Beating About The Bush

Our Markets History

The makings of the market

(1910s-1940s)

No one thought the market was going to last a year, let alone a century,…

 

Never Had It So Good

(Post-War Years)

The market traders did their best to keep calm and carry on as the Luftwaffe’s bombs rained down…

A Punky Reggae Party

(1960s & 1970s)

The sixties may have been swinging on the King’s Road in Chelsea…

The Golden Years

(1980s onwards)

The crowds on Saturday mornings were so thick that at some points you had to walk sideways…

 

The makings of the market (1910s-1940s)

No one thought the market was going to last a year, let alone a century, when on 30 June 1914, John Crowe, a shrewd entrepreneur, invited costermongers to set up their stalls on Railway Approach. The market ran between Goldhawk Road and Shepherds Bush stations along a quarter mile of solid Victorian brick railway viaduct.

Railway Approach already had a handful of businesses under the railway arches; some that had been trading since 1863 when the viaduct was first built. This included furniture dealers at 156, 157 and 168, an auction room, a coal office, a printer’s, a horse butchers and an undertaker’s parlour. And they weren’t especially pleased about their new neighbours.

One antique dealer complained how “the place is swarmed with boys of the worst possible type who sit on the kerb eating apples and bananas”. At the end of the day, piles of fish heads lay rotting on the ground and with no water to wash them away, the stench was really quite overpowering.

With Britain on the brink of war, John Crowe’s market proved to be short-lived. It was closed in 1915 to make way for the billeted troops but was given a new lease of life as soldiers returning from the Western Front were offered stalls to help restart their lives. E. Mills & Son opened in 1918 selling lino flooring and carpets – “Cheapest in the Trade” read the sign above the shop. The Mills later added a furniture showroom four doors down and were soon supplying Lime Grove Studios, Britain’s leading film studio, an impressive glass structure located behind the railway viaduct.

On the other side of the street, Dave Horatha & Co, a family-run fabric store and draper opened in 1919 – eventually settling at number 170. Like at Petticoat Lane in East London, another legendary market, the rag trade at Shepherd’s Bush was dominated by Jewish traders who arrived from Eastern Europe in search of a better life.

“Stall-holders crying their wares […] trains going by on the embankment, dogs barking and birds twittering, and above all the music of dozens of cut-price gramophone records.” These were the impressions of Mary Benedetta who visited the market in 1936 with the famous Hungarian artist László Moholy-Nagy in tow, snapping away on his Leica camera, for their book, The Street Markets of London.

They met Mr. Cooke, who had a row of barrels full of wriggling eels that he chopped up there and then with a glistening knife – the very same A. Cooke whose pie, mash and eel shop had been feeding the community since 1899. There was William Poulteney’s stall – the best place to buy walnuts in the entire capital at just 7d. a pound. “Fivepence a box of crayons–dolls three for two pence,” came the cry from the toy seller. Elsewhere they found a sweet-maker who brewed aniseed balls right there in the market, their sweet scent wafting over the stalls like Willie Wonka’s Chocolate Factory.

In the 1930s, as the White City Estate was being built, the market was extended west of the railway on to the site of the Old Silver Cinema, fronting Uxbridge Road. As you exited the tube, adverts like ‘A Guinness A Day’ and ‘Cocoa Makes Every Meal Go Further’ looked down at you from the railway bridge.

Never Had It So Good (Post-War Years)

The market traders did their best to keep calm and carry on as the Luftwaffe’s bombs rained down on West London. In February 1944, during a five-month Little Blitz, a doodlebug hit the market, wiping out six shops and leaving dozens more temporarily out of action. Threatened with closure by London City Council on safety grounds, the traders rallied together and had the market open again for business in a matter of days. Talk about Blitz spirit!

After the war, things gradually returned to normal. By the 1950s, Prime Minister Harold Macmillan declared we’d never had it so good, and you could almost believe it. At the market you had lovable Uncle Albert in his wire-rimmed spectacles, bowtie and baggy trousers selling his toffee apples – a treat for well-behaved children. There was Alfred Mordeia in his apron demonstrating his eggbeater to a crowd of curious onlookers.

In Ellis’s Pet Stores – still in exactly the same spot today – there was a menagerie of kittens, puppies and rabbit – as well as a talking macaw. If you asked nicely, you could stroke the pets. Elsewhere, you could buy second-hand paperbacks at the bookseller, and sell them back at half-price when you’d finished reading them.

On Saturdays, ‘Lucky’ King, the king of banjo players, one foot on his battered banjo case, brightened up the mood with his upbeat melodies. There was always great camaraderie among the traders, despite the occasional tiff, and in later years the market committee got together for dances at the Royal Albert Hall.

Through the London smog, the seeds of multicultural Britain were being sown at this time. Commonwealth citizens from India and Pakistan began arriving in large numbers after both countries gained independence in 1947. The following year, after the Empire Windrush docked at Tilbury, many people from the Caribbean also began settling in West London on the promise of work in factories, hospitals and on the tubes and buses.  Lord Kitchener, the famous calypso singer, sang: “To tell you the truth, I was in a mush, when I found myself in Shepherds Bush.”

