Thursday, 27 July 2017

Buying a pair of shoes and a canary in Beresford Square

I have always liked the market at Woolwich.

It is that mix of noise, colourful attractions, and the easy banter of the stall holders and of course the promise of a bargain.

In the late 1960s I swapped the stalls of Beresford Square for Grey Mare Lane in the shadow of the old colliery and later Ashton’s open and covered in markets.

A century and bit before that I might well have wandered through Salford’s Flat Iron Market where “poverty busied itself”* and everything was on sale from a pair of second hand boots to a used toothbrush.

All of which is a long way from Woolwich, but not quite, because as these images suggest poverty and looking for a bargain were as much a part of the landscape in Woolwich as they were in Beswick, Ancoats or Ashton.

And these pictures along with many other ones of Woolwich can be seen in Woolwich Through Time, by Kristin Bedford. **

Her book was published earlier this year and is a treasure trove of images of a vanished Woolwich.

Along with the market, the ferry and the Arsenal there are in total 180 photographs of what the place was like and how it has changed.

Now this is not the first time I have mentioned the book but this Saturday Ms Bedford will be at Woolwich Library from 1 pm to talk about the book, the pictures and the stories she has unearthed.

For me though it will be those of the market that I like the most.

I remember it as a crowded noisy affair where buses manoeuvred slowly past rows of stalls and Lou’s fruit and veg rubbed shoulders with the man selling prawns and the women doing a nice deal in plastic plates and pictures of the Green Lady.***

Today it is a pale imitation of all of that.  You might still be able to buy a Ib of apples and a cauliflower but the open trays of prawns and the Green Lady are gone.

And along with them much of the Woolwich I remember.

It is an odd observation that the place I knew was closer in many ways to the scenes from Ms Bedford’s book than the bright shinny new Woolwich.

Not that this is any way a criticism of what is now just a reflection on what was and is.

The book launch of Woolwich Through Time is at Woolwich Library from 1 pm on April 9..

Pictures, courtesy of MS Bedford

*Robert Roberts, The Classic Slum, The Classic Slum, Salford stories from 1900,

** Woolwich Through Time is at Woolwich, Kristina Bedford, Amberley Publishing, 2014

***The Green Lady. The Chinese Girl (often popularly known as The Green Lady) is a 1952 painting by Vladimir Tretchikoff. It became one of the world's most popular paintings when made into prints in the 1950s and 1960s, and is one of the world's best-selling art reproductions of the