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.


Stocking up….

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Sorry, we won’t be updating Market People for the next couple of weeks, as we’re out and about.

Please visit Greenwich Market in particular – LOCOG volunteers, in their haste to move the crowds around quickly without bottlenecks, were directing them away from the Market this weekend; finally, they’ve announced they’re removing the barriers that separate the people from the town.  The stalls and shops are generally quiet – you’ll definitely have space to browse and chill out.

Ray Beckett, Prince of Prints

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“He was writing to another hangman and saying, ‘I hope trade’s brisk’!”

Ray Beckett takes the long view. I’d spent maybe a year or two looking over his selection of Georgian and Maritime prints, every week or so, before he asked if I was going to buy one. Now a beautiful print of Sweet William’s Farewell to Black Eyed Susan hangs on the wall of my work room. I admire his patience, and his skill at sourcing his stock. Prints have always been a key part of Greenwich market, but in recent years the quality has gone down, with more modern reproductions, and mundane, mass-produced Victorian prints. Ray’s stall has brought us back to those halcyon days, when you’re never quite sure what you’ll find – but know there’ll be something interesting.

I’ve always liked your selection of prints and paintings, and I know you’ve got a fair collection at home. So how many paintings do you have in your house?
Not that many that are framed… there a couple of really nice watercolours I bought about 35 years ago, Art Deco ones.  But I have got a lot of unframed pictures around, I tell you, you wouldn’t believe how many.

And is your loft crammed with pictures and prints?
It is. I’ve got a lot of stuff but then I’ve been buying a long time, I bought these drawings of Wind In The Willows you can see here, but they came with a lot of other items. I’ve been buying and selling for so long – I’m forever buying, that’s the thing, and it’s the new stuff that sells most quickly.

When did you start out in Antiques?
That would have been 1975 – my circuit was Rochester Market and Maidstone, I started off in Maidstone casual, and just travelled around really. I  was dealing in general antiques and then just specialised in prints – I actually prefer them, it’s what I like really. You stick to what you know, don’t you? I’ve been in Greenwich for three years now.

Are you looking forward to the Olympics?
No I’m not. I don’t think it’s going to be very good for Greenwich. Are people going to come here? You’ve got road closures already. I came here when they had the dummy run and the town was deserted. The restaurants were empty. My eldest grandson, I take him to Goodwood every year, to the Festival of Speed – you go and spend the whole day in there and when it’s over you just want to get away, don’t you?

You always have interesting captions on your prints, there’s often a story attached to them.
Yes, they have, and it’s interesting to do the research on them… specially the maps and the earlier prints. I’ve just sold a nice fishing print, I think it was 1686, very early fishing print, and I’ve sold one from the same period, on horology. They’re interesting, things you don’t see every day.

You’ve been researching prints for a long time, how would you do it before Google?
I would go into the library and dig all the books out, specially for prints and drawings, you’d have to go through all the Royal Academy books, and see who exhibited where. It’s made it a lot easier since you got the Web – but it’s not always true, is it? Google isn’t really proper research if we’re being honest. But I like to research, it’s part of the enjoyment.

What’s one of the most intriguing items you’ve found and researched?
It was in a box of memorabilia with other bits of pieces. It was a package with a homemade cover, made of plain paper with type on it, and documents inside, little pamphlets really.  And they were signed Harry Houdini. One was the inaugural service in a Hebrew temple. The other was the inaugural wedding at the same Temple. And they were officiated by his father, Samuel Meyer Weisz in 1880 or so. He would have only been four at the time. They had to be family documents, because his father wasn’t well known… and he’d signed both of them Harry Houdini.  And I ended up selling them to the Houdini Historical Society in Appleton Wisconsin.

It’s part of the business, but the research is part of the fun, too, isn’t it?
Yes, it is part of the fun. I like old documents. I bought one a little while ago, it was by a guy called James Ellis. He was the official hang man. This was 1920. And he was writing to another hangman, and he wrote, “I hope trade’s brisk with you!”  Hahaha. And it said where he was going, that he’d be in Strangeways on Tuesday, and because the letter was dated I checked it up and it turned out he was on his way to hang a guy who’d murdered his sister-in-law on Christmas day. He threw himself in the river, the guy, they dragged him out… and then in the end, my man hanged him!

You mentioned how Harry Houdini kept archives, did research on escapologists, and would buy these items, because he wanted to put them back in the right place?
Yes, Houdini used to find memorabilia from the old magicians, put it back together in libraries or archives. Put it in its home. And that’s what I’m doing.