Inevitably there were tensions between these new arrivals and the established communities – riots erupted in Notting Hill in 1958 in response to Teddy Boys violence – but the market always acted as neutral ground. Like in Brixton Market, at Shepherds Bush shoppers could find an ever-growing array of products for West Indian, African and Indian communities including sweet potatoes, okra, paw-paw, mangoes, black eye and gunga peas alongside garden-variety sprouts, cabbages and spuds.

A Punky Reggae Party (1960s & 1970s)

The sixties may have been swinging on the King’s Road in Chelsea. In Shepherds Bush, where the Westway loomed over the Green and new tower blocks sprouted up, things were still a little rough around the edges. Roger Daltrey, the lead singer of The Who, grew up just a few streets from the market and knew it well. When in 1967, The Who headlined the Monterey Pop Festival, he was wrapped in a “hippy shawl” according to the music press, which later turned out to be tasseled tablecloth he’d picked up in Shepherds Bush Market.

W12 was also the stomping ground of Steve Jones and Paul Cook, two wayward youths who went on to form the Sex Pistols in 1975. They’d both met at Christopher Wren School and would nip down to A. Cook’s Pie & Mash shop on their lunch breaks whenever they got the chance. Another of their favourite haunts was Stuarts, a Jewish tailor on Uxbridge Road, where the skinheads at the time used to get their tonic suits made for a princely £10. (Stuarts later became one of the country’s leading stockists of casual wear that spread like wildfire on the football terraces in the 1980s.)

The mods of the era could get their hands on the latest music at 179 where W.G. Records was still going strong (it was originally a gramophone repair store). For lovers of ska and reggae, the Musik City stall at 12a in the covered market was the place to be. The stall was part of a chain of Muzik City shops owned by Lee Gopthal, who set up Trojan Records and had a chain of record shops. For many years Webster Shrowder ran the stall, serving up the sweetest sounds straight out of Jamaica. He later went solo, renaming it Webster’s Record Shack.

It wasn’t just music. The BBC Television Centre opened in 1960 in White City and provided a steady source of business for the market. One stall that reaped the rewards was the Newman Hire Company, an Aladdin’s cave of lamps, clocks, statues and bric-a-brac run by Aubrey Newman.  Originally it had been two units piled high with trunks and suitcases. Now it had become a major supplier of props to the BBC and the film industry – its credits include the James Bond classic Casino Royale. The market also featured in the 1965 Palme d’Or-winning film The Knack… And How to Get It and in Calculated Risk 1963.

The Golden Years (1980s onwards)

Ask any stallholder, they’ll tell you the 1980s were the golden years for Shepherds Bush Market. The crowds on Saturday mornings were so thick that at some points you had to walk sideways to squeeze your way through. Heaven help you if you were pushing a pram. The staccato patter of cockney stallholders, the polyrhythms booming from the African Music Centre, the red bream and live crabs glistening at W. H. Roe’s, the scent of incense sold in foil-wrapped packs, there was nowhere else like it in West London.

Towards the Uxbridge Road end of the market, the Afro-Caribbean identity was strongest. Under the corrugated roof, stalls sold scotch bonnet peppers, dandelion root tea and Jamaican carrot cake to discerning first-generation West Indians. Sheahan’s Irish Meat Market had Irish bacon, black pudding and traditional English sausages as well as salted pigstails for Caribbean cookups. At another stall, the latest Nollywood films could be found alongside Guinness Foreign Extra Stout.

In 1989, SBM Enterprises acquired Shepherds Bush Market from its previous owner, director Michael Winner’s father. Their initial proposals to build a Victorian glass roof over the market – a kind of crystal palace – came to nothing. In 1997 the market underwent a £1.5 million modernisation, with floodlighting and CCTV. The grand opening was hosted by Vogue and Cobra from the ITV show Gladiators.

Little by little, textiles came to dominate the market. Classic Textiles was one of the first –their fabrics have been used in Harry Potter films and on Strictly Come Dancing. These shops along Goldhawk Road and in the market itself are popular with tourists from the Middle East. For these visitors, Shepherds Bush Market is as much a London landmark as Big Ben and Trafalgar Square and you can find poplin, taffeta, chiffon, voile and exquisite brocades as well as bright Dutch wax cloth. It is also a treasure trove for the London College of Fashion students on Lime Grove on the other side of the viaduct.

Even with the arrival of Westfield in the 2008, the market continues to attract a faithful clientele. Gone are the horse butchers and the funeral parlour of old, but you’ll still find Ellis’ Pet Store, E. Mills & Son, Billy’s Jewellery Store, Dave Horatha’s Drapers, Laura’s Fruit and Nut Case, Bush Shoes to mention just a few longstanding family businesses, as well as award-winning Palestinian falafels.

You never know who you might bump into. Actor Chiwetel Ejiofor buying a jacket in the market while researching his character for Dirty Pretty Things. Chef Simon Hopkinson shopping for coley fish to make homemade baccalá. BBC 1Xtra DJ, Seani B, raised on the White City Estate, who has been coming since he was a kid for plantain and breadfruit with his mother.

“Shepherds Bush is a vibrant eclectic mix of traders, customers and tourists of all nationalities from all over the world and is probably the best market that most Londoners have never heard of,” says Laura Sakstein of Laura’s Fruit and Nut Case. After you’ve visited once, you’ll want to keep coming back again and again.

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