Mark Wilson, Record Scout

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“It still has a kind of magic. ”

Some people say markets do better in a recession. One of them just did. Long-threatened by those entrusted with its care, Greenwich covered market has just had a welcome reprieve. The entire development scheme that threatened it was a hubristic notion, of a hotel complex that would open long after a plethora of other new hotels, big and small, in this corner of London. Now, thankfully, someone at Greenwich Hospital Estates has run a spreadsheet that reflects the current outlook and competition, and abandoned the scheme.

The market’s not safe for ever. But hey, nowhere ever is. So it’s a time for celebration – maybe with music, played on glorious old vinyl, by one of Greenwich’s longest-standing stall-holders, Mark Wilson.

How do you feel about the reprieve for the covered market?
It is good news. I’m here just once a week so I don’t always get to hear the full story, sometimes it’s all Chinese whispers without too many details. But the fact we don’t get moved out for two years, I think that’s brilliant. People often say this market is on its last legs, but it isn’t, is it? It’s never going to be huge like Spitalfields, it’s a smaller community, but that’s good. It’s unique.

You’re old school, aren’t you – you were a regular at our much-missed, Stockwell Street market. When did you start coming here?
That would have been about 1994, I was at Portobello too. That was probably when Greenwich was at its peak, then or the late 1980s. Everyone remembers the old petrol station. It’s long gone now – but everyone remembers it.

You started out running a stall while you were in a band, didn’t you?
I was in a band, yes. Last Great Dreamers we were called. We did one album, on Music For Nations. I started at the market ‘cos of my cousin who was our manager, he was starting something in Norwich and said, Have you thought about doing this between gigs? I used to work at PRS and I’d given that up to follow my dream, really, and we never made any money from the band so it seemed like a cool thing to do. And it snowballed. We could do it between gigs. We used to come to Stockwell Street market after gigs, we sometimes we’d get back here at six in the morning, kick the band out, and lay out the stall. But of course we used to have stuff stolen, while we were asleep on the stall.

So after being in Greenwich all this time, does it still have some of that magic?
I think it does still have that magic. You can always look back through rose-tinted glasses. It has changed. But it’s got its own merits, there are new traders, new people coming in all the time. I think it will maintain itself if it’s got some youth and new energy with it .

Ten or 20 years ago, some people thought vinyl would die out. Now people think it will outlive CDs.
There is still a market definitely. I don’t think as many people come to Greenwich specifically for vinyl as used to, maybe at weekends but not a Thursday. But it’s never changed to me – I’ve been doing it 15, 20 years, people always tend to want to same thing, meat and two veg, I don’t think it’s any different now.

And I guess a lot of that meat and two veg is Beatles records for tourists?
Exactly. They want to take a bit of Britain home for their teacher back in Barcelona. Or “I buy this for my lecturer, who loves Pink Floyd.” Or for their dad, or for themselves.

So we all dream of looking through the boxes at charity stores and finding a Beatles Butcher sleeve. What’s your best discovery?
Oh man… I usually hear these stories second hand from friends. But some time ago I went to a scout fete at a village hall up in Norfolk, got there as it opened with all the grannies ready to elbow each other to get in first. And there was a guy with a bric a brac stall with a box of singles underneath. And all of them were demos from the 1960s – run of the mill stuff, and also stuff I’d never heard of, plus The Action, The Creation, psych and garage stuff. Some unusual artists. And he said five pounds. I was thinking he meant each, then I realised he meant for the entire box, and there were about 200 in there.

So I go to every village scout fete ever since then, but never found anything good at one since. Just Jim Reeves records.


Reprieve for Greenwich Market

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Yesterday was some of the most welcome news for market traders in a long while.

Five years ago Greenwich Hospital Estates – a semi-charity overseen by the MOD, which owns most of the land in the centre of Greenwich – announced plans to redevelop the market. The plan consisted of replacing the original floor, adding a modern plastic roof, rebuilding most of the postwar buildings and replacing some of them with a boutique hotel, and bulldozing period buildings, including Edwardian stables and a banana warehouse on Durnford Street.

Council officers recommended the plans, which were supported by Greenwich MP Nick Raynsford – a spokesman for the building industry who banks tens of thousands in consultancy fees from the industry each year. A council committee threw out the plans, then against wide public opposition GHE took the a modified version of the scheme to appeal, this time retaining the cobbled floor and Edwardian market roof.

Ultimately the government inspector, Phil Asquith, upheld GHE’s appeal. It was this modified scheme, based around a boutique hotel which would, according to its proposed operators, use the cobbled floor as an al fresco dining area.

