I took a trip to London recently, and visited Borough Market, which is situated about five minutes or so from London Bridge Railway Station. It is on the South Bank of the River Thames, adjacent to Southwark Cathedral, and in the shade of The Shard. There has been a market here in Southwark for hundreds of years, and Borough High Street was an obvious place for people to sell their wares to travellers passing to and from London. In those days, London Bridge was the only way from the southern ports and towns, into the City of London (which is on the north bank of the Thames), including travellers to Canterbury which became a popular place of pilgrimage after the murder of Thomas Becket in 1170. In 1406, Southwark came under the jurisdiction of London, but in 1550 King Edward VI sold Southwark to the City of London. Southwark became a busy commercial district, and the market thrived, often the stalls and livestock would spill so far across the street that it became almost impassable. Finally, in 1756 because of the congestion and chaos, to the chagrin of the market traders, the market was closed. So the residents of Southwark bought land to the west of the main road which was known as the Triangle, including Three Crown Court, and the market was moved to its present position. As London expanded, the population increased and the demand for food sky-rocketed. Add to that the arrival of the railway, and the easily accessible links to fresh produce from the countryside, and the market was set to flourish! In the mid 1930’s there were 188 wholesale company stands in the central covered area, and a further 203 uncovered farmers stands in the open. When the huge New Covent Garden Market in Vauxhall was opened in the 1970’s, and with people shopping more and more in supermarkets, Borough Market began to decline. However, with a revived interest now in ethnic cookery and artisan foods, Borough Market is thriving again – stands currently in Borough Market include Neal’s Yard, Brindisa and New Forest Cider.
I spent a couple of hours with my friends, happily wandering through the market, soaking up the sights and sounds, and being plied with tantalizing samples in the hope of a sale. Smells of cooking bacon and spit-roast, sizzling stir-frys, and enticing spices wafted around on the breeze, while trains rumbled noisily overhead on a viaduct carrying train-lines between London Bridge, Charing Cross and Cannon Street. Despite being a weekday, everything everywhere was hustle and bustle as we made our way between the stands, stopping to sample tit-bits, and chat with traders on their favourite subject – the food they’re selling.
I was tempted to stop at the Alsop & Walker stand – they claim they are ‘Artists In Cheesemaking’, and after sampling their Lord London Cheese, I would agree. It is a semi-soft very creamy cheese, with a powdery skin, and sold in the unusual shape of a bell. I bought a quarter piece and thoroughly recommend it.
There were stands selling seafood with live crayfish sporting forks! (Spot the forks!) There were stands selling olives, herbed salts, oils, oriental spices, herbs, honey, meat, muesli and cereals, breads and rolls and sweetmeats of every description and every ethnic base; you name it and in Borough Market, somebody probably sells it!
I don’t think it’ll be long before I visit Borough Market again!