Camden Lock and the Market. By Caitlin Davies

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Camden Lock and the Market. By Caitlin Davies


Thu, 06/06/2013 - 13:06


Silversmith Sarah Jones at her stall. Photo: Sarah Jones
Silversmith Sarah Jones at her stall. Photo: Sarah Jones
06 June, 2013

ON a brisk spring day in March, 1974, a young silversmith named Sarah Jones, hearing that a new market was opening in Camden Town, phoned a number and asked: “Can I book a £3 stall?”

A delighted voice responded: “You’re the very first person to ask for one!” So it was that she was one of 16 people who gave birth the following Saturday to what has become the phenomenon that is the Camden Lock.

“I made £20 on the first day, selling stud earrings and rings, and I was over the moon,” she recalls in Caitlin Davies’ exhaustive and exciting history of the unique Lock market area today.

It is now known round the world, a multicultural melting pot and cradle of art, music, fashion, design and food too. It is visited by up to 100,000 people every weekend, in the past the queue for stalls sometimes starting at dawn.

That was before the punters pour in, the truly celebrated – Bob Dylan, David Bowie, Naomi Campbell, Mick Jagger, Giorgio Armani to name but a few – mingling with the bizarrely dressed and scruffy unknowns scoffing countless doughnuts round the clock.

And all, well almost all, having fun, as brilliantly exposed in the splendid photographs by Nigel Ramdial spliced among fading sepia pictures and maps from Camden Town’s historic launch in 1791 and the arrival of the Regent’s Canal in 1820.

Yet the transformation of dingy dereliction to remarkable rejuvenation, whose economic effect is enormous – though unfortunately unquantified by the Camden Council officers Caitlin persistently approached – remains something of a mystery.

“Trying to define Camden Lock is like putting your thumb on a ball of mercury,” says Will Fulford, son of one of the Lock’s entrepreneurial founders, medical student-turned-university professor Dr Bill Fulford and his chartered surveyor friend Peter Wheeler.

They created Northside Developments Ltd out of what was Dingwalls, a timber and specialist packing firm, which had collapsed from 150 staff to 15, and put to market use the huddle of yards and spaces that cuddle the site.

They became the venue for the cream of crowds in flamboyant dress seeking to showcase goods, from decorated purses to pashminas, making the market and the Lock a magnet of growing magnitude.

“Just when you think you’ve worked out what it is, it morphs into something more interesting,” adds Will. “It was built from the ground up, without subsidies or handouts, and it works on an economic and social level in equal measure.

“There is conflict, there is also resolution, friendships and marriages. It’s a very rich social space – and is there another commercial space that does all that?”

Indeed, that potential buzz that originally attracted Caitlin – at home in Kentish Town with her parents, the authors Margaret Forster and Hunter Davies – to try out a stall.

“A few years after the market started, I worked on a badge stall,” she told me. “I was around 14 and, together with my school friend Gina, we were paid 50p an hour to sell hand-painted badges in the shape of chocolate bars and crisp packets.

“We had shrunk them in the oven and attached them to safety pins. I spent most of my income at the single food stall, just one of a few rows of stalls set on a dirty cobbled yard, but already busy. We worked for a Russian man. I can’t remember how we met him, but it was exciting being on a stall and watching people.

“In my 20s and 30s I lived abroad and whenever I came home, which was usually at Christmas, I would go to the Lock because Christmas had always been my favourite time on the stall.”

Caitlin, now an established author, teacher and journalist, decided two years ago to write her heart-warming history, charting each aspect of its birth and expansion, tracking down wherever possible the original crafts people and stallholders and discovering how the Lock has shaped and influenced their lives since.

“The highlights were finally getting hold of people I’d been after for months,” she said. “They were the BodyMap founders Stevie Stewart and David Holah, and stallholders Dempsey Dunkley-Clark, who everyone told me had invented leggings.

“There were also moments, while trawling through documents, when I finally established something crucial, like the date the market actually started or when exactly the iconic Camden Town bridge sign was painted.

“I loved it when June Carroll, the owner of the Food Stall, showed me pictures of when she was an Olympic sprinter, and when the founders of Dingwalls let me see their memorabilia and reminisced about the opening night.

“It all reminded me that as a teenager the Lock played a big part in my life, both the market and Dingwalls. It was where I went at the weekends, bought secondhand clothes, listened to music, met friends.

“And judging by the fact that you can’t move on the bridge on a sunny day, the Lock is certainly still thriving.”

Camden Lock and the Market. By Caitlin Davies, Frances Lincoln, £12.99.

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Wayne’s world

FASHION designer Wayne Hemingway, co-founder of Red or Dead with his partner Geraldine, is one of those who owes his success to the Camden Lock market.

He reveals how coming to London from Lancashire, first as a punk aged 15, he was looking for secondhand clothes to sell and, urgently needing to raise £18 for their rent, he and Geraldine took a stall, then costing £6.

“We were confident we could sell the clothes because we were pretty cool kids,” recalls 52-year-old Wayne. “But we had no plans for the future.”

They made £180 that day and Wayne adds: “We were emphatically successful, we saw we could make money, and we could get the stock. There weren’t people out there looking for vintage clothes and we had the eye."


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