s how I started.

It was quite different here when I was growing up, it was actually a troublesome area, quite a volatile area round Ladbroke Grove, so I tried to ignore that. But the actual buying and selling was really great, there were a lot more antiques and bits and pieces around. The  movement used to be Brick Lane, 3 o’clock on a Fri morning, then come to Portobello for seven, have breakfast, then sell what I’d just bought. There was a lot of trade then, whereas now there seems to be less trade and more tourists. Then I met Anna, Anna’s always been involved in selling, is very successful with vintage fur, and as the fur season ends we progress into all our bits and pieces. We do vintage fur when it’s very cold, so now we’re now almost approaching that time when the furs will fade out. We’ll always keep a few little nice bits on, short jackets, furs that go round the shoulder, but in general the fur will fade.

Your stall has a distinctive look, very Dickensian.
I just love Victorian, Dickensian stuff, for lots and lot of reason. I like the way things were made, the passion that went into things when they were being made, it’s culture, it’s history, it’s memories. We’ve got to keep hold of it.

What are the items that appeal to you the most?
I love hand-forged wrought iron, like the old blacksmiths used to do, I love old picture frames, whether or nor they’ve got a painting or mirror in. I like things that are deconstructed, not damaged necessarily, but worn, lived in, because that’s character in itself. And I love that whole London thing.

Your items look like they’ve lived a life.
That’s exactly it, that’s what catches my eye. Some things have  a little too much damage, and we can restore them, take things to good condition again. But sometimes we just leave things because people just like things that are a little bit worn.

Who will buy your chimney brush?
Maybe I won’t sell it! Maybe I’m gonna give it to darling Anna for her birthday, who knows, I’m very tempted to keep it! I really am. There are one or two things that I really do never want to part with.

Do you have items like this around your house?
Yes. Everything we get we take home anyway, we go inside and look at it. It’s funny, when you put things inside  a house, straight away they take on a different air, straight away they add warmth to the house – and you can relate that to the customer. That they are looking at something that at the moment is in the street, but when they put it in their own home, they won’t regret spending the money.

Your Victorian photos, in particular, are very resonant – do you often think about the lives those people led?
All the time. Anna picks up on the other side of life – she taps into the spiritual side of everything. Anna can go in a house and sense if it’s haunted. So we do think about that a lot, I often wonder how they started out life, and I wonder who had these things, especially when I’m out buying. Because when you’re doing house clearances you’re often going into people’s homes, and you get this sense of history, of lives, all of that. There’s a whole array of feeling and thoughts and emotions that go with one simple object.

Shane and Anna Forrester are at the bottom of Portobello Road, near the Westway, most Fridays and Saturdays.