2. PETTICOAT LANE MARKET

— London’s Most Famous Street Market —

Open Mon-Fri: 10AM-2:30PM; Sun: 9AM-2PM
Admission: free

 

          With over 400 years of continuous operation (English author Ben Johnson mentioned it in 1616), Petticoat Lane is probably London’s most famous street market. At one time it was primarily a clothing market stretching along Middlesex Street, which was aptly called Petticoat Lane to identify the street the lace goods sold there by Huguenot merchants. Medieval Hog’s Lane showed up on early 17th century maps as "Peticote Lane" when the clothing market first took root. In the Victorian 19th century the street’s colorful name was considered too vulgar, and was changed to Middlesex Street (after a traditional Saxon region of England, and not as a reference to gender ambiguity).

          Although best known for its very busy Sunday market centered inside a market house on Goulston Street with numerous stalls along ten narrow

Petticoat Lane Market
in the early 19th century
.

adjoining streets, the weekday (Mon.-Fri.) street market is lively and varied, if smaller (primarily 3 or 4 streets). Petticoat Lane is still best known for

 

clothing, but you will also find leather, yard goods, lace, watches, hardware,

and toys. Items are usually tagged with a price, but — with or without a price tag — haggling is commonplace along Petticoat Lane.

          Although Middlesex Street is the border between The City and the East End, the market falls into the Whitechapel section of the London Borough of Tower Hamlets. Expect to find East Enders with their heavy Cockney accents working here. Expect to find some traditional foods for sale here, too, like jellied eels and cockles—delicacies that are hard to find west of Middlesex Street. You will also find ethnic food here, especially traditional Jewish and Asian (Indian & Pakistani) foods, to serve the local populations of Jews and Asians to work and shop at Petticoat Lane.

          Petticoat Lane has a long history as a neighborhood of immigrants.

 

 In early Stuart times (early 1600’s) Spanish representatives to the Court of King James maintained their residence here at London’s newest high fashion district. When the Great (Bubonic) Plague epidemic of 1665 killed at least one-third of London’s population, and the Great Fire destroyed most of London’s buildings just one year later (1666), Petticoat Lane underwent a transformation. Within thirty years The City was rebuilt by Christopher Wren and his construction army into a sanitary, modern commercial and residential center. East London, decimated by plague, but not by fire, was no longer a fashionable "country" neighborhood, but a down-in-the-mouth district for the lower classes. From Europe came refugees from religious persecution — including many Huguenots and Jews with traditions within the weaving and clothing trades — who found cheap


 

housing and relevant employment in Whitechapel, and especially in Petticoat Lane.

          Within 100 years, Petticoat Lane had once again become a

Merchandizing is still
practiced the time-honored
way at Petticoat Lane.

fashionable clothing market for residents of The City, many of whom

 

shopped on the only day of the week they had free: Sunday. In the 19th century, Victorian mores regarded the popular Sunday market on a street named after a lady’s undergarment with more than raised eyebrows. In 1830 Petticoat Lane was renamed Middlesex Street and attempts were made to end the market’s long tradition of Sunday operation. During this time the neighborhood was dirty, dark, and dangerous, with plenty of vice and street crime. Whitechapel, which was home to Karl Marx (1849-83) and the bell foundry that produced both the Liberty Bell and Big Ben, remains best known for the mysterious 1888 slasher of prostitutes known everywhere as Jack the Ripper, known to have prowled the alleys of Petticoat Lane Market. But the market’s popularity never waned, and in 1936 Parliament acted to officially protect the market as a London institution.

 

          Evolution continues around Petticoat Lane. The City of London

 

and, especially, the East End, which took the brunt of heavy bombing by the Nazi Blitz, have undergone a renaissance since the 1980’s. Although still home to large under classes of Asians and Cockneys, East London has been discovered by well-paid young professionals who work across The Wall in the City. Docklands neighborhoods like St. Katharine’s Marina have become gentrified, and even Petticoat Lane’s old competitor market, Brick Lane, has become a fashionable residential address connecting two former rundown neighborhoods, Whitechapel and Shoreditch. Remarkably, however, and perhaps due to its parliamentary protection, The Lane (as East Enders still

Petticoat Lane today. Bargains
and quality are found there, but
be prepared to hunt for quality
goods and haggle for bargains.

call the market) remains very much the quintessential London street market which no one departs either empty-handed or hungry.

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