London markets — History and benefits

Alex Gibson
Jun 5 · 7 min read

In the beginning

‘Market towns’ and ‘market spaces’ are an ancient concept, which have existed in the UK since the Roman invasion. The Roman London’s forum, which traded roughly on the site of today’s Leadenhall Market, was Europe’s largest marketplace and the Roman stronghold of Colchester in Essex is England’s oldest recorded market town. After the Norman invasion of 1066 to 1516, markets became a royal franchise as monarchs distributed Royal Charters for markets and fairs, which were an indispensable route to trade for agricultural societies.

Markets have continually shaped communities and determined our geography. In the Georgian era, areas such as Camberwell, Peckham, Fulham and Brixton developed first as market gardens growing vegetables for markets in the City and Westminster. East Street and Portobello were hubs of diversity, servicing a growing immigrant community and Old Spitalfields market presented a safe space for enterprising minorities such as the Huguenots 1670–1710 and Polish and Hungarian Jews 1880s — 1970s.

Spitalfield’s market, 19th Century

Variety and contribution

Today there are an estimated 1300 retail markets in the UK, which turnover around £5.75 billion, 280 of which are based in the capital. The rise of specialty markets such as vintage, street food and farmers markets have contributed greatly to London’s economy; street foods’ value added contribution to the local economy alone is a staggering £247.6 million. London’s 5 wholesale markets — New Covent Garden, Billingsgate, Smithfield, New Spitalfields and Western International are also responsible for 30% of all fresh food entering the capital (a combined 1.7 million tonnes!) and support 450 SMEs.

Benefits to the local economy

London markets play a vital role in both maintaining a healthy local economy and providing employment opportunities. In addition they hold great ‘social value’ and support public health, regeneration and social cohesion. They help boost footfall in town centres by 25% and can increase trade in other neighbouring retail outlets by 55%-71%. In fact, Queen’s market generated £13m for the local economy and supported twice as many jobs per square metre than the local supermarket!

Markets provide higher living standards for locals allowing them access to fresh produce at affordable prices and vibrant spaces for all ages, cultures and backgrounds to mix. Due to their low operating costs and availability of stalls, markets have been incubators of enterprising ideas. Household name brands Superdry, Monsoon, Tesco and Marks and Spencer started out life as market stalls before expanding into publicly funded companies. A lifeline for under skilled workers, stalls can also give employment opportunities for the long term unemployed and those who have difficulty pursuing other employment routes such as disability groups and ex-offenders. Team Marketti would like to introduce you to five diverse markets in all corners of the capital, that epitomise the close relationship between local communities, economies and markets.

5 Key markets

North — Enfield Market

Enfield Market was granted a charter in 1303 and is held in trust by The Old Enfield Charitable Trust for the benefit of locals; one of only three in the country run by such an organisation. Community and charity focused, the trust administers £250K of grants to Parish residents to help with living expenses, access to education and community projects in line with the Trusts’ interests in Children, Education, Health, Environment and Active Lifestyles.

Once a struggling market running at 45% occupancy, the market underwent an extensive regeneration project in 2015 and re opened with an impressive 80 seater all weather food court, free wi-fi, new stalls and an all year round roster of family events. The Trust aims to make the market a welcoming and inclusive space for traders and shoppers alike, embrace sustainable packaging and support local jobs while using the market as a space for education for which they won Best Large Community Market at the 2017 Great British Market Awards

South — Venn Street Market

Venn Street Market is a local community food market that works directly with farmers and small independent producers. Pedestrianised by Lambeth Council in 2012 as part of a wider public realm project designed to deliver safe and social spaces with pedestrian and cycling priorities, the street market is a must for customers who want seasonal, locally sourced high quality produce. It offers the opportunity to build relationships with growers and makers of the fresh foods available each week. Venn Street market is also home to a curated showcase of vegan street food founded by key vegan influencer Sean O’Callaghan.