Ray Beckett is at Greenwich Covered Market, Thursdays. His prints may also be viewed at

Bobby Bell, the Early Bird

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“Every item’s got its own story to tell”


This story, on a man who’s been involved in the hubbub of markets for half a century or more, is dedicated to The Government Inspector. For it’s one of the outrages of our time that the markets of London, which have been the beating heart of the capital for centuries, have no value in the eyes of those who oversee planning in our city.

Just over two years ago, this writer spent several days speaking at and listening to a public enquiry on the future of Greenwich Covered Market. Its owners, Greenwich Hospital Estates, planned to rip up the cobbles of the market, tear out the Edwardian roof, and create an al fresco dining area for a  “boutique” hotel within a new, tarted-up market. The enquiry, presided over by Mr Philip Asquith, a courteous, civilised Government Inspector based in Bristol, resulted in the saving of the floor and roof. But a market is more than architectural items – it is a leaving, breathing entity which, removed from its location for several years, is unlikely to survive. Mr Asquith had sympathy for some Georgian or Edwardian fittings but otherwise was content to see his fellow civil servants from GHE change this space from a vibrant, bustling area, to a polite adjunct to a hotel. To be fair, he was encouraged in this emasculation of Greenwich by the Borough’s MP (who, coincidentally, draws a £80K income from the building industry).  Occasionally, I try to tell myself that we at least saved the space itself, and that the market will survive its redevelopment – which could start towards the end of this year. But Bobby Bell, a well-loved figure in Greenwich, knows markets better than I do.

You’re an old Greenwich hand, but whereabouts did you grow up?
I grew up in Elephant and Castle and then my father bought a house in New Cross. Then when I got married I moved here, Greenwich, in 1964, 65.

And you started going to markets with your dad?
Yes, I’d go to Cutler Street Market in Shoreditch with my dad to buy gold and sovereigns. I can remember sovereigns being two pounds two and sixpence – he used to sell them, he was a dealer, and I used to get the two shillings and sixpence, which was half a crown, 12 and a half pence. He would deal in gold, coins, all that sort of thing.

You were at Brick Lane in the glory days, when it all started before dawn?
Oh yes – I’d started at Bermondsey, then Brick Lane about 35 years ago. It was wonderful. Treasures to be found. I’ve had stalls for the last 35 years. Although I’m retired basically, I still do the markets. It’s in your blood. No, you don’t earn fortunes but you grow to love everything about it, the clientele, the objects, the people. I still remember young Danny and old Danny, this whole family who would do Brick Lane; sometimes I’d be go out at three in the morning and I’d see the convoy of three or four Lutons going over Tower Bridge, they were all following Sue. When I’d get over there they they’d have this whole little stairway, and cul de sac, six pitches, that was all the uncles, the whole family. They were totters really. And when I used to go over to their house in Mitcham they’d have everything sorted, metal, rubbish, all the stuff for Brick Lane.

Tell me about your best Brick Lane find.
I’ve always done architectural items, architectural salvage. And I bought a marble bust and two fireplaces at Brick Lane for a song at three o’clock in the morning. And I sold them to a French guy who specialised in fireplaces in Shepherds Bush, called Gervaise. He used to go down Brick Lane too, but he missed them – I was the early bird. I think I gave £200. And I sold him the two fire surrounds – chimney pieces – for a thousand. But he didn’t realise I had the inserts as well, and that they were part of the deal. Then when he come over he said, How much are those two inserts?  I said, ‘a thousand’. So that was a nice profit. But it’s not just about money, it’s about lots of different things.

Because we buy things that people don’t want. And we sell them to people that do want them. Because one man’s rubbish is another man’s treasure. I’ve bought lots of Georgian stuff and people haven’t realised it’s Georgian, or any period, they’re not interested in when it’s from. But there’s the patina, the beauty, the years of wear. Every item’s got a story of its own to tell

We’re lucky to live in London, aren’t we, where these objects have those stories attached?
They’ve all got their own stories. I used to clear this block in Victoria where the caretaker, if anyone passed away, he’d clear out the flats. And I used to get so emotional walking into  the flats that I would turn around and wouldn’t do it. Because I couldn’t throw anything away that’s someone’s history. That’s why I won’t buy photographs. I’ve still got a little leather shoe I found, Victorian. It’s useless to anyone but I can’t throw it out. I found it in a drawer. It’s a story – an absolutely beautiful little girl’s leather shoe, a girl about four, it’s wonderful and I couldn’t part with it.

