Market place: Brick Lane

Brick Lane is a rip-roaring monarch among markets; lawless, sprawling and splendid.

Every Sunday this huge East End jamboree takes over acres of urban wasteland. The market is best around its fraying edges where all manner of goods can be found: early Penguins, an old piano, a bottle of 1981 Royal Wedding ale. More bizarre still is the junk sold by semi- vagrants along the Bethnal Green Road: egg whisks and spectacle frames; shirt buttons, two fishing reels and a Harry Belafonte record.

The Bacon Street spivs are old now. They belong to an era when Arthur Daley was Flash Harry. But still they huddle together with fag ash and trilbies, proffering gold rings and watches: hot as the Costa del Sol.

There has been a political edge to the market since the 18th century, when trading started half a mile from the City of London to escape taxes. The extreme right wing was recently dissuaded from selling pamphlets in this Bangladeshi district. The only political collections being taken the other Sunday were by a young man playing a didgeridoo.

Shopping and entertainment are one and the same. A frozen-food seller is instructing his audience: 'Today we've got chicken Kiev and chicken cordon bleu, but we'll call them Kevin and Gordon in case you can't get your mouth round the fancy French words.'

Brick Lane devotees arrive before 6am and by 10am they are greedily spooning down jellied eels at the whelk stall on Slater Street. By 2.30pm the crowds have dispersed into pubs or curry houses. A few would-be traders remain, cramming discarded clothing and broken hairdryers into shopping baskets. They'll be back to sell them next week.

Brick Lane, London E1, Sun 6am-1pm

Comments