diamond geezer

 Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Random borough 8: Hackney (part 3)

Somewhere retail: Broadway Market
For several centuries Broadway Market was a thriving street market on an ancient road through the heart of Hackney. But that was several decades ago, before the inexorable advance of supermarkets and convenience stores, and gradually the old market slipped into decline. What hope was there for a rundown canalside shopping street in one of the poorest parts of town? But back in 2004 the council established a Farmers Market here every Saturday and, what do you know, suddenly the shoppers are flocking back. They're enticed by 120 stalls selling everything an Observer reader might want to store in their larder or wardrobe, from locally sourced foodstuffs to hand-crafted jewellery. If it's organic or at the very least home-made, somebody will be attempting to sell it. There's a stall selling multi-coloured chunky knitwear (of the kind being worn by several of the eco-friendly shoppers). There's a stall selling solely mushrooms (proper big ones for cooking, not the wacky fungi the local students ingest). There's a stall selling bread (or at least something dough-like with herbal bits in it). There are stalls selling proper crusty cheese with veins, and unprocessed meat, and speckled free range eggs, and even bottles of olive oil to stir-fry the whole lot in. Personally I couldn't resist a Northfield Farm burger made from succulent Rutland beef, far tastier than a Big Mac and competitively priced too. There's no doubt about it, this market has been completely reborn.

But with rebirth comes fresh problems. Broadway Market is on the up, and property down the street is getting just a bit too desirable. Everything's come to a head over Francesca's Cafe at number 34, a traditional greasy spoon which the new leaseholder suddenly wants to turn into luxury flats and an arts centre. There's more money in yuppie rent than Tony's cooked breakfasts, and nouveaux residents aren't going to want fry-ups when there's falafel and fromage frais to be had instead. Just before Christmas 'evil' new owner Dr Wratten sent the bailiffs in, only for the Health and Safety executive to intervene and halt the demolition partway. On Boxing Day Tony's supporters broke back in and reclaimed the cafe, making a stand for the old Broadway Market, the way it ought to be. And on Saturday they were still squatting in there, behind a barred door which opened only to a secret knock. The front of the cafe was plastered with banners, posters, and messages of support, and there was even a TV camera outside taking an interest in this heartfelt campaign. Next up for eviction is the Nutritious Food Galley at number 71, where long-term proprietor Spirit is lined up to be the next sacrifice on the property developer's altar. If the council don't see sense soon, this gentrified locale risks losing all the character (and characters) that made the street special in the first place. Read the full story here and here (with update here), and join the campaign against rampant commercialisation here. Go for it, Tony!
by train: London Fields  by bus: 236, 394

Somewhere round and about: In search of the real Hackney, I followed this 3¾ mile walk round the Mare Street area. The route followed backstreets as well as main roads, and was a great way to see the many architectural and social layers lurking beneath the urban surface. Here are just four of the highlights...
Hackney Empire: Opened in 1901, the boards of this fine old music hall were once trodden by Charlie Chaplin, Stan Laurel and Marie Lloyd (she lived just round the corner in Graham Road). Broadcasters ATV took over for a while in the 50s, closely followed by Mecca Bingo, until a long period of restoration culminated with a major relaunch in 2004. And today the building is as eye-catching as the repertoire. It's good to have the place back.
Hackney Museum: Who'd have thought that Hackney had a half-decent museum? It's nothing big, just a ground floor gallery in the new Hackney Technology Learning Centre (beside the Town Hall), but it's extremely well done. The theme is immigration, given that the great majority of the borough's residents have their roots elsewhere, but the displays inform and entertain rather than preach. Who'd have thought?
Sutton House: The National Trust owns surprisingly few properties in London, but one of these is this old Tudor building in Homerton High Street - the oldest surviving house in East London. It's closed to the public until mid-January, but last year BW and I flashed our NT membership cards to take a tour of the ricketty staircases and lopsided oak-panelled rooms. We explored the old cellars and the Elizabethan kitchen, avoided the cafe, and guffawed at a completely barking local arts project. Not bad, but I don't think Blenheim has anything to worry about.
Burberry Factory Store: I wonder how many toffs and chavs realise that their favourite beige plaid is manufactured in distinctly downmarket Hackney. I was flabbergasted to stumble upon the Burberry Factory Store down a sidestreet in E9, so I forced myself inside to see if there were any bargains to be had. And there were, but only if you had no taste. The shop stretched on for what seemed like miles, with rack upon rack of scary garments and accessories. Five quid for a stripy hanky, rather more than that for a brown bathrobe, and a scary amount for a tacky tan golf bag. There were tweed jackets, and sensible shirts, and corduroy trousers in bright shades I can best describe as cider orange and Slush Puppy blue. Not for me thanks but, if flowery plastic clutch bags are your thing, get down here quick.
by train: Hackney Central

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