“The last of the Victorians were dying, so the house clearances were wonderful. There was so much gear about.”

 

Peter is “wanted in too many places” to give his surname, but if he’s supposed to be in hiding, he’s going the wrong way about it. You have to walk all the way down Deptford High Street and towards the Albany Centre to find his stall, but the easiest way is just to follow the noise of his high volume repartee and jokes with passers-by. And if this section is the epitome of a street market, then Peter’s is the epitome of a street stall; stuff packed high with all the important staples: old sewing machines, chunky wooden hi fi speakers, battered violin cases and those tempting, enthralling boxes of memorabilia,  letters and photos of people long forgotten. Peter, on the other hand, sets out to make sure he won’t be forgotten.

How long have you run a market stall?
Twenty six years. It’s incredible how much has changed here. At one time this was a real  street market, then they knocked all the beautiful Victorian houses down and put us in the  square, over there. Now they’ve moved us to here, because they’re redeveloping…  but we want to stay here, it’s like the old street market, lovely. Deptford Market is one of the last old fashioned street markets. Now they’ve planted all these trees in to try and make a pigs ear into a silk purse. Which you can’t do. It’s a shame… I’m really probably the last generation going to do this for a living. I’ve got a couple years left but invariably we die in harness in this job.

How did you come to run a stall?
I was a surveyor. Do you remember East Street? These were all wartime demolition pitches, and over the years people fly pitched and put little corrugated fences up. And I was literally helping somebody with a jumble sale, took a few bits home, went and fly-pitched in East street… I’d been earning £15 a week as a surveyor and earnt my wages in three hours. Then I gradually went from Sunday, buying the gear, then I took the great big step in 75, with a mortgage, of doing this full time.This stuff you see here I wouldn’t have touched wiht a bargepole 35 years ago ‘cos there was so much stuff around. The last of the Victorians were dying so the house clearances were wonderful. There was so much gear about. If I’d have walked into a house then and seen what I have now I’d have walked away, said “this is a load of rubbish.” But unfortunately that generation’s gone.

Many market traders are showmen – and you seem to be one of those. Correct?
I march about, I wear funny hats, I shout and scream. When I first started out I was working with the Jewish guys; they told me, You make a noise, you shout and scream, people are inquisitive – it’s like a car-crash, everyone stops to look, they go, What ‘s going on there? And a percentage of them will buy.

Do you think you have to be eccentric or mad to run a stall?
Yes. Mad. Absolutely bonkers. The pressure involved, buying all this, loading and unloading before you can get away, the bad weather, it’s got to be a vocation rather than a living.

Do you feel… do you enjoy the resonance of the objects that pass through your hands?
No. Let me assure you, there is no intrinsic value to any of this! When you do this seven days a week all it is is… product. Like if you were stamping the lion on eggs a million times a day, you don’t care where they’re going. This kind of volume, it’s in and out.

What has been your finest discovery, the best bit of treasure you’ve ever come across?
This must be 25 years ago, I bought 20,000 used share certificates. All done up in brown paper with the string and the wax, in a solicitor’s basement, 20,000 of them, maybe more, all in little bundles. On the front it said 1911 shares, value $100, and on there was a great big American engine with a cowpusher, going across a bridge, over a river, the Rio Grande, right. A beautiful engraving. So I takes them out, takes them to East Street, and I started selling them for 10 pence. Then the next week we have a queue of people so we put the price up to 15 pence. They were buying a hundred at a time.

In the end, I was selling them for £1.75 each. Now, most had gone at the lower level, so I only sold about 6,000 at £1.75. And I sold them to a German guy, and they are now at Millers Antique Book at £15 each in the frame. And the joke is – I must have left 6,000 on the floor, in broken bundles. And I couldn’t be bothered to pick them up.
Peter is at Deptford Market, most often on Wednesdays.