How do you feel about the future of Greenwich Covered market?
It’s terrible, very, very sad. People used to come to Greenwich from all over. In the same way I would go to Camden, being a trader, I would go over to buy – and over the course of the years you meet a lot of people and it’s lovely. Whether it’s any fair up North or vice versa, we’d all become friends. I’d go to Brighton, and the Brightonentonians, we’d call them, they would have a dining table [at the market] with a candelabra, they’d be sitting around it, 11 or 12 of them, having a four course meal. It’s very sad to lose that – that’s why I’d encourage any new market that starts. There’s one at Lee Green starting, in a nice location, and I would encourage it.

What do you feel about the people who own this site, who wanted to get rid of the roof, the floor, put in a hotel, and move the traders out for two years?
They’ll ruin it. Any length of time a market closes or moves it will suffer. It will kill it  stone dead. Same as Covent Garden, that’s died off ’cause they put permanent stalls there.

It’s terrible that the Hospital people who are the curators of all this, or the Inspectors who make decisions on its future, or our MP, none of them seem to live here, or care about it.
That is it! Lots of boroughs are like that too, you have people in the council in Bexley, say,  and they don’t live in Bexley – if they did, they would take more pride in the area. To lose some of these places is a crime. If you think about Bermondsey, which was a trading centre where foreigners all over the world would come and buy: there were warehouses full of antiquities, collectables. The warehouses were worth more money [as housing] and they sold them. But it was the centre of antiquity in London. So we lost more than anyone gained.

Do markets die forever, or is change part of it all?
To be honest: they will die forever. I would love to turn round and say no . And to think of the people who created this as a market many years ago – it’s our inheritance we’re getting rid of. Which is sad.

Tell me about the item you’re holding.
It’s Italian, a Wheatsheaf chandelier, from the 1950s, they’re very in vogue in London at the moment, and they’re producing them again, But this is one of the old ones. Starburst mirrors, the clocks, all the ’50s stuff, it will all be repeated. Like there are people before me did this, and there will be people after me. But, like I said, Bermondsey was one of the centres of the world, and we’ve lost it – and when these things are gone, they’re gone.


Bobby Bell is at Greenwich Covered Market, Thursdays. You can also find him most days at All Our Yesterdays, 99 Blackheath Road, Greenwich SE10.

Alex McHattie, Foul Weather Friend

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“When the rain’s coming in horizontally and you’re clinging on to your stall… it bonds people!”


Whether market traders count as heroic or deluded, Alex counts as the most heroic or deluded of all of them. He’s run a book stall at the Greenwich Clock Tower market for over three decades – and when the weather’s grim, he’s the one you can count on to turn up. Many times I’ve seen him, with just two or three other intrepid souls, standing behind the stall while the rain buckets down, and visitors are nowhere to be seen. In the past few years, after the adjacent Stockwell Street market closed and fewer visitors come to check out the markets in Greenwich, I suspect trade has got quieter – but as long as Alex is here, like the ravens in the Tower, our market is surely safe.

Book traders are often a lugubrious bunch who, should you ask if they want to buy any of your surplus volumes, sigh and launch into a tirade against the internet, charity shops, and other banes of their life. Not Alex. Rain or shine, feast or famine, he grits his teeth and carries on. We salute him.

You are the man who has been here the longest, is at this market winter or summer, rain or shine. So.. what explains your incredible and irrational commitment?
Desperation and madness really. No… I run the market on Saturdays so that’s why I’m always here. I don’t seem to earn much money, these days off the stall – but what else would I do? I’ve been here since 1978 on and off, and it’s evolved into me running the market for Jane, who’s the manager now. And that’s why I’m here all the time.

How did you start?
I was on the dole, living in a squat in Deptford, running around Greenwich, I would take a bag full of stuff down there and sell it, that’s what started it. I was desperate then, I’m desperate now!

So you started before this area had the hotel and cinema?
Yes – before it was developed it was a lot bigger, five or six times the size of this. That was before boot sales had really taken off so most people who were going to sell stuff would come to Greenwich, it was a much bigger draw. The same as everywhere, Greenwich has been tarted up and the market has been confined. There’s no room for expansion any more. The people who would have come here years ago go to boot sales. But that’s the way of the world, isn’t it?

What are some of your great discoveries?
The best ever sale.. was a first edition of Treasure Island which I bought for 50p, from a junky charity shop in Bermondsey. And I almost didn’t buy it because it was tatty, I thought it can’t possibly be a 1st edition. But it was. And I sold that for, I think, twelve hundred pounds. I think that’s the best ever sale. And 50s and 60s textiles, I’ve done really well with them over the years. And a few good books in between two, three four hundred pounds. But generally, I’ve never made that leap into the higher end, I’m content to tip my stuff out and see what happens!

