London, UK and Brick Lane Market

Trip Taken: 2008

There is a scene in the movie ‘Notting Hill’ where Hugh Grant’s character is walking through an outdoor market. There are stalls selling bric-a-brac, fresh vegetables, and clothing. This was my first impression of a London market. The first time I went to London was spent mostly in museums and it probably wasn’t the best idea to wander outside anyways. The rain was intermittently appearing during that trip.

It was now the year 2008 and around the same time I was in London in the year 2006. I was staying with my cousin Claire and her suitemate Regina in a small guesthouse near King’s Cross station. I wanted to visit a weekend market like the one in ‘Notting Hill’. I was thinking of Portobello market since I think that is the one from the movie. But on double-checking the opening hours, the market was closed on Sunday. That was a bummer for a few seconds. London has so many options for markets throughout the week and we just chose a different one. One market really close to us was Brick Lane market. It was open on Sunday and my cousin seemed more interested in this one, because she has been there before.

We woke up mid-morning and got ready to go. We planned to grab lunch there from a famous salted beef bagel stall there. From King’s Cross tube station we headed toward Liverpool station and walked to Brick Lane Beigel Bakery. The line was fairly long but moved at a brisk pace. I ordered my salted beef bagel for a few pounds. It’s probably not expensive by British standards but dropping two pounds is a lot for a bagel. It wasn’t particularly memorable and it reminded me of cheap Leberkäse I could buy in Stuttgart for one euro. I can say that they weren’t stingy with the beef.

Walking down Brick Lane, you could all sorts of things for sale. Cell phone chargers, scissors, combs, cheap jewelry, shirts, and almost any everyday sundry you could think of. Most of it were not souvenir worthy so we went into one of the big warehouses that were selling clothes. Inside there was the great smell of food from the corner stalls. I wished everything was cheaper just so I can sample everything. Alas, my meager wallet couldn’t have handled that. There were two items in the warehouse that really piqued my interest. One was a converted German army shirt that was deconstructed and re-tailored. Another was a white jacket with extra wide popped collar and a side zipper. The shirt was eighty pounds and the jacket was one hundred fifty pounds. I really wanted them both but that is a lot of money when converted back to American dollars. Both of them were custom made by hand from boutique clothing stores. I always think back on that jacket because it was so unique (and European) that I probably wouldn’t ever a see a similar style like that anywhere in the US.

Cursing myself for not buying either one or taking pictures of them (!!!), my cousin took to the streets and began shopping in the stores along Brick Lane. I tagged along but for the rest of the time at Brick Lane market I couldn’t find any other items as interesting as the shirt and jacket. But I’m glad I went to the market. Brick Lane market is grittier and more cluttered than the scene from ‘Notthing Hill’ but it was definitely a place to find some hidden gems. Plus, it’s great to support young entrepreneurs. Even though, I didn’t buy anything my cousin and her friend did.

If you are in London and want to go to a market, there is a great map from that points where all the big markets are, when they are open, and the tube station it’s closest to. [Map]

Parting Words

I was in Brick Lane Market on the same day the market on Camden Street caught fire. It’s fortunate that we didn’t choose that market as it was a toss up between Camden and Brick Lane. There was some hullabaloo about Amy Winehouse being sad that day. I roll my eyes at you British gossip media. ROLL!

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About the Author

John is always trying to find his way back to the road. He has an affinity for Germany due to his three years studying German at Cal, and a year working as an intern in the Stuttgart area. He also likes chocolate cake and good cheese.