Brick Lane Market is strange. It’s strange in that it is so large and sprawling, conjoining with other markets as you walk through it, that the essence of it feels confused. Starting off just outside Shoreditch High Street station, you might as well be in Lewisham, Deptford or other less tourist-laden locations. Once you pass the token fruit and veg in a bowl stall, you get to the nitty gritty of it – old VHS tapes, CDs of bands once huge on Top Of The Pops and now long forgotten, Royalist bric-a-brac, religious kitsch, fake Beats headphones and rows of (presumably) stolen bicycles.
Sellers all seem like oldtimers – some of them trying to be the loudest in the crowd, telling you why you need to buy what they have to sell right this moment, some take a more relaxed stance, ready to jump in the moment someone makes them an offer. There’s a distinct smell of weed in the air, and between the mountains of tat and the mix of regulars and tourists, this isn’t a market you can simply rush through. Oddly, the tourists seem out of place – even though we’re in Shoreditch, London guidebook central, the first part of the market feels like something that is there for the locals, for regular bargain-hunters. Two girls from Germany are ooh-ing and aah-ing over a Dorothy Perkins cardigan, while a young boy from France can’t believe his luck at finding extremely cheap Apple (“Apple”) headphones. You can’t help but feel, however, that with enough patience, you could definitely spot some gems. The clothes stalls and trinket-laden tables in particular are worthy of the best rummages around.
The market consists of a hell-of-a-lot of stalls – around 1,000 – and a number of streets, too. There are also a number of distinct markets within the The Truman Markets, which occupy the Old Truman Brewery. Food stalls encompassing all the fads you can think of line the northern part of Brick Lane, from juice bars to poutine.
Once you walk a bit further down towards Brick Lane, though, the market evolves, and instantly, the tourists make sense. You’ve got the long queues outside the two bagel shops, you’ve got I Heart London t-shirts, and iced coffee for a bargainous £4. A group of Welsh tourists is discussing where Alan Sugar’s stall might have stood; he started off his career on one of the street corners. There certainly are still corners worth perusing – a stand with some old cameras looks interesting, as does a vintage cloth stall with a severely underpriced Jaeger two-piece – but this feels newer, and less authentic.
If you walk down past the rows of coffee and tattoo shops, you reach a small island of what presumably the market used to be like – sellers speak to everyone passing by, selling items where no two are the same, and ensuring everyone that what you see is all they have. Though the buildings surrounding you are old brick houses, you only need to raise your eyesight slightly to spot the many towering new builds all around Shoreditch; an odd juxtaposition to your immediate surroundings.