What’s the attraction of a stall? There must be a magic that draws you back?
It’s so good. There are good people on the market, it’s always fun. Well, most of the time. Rain or shine it’s good. There’s always a chance you’re going to take some money. And it’s not nine to five.

How do you feel about the future in Greenwich, particularly with what’s happening in the covered market?
I think the covered market is going to vanish, to be honest. Once that’s redeveloped there won’t be much of a market there. This one is safe, but the council might discover it  in the end and put an office block in. And that would be the end.

It would also be the end of Greenwich as a place with a particular vibe.
I think so. And there’s not a lot of that vibe left these days. Since the [Stockwell Street] market shut a lot of people have said it’s not worth going to Greenwich just for this market, it’s too small. When the other one was there you could have a good root through, and a lot of people have gone and won’t come back. We’ll see. But at the moment it’s alright. It’s full up. And the sun is shining.

Now, this Sunday, the one with all the snow. Where were you all?
Ha, sorry, Jane the manager called up and told me it was cancelled because it was too awkward for people to get there. You’ll have to change my copy now!

One week out of 52… I think you still keep your title. It’s hard work with a stall, you’ve got to be a self-starter, a hard worker, maybe a bit heroic, and maybe a bit irrational – or deluded?
You’re right. Probably, yes. Especially in the really bad weather, when it’s really windy and rainy and you get trapped and you just can’t go. And the rain’s coming in horizontally and you’re hanging on to your stall to stop it from blowing over. That feels heroic. It sounds crazy. but it bonds people in a way. A day like that, you’ve done it, and you’ve got through it, it’s terrible for business but you have a good laugh and everyone seems to enjoy it, even if you and your stock are soaking wet. You couldn’t get that in a shop!

Alex is at Greenwich Clock Street market, by the cinema, Saturdays and Sundays, whatever the weather.

“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.

“It will be a constant fight – I think there will be a turnaround where people realise the markets maketh the area.”

In the years we’ve seen Paul Francis around Greenwich, Spitalfields or Dulwich, we’ve never seen him wear  the same outfit twice. His stall is a treasure trove: tweed plus fours, Northampton-made brogues, fine jackets, army officer boots, thick woolen socks, Mackintoshes, Tootal paisley scarves – purposefully so, for often if he has a special item of stock, he’ll hide the gem away, so the customer can experience that joy of discovery that drives us all. His aesthetic is obvious, but hard to define – but his stall is always a joy, an oasis of 1940s England, reinvented for the modern city.

How would you describe your stock?
One of the names I use is Urban Shepherd. That’s it in a nutshell. Countrywear, things made elsewhere, being worn in in London. Some people would call it boring, I call it well-crafted traditional clothing made to be colourful and interesting, with a twist.

How did you get into your Urban Shepherd Look?
The best things that have happened to me have always happened by accident. I’ve bought vintage clothing for a number of years, then spent 12 years in property, at that time always bought new stuff. None of that new stuff lasted, but all the stuff I brought previous to that lasted. In 1996-1997 I designed clothes, first bought vintage stuff and got it remodelled, then from that I did a menswear range called Abdul Jamal, using traditional fabrics, again with a bit of a twist and a bit of color, then bit by bit I got into what I do now, so I’ve been doing stalls for maybe two years.

How do you track down your stock?
The kind of things I find and look out for I’m seeing every day, whether it be charity shops, boot sales, ragyards, and also people bringing me stuff who have an idea what I want, people seem to know my style, and there are people who buy for me, so it’s a combination.

What’s your finest recent discovery?
Just now, I found a jacket in a bunch of stuff at a ragyard. I didn’t even look at it, I felt the weight of it, and I thought… throw it in there. Normally I would try everything on, and I didn’t this time because I knew intrinsically it was something nice. Then discovering it, looking at all the zips and the rest of it, it didn’t have any label but I thought I’ve seen that lining, it looks familiar. And it was a Belstaff, a wonderful jacket, maybe from the 50s.

We’re in Greenwich, where one market has gone and the second one is under threat. How do you see the future of markets in London?
We’re going to have to fight. It will be a constant fight from here on in, and I think there will be a turnaround where people realise the markets maketh the area, as opposed to if we take the market away that’ll improve the area. The market is the lifeblood of the area. All the places people want to live, they’ve all had markets in. It’s crazy how they want to take it away, but I think there’s a fight back. It will turn around but I don’t know when.

Why the shoe horn?
I like things to be able to more than one thing. It’s useful, you can put beautiful, well-made shoes on with it. And it’s a piece of furniture.

Paul Francis is on Camden Passage Wednesdays, Spitalfields Thursday, Greenwich Clock Market, most Saturdays and Sundays, and Dulwich Village Fashion Fair, last Sunday of every month.