Venn Street market

East — Brick Lane Market

Historically a Victorian slum area in the heart of Jack the Ripper territory, Brick Lane was formerly known as Whitechapel Lane. It derives its current name from the local brick and tile industries which commenced in the 15th century when the area was discovered to be full of clay. These businesses were critical in replacing the City’s wooden structures which were ravaged by the Great Fire of London in 1666.

The inception of Brick Lane Market in the 17th century coincided with a burgeoning brewing industry, which made use of deep water wells in the local area. The famous brewing family, The Trumans, who were first recorded in the area in 1683, established the Black Eagle brewery which became the largest in the world with an annual production of 400,000 barrels by 1853. The brewery site has since been redeveloped by The Zeloof Partnership as the “Old Truman Brewery” and is now home to over 250 businesses.

The Brick Lane market is still held each Sunday owing to a strong Jewish heritage and is part of a wider network of market places which span several streets, alleys and courtyards. This includes markets on the Truman Brewery site — The Boiler House Food Hall, the Tea Rooms, the Backyard Market, the Sunday UpMarket, and the Vintage Market.

The area has remained a melting pot of cultures. Jewish, Bangledeshi and Irish immigrant communities can be experienced today with a network of curry houses, beigel shops and its own South Asian nickname — Banglatown.

Renegade Craft fair, Truman brewery

West — Portobello Road Market

Portobello Road takes its name from Porto Bello farm, which was built in an area now known as Golborne road and in turn was named after Porto Bello in Panama, a town captured by the British from the Spanish in 1739. During the 18th and 19th century, Portobello Road became a popular shopping destination for Paddington’s wealthy elite and elegant terraces and crescents were built to accommodate a new upper class clientele along with cramped, working class terraces to house domestic servants and labourers. In the 1940s the arrival of ‘rag and bone’ men selling scavenged, unwanted household items contributed to the markets’ reputation as a haven for bric a brac and antiques.

Today it entices over 100,000 visitors per week and is the co-location of an abundance of markets — Acklam Village, Golborne Road, Portobello Green and the Ladbroke Grove farmer’s market located in The Spanish School. It is also home to the largest carnival in Europe, Notting Hill Carnival, which attracts over 1 million spectators and 50,000 performers. This diverse and iconic market offers a unique retail experience where customers can browse street food, antiques, vintage and ‘edgy’ fashion stalls. The gentrified multi cultural, bohemian area has now become a desirable destination for affluent, fashionable, young professionals.

Portobello rd market stall

Central — New Covent Garden

New Covent Garden market is the biggest wholesale market in the UK. From its inception in 1670, the market has remained a backbone to the local economy and now supplies 75% of London florists, 20/20 of London’s top restaurants and supports 175 fresh food and flower businesses, which employ around 2,500 people. The market has traded in Nine Elms since 1974 and has since undergone extensive renovation which is set for completion within 10 years. The market, which currently occupies 3 sites totalling 57 acres, will be consigned to a single 37 acre site freeing up 20 acres of land for development projects. 3000 new homes, 600 of which will be affordable housing, are scheduled to be built alongside community facilities including shops, cafes and restaurants creating an additional 2000 jobs.

Key to the development is the Food Exchange, a hub for food entrepreneurs which will form part of a dedicated food campus; an exciting and vibrant destination for foodies and businesses alike! Sitting in front of the wholesale market, The Food Exchange will provide affordable and inspiring co working spaces, shared kitchens and private studios for startups looking to immerse themselves in food culture. Londoners will also be encouraged to learn more about our capital’s food heritage via workshops, events and food tastings.

Marketti app

Steeped in history and tradition, markets are the fabric of local communities and have defined our culture. The Marketti app provides technology to markets and traders with the purpose of modernising the industry enabling independents to compete alongside the high street and multi-channel brands. Our app is here to support the butchers, the bakers and the artisan makers, future generations and the market veterans.

To find out more about Marketti head to or contact us on if you have any questions!


For markets & independents who want to be noticed. Be discovered on Marketti.

Alex Gibson

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For markets & independents who want to be noticed. Be discovered on Marketti.

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