‘She’s always here soon after 6.30 [a.m.],’ says Bertie of one customer, ‘to buy her own breakfast. And it’s always the same thing she wants, “One-pound-of-streaky-and-five-sausages.”‘ ‘Here’ is Brixton Street Market, in Mary Benedetta’s 1936 book Street Markets of London (London: John Miles Ltd). Benedetta’s book covers over 30 street markets in Lambeth and beyond, her text linking over 60 live-action, unposed photographs shot by Laszlo Moholy-Nagy on a small, hidden Leica.
‘Bertie’ is a stallholder whose bacon stall charges 8d (3.5p) a pound for streaky, reducing the price throughout the day. Towards evening and after his 6.30 a.m. start, Bertie stands on a box and auctions any bacon that’s left.
‘It’s always the same with ’em,’ Bertie says of his big-breakfasting customer, ‘—the fat ones are always the ones who ask for fat bacon.’
Life is ‘very jolly’ in Brixton Street Market, according to Benedetta, who was a screenwriter.’. It’s mainly a food market, and the food is ‘fresh, clean, and very good value’. The stallholders are ‘nearly all cheerful and obliging’ as well as ‘highly entertaining’.
The most entertaining stall? Mr Edmunds’, where he demonstrates the many uses of his sixpenny (5p) glasscutters. To break into a house more quickly, quietly and safely is one.
Another Brixton Street Market plus is that it is so easy to reach from Mayfair. ‘Brixton, to some people, may sound like the back of beyond, but a No. 2 bus that passes through Park Lane and Hyde Park [….] goes close.’
Mind you, it’s worth the trip just for the knickers:
‘To come down to distressingly feminine details […] you can get knickers at a starting price of a shilling (5p) a pair.’
Like the bacon, they come down in price, and they’re ‘the artificial silk knickers with elastic that you buy at the draper’s for 3s. 11d. [47p] and 4s.11d. [59p].’
Fish, another bargain, will be wrapped not in greaseproof paper but The South London Press, but the reduction in price ‘is well worth putting up with a little newsprint flavour.’
As for Brixton Market’s customers, mostly housewives, directly they set foot in the market, they don an expression that says ‘you-can’t-put-one-over-on-me.’ They gossip little and ‘are almost terrifyingly efficient over their buying and choosing.’ Benedetta also slogs around Battersea, Lambeth Walk, Lower Marsh, New Cut and Wilcox Road street markets but none of them was a patch on Brixton for knickers for ladies who put away a pound of bacon and five bangers for breakfast.
Photos by kind permission of the Hattula Moholy-Nagy and the Moholy-Nagy Foundation, Inc.
Our thanks to Vauxhall author Michael Leapman for alerting Vauxhallhistory.org to Street Markets of London.