On Thursday night, GHE announced to Greenwich traders that they were dropping the scheme, and planned only to refurbish the floor and roof, together with some smaller-scale building plans. This is a huge reprieve for traders, who would otherwise have been moved to a temporary site for two years; it’s also important for preserving the eclectic architectural ambience of Greenwich, for the Edwardian market buildings, including the stables and banana warehouse, date from when traders brought their goods in by boat and horsedrawn transport.

It’s likely that the main factor in dropping the scheme is a new surfeit of hotels in Greenwich, with huge new hotels from Mercure and Premier Inn opened recently, plus the extension of the Hotel Ibis. Economics triumphed where the planning system failed. This is great news for all market traders, and anyone who loves Greenwich Market. More news on this when we hear it.


“Wabi Sabi is a kind of atmosphere in the air. It’s philosophical.”

Some market stalls are subtle. Yosuke’s stall is perhaps the subtlest of them all. On first glance you’ll see nice denim items – modern Japanese reproductions of American jackets in Wabash or denim. Then suddenly, an aged, ragged item catches your eye, an item which is impossibly resonant. There’s a large, long bag in a cotton duck, which looks like a piece of ancient American workwear – which turns out to be designed for making Sake. A military coat in a similar, coarse cotton weave is a variant of the traditional, thick work jacket, designed for firemen. This is history, subtle, resonant and, from the European perspective, strange. How lucky we are to have people like Yosuke to explain it to us.

Tell me about this object you’re holding, which makes me feel all warm and fuzzy.
This is a sort of kimono, particularly it’s called Sashiko. Which was worn by farmers, from a long time ago, actually 140 to 150 years old. It’s from, I think, the North of Japan. My colleague is collecting this stuff from antique markets and dealers in Japan.

And this is natural, plant indigo. And would you call this the Edo Ai period?
It is natural indigo. And that time in Japan, there are still samurai and of course Ninjas, even.

When did you move to London? And how do the markets here compare to Japan?
If comparing to Japan, the number of the lovely local markets, I mean not only antique market, is absolutely larger and it has roots into people’s life and culture of city or town in the UK. From the beginning of my life in here, market is always full of wired stuff I’d rarely seen. So it was really tough to hold myself back from jumping at them. I really like the scenery and atmosphere of London market, that people are wandering around with various faces, looking forward to discovering stuff. I’m really enjoying to stand in my stall every week. I appreciate organizer Mike.

How did you come to run a stall in Spitalfields?
I’ve been taking over this stall from my friend, Yuji, who had run A stall here for three years and he had took over this stall from his boss who was selling these sort of stuff in here. So actually I am in the third generation. Yuji’s coming back maybe next February so I hope that we can keep suppying interesting garments to our customers.

How did you get into antique fabrics and vintage clothing?
I’ve been collecting vintage clothes since when I was 15, it was the second vintage boom in Japan. Since then, I have loved stuff and garments which we can imagine something interesting story behind them.
We have lots of vintage clothing stores though, mostly they are selling the stuff has only particular style, specially American vintage has been still popular in Japan for ages. I thought it would be interesting,if I could create more chaotic space like a miniature of this world then I came here.

So you have a shop in Japan as well?
Yes. I’m planning to open my shop in my hometown.

When did you start dealing in Japanese, as opposed to American, clothing?
I still love both. I think in this three years this sort of stuff is getting popular especially in Europe, so maybe three years ago.

How do you find your stock?
In the antique markets of Japan. There are many local ones. Lots of markets. It’s difficult to say, each area has its character, it depends what your favourite is.

Tell me about these black coats, in a basket weave cotton, what are they?
They are firemen’s coats, very thick cotton. Of course it’s a very old one, I think 1960s. Again it’s called a Sashiko, and the reason it’s very thick is that when they go to a fire, they make it wet, to protect from the fire.

And tell me about this item, it’s in cotton duck or canvas.
This is dyed with persimmon. It’s called a Sakabukuro – Sake bag – when people made Sake they put the rice into here. And the liquid comes out of the bottom. I think it’s from before the war, this custom has been lost already and people’s using machine. I reckon maybe from 1920~40s.

This indigo Sashiko, with all the wear and repairs, embodies for me the notion of Wabi Sabi, it’s so beautifully aged. Is that why you like it? And how would you explain Wabi Sabi?
Haha, yes it does. If I explain about Wabi Sabi in my words, that is one of expression of beauty and a kind of atmosphere in the air around the object or space. It connects to Zen mind or Ku. It’s very philosophical and I need more practice to express or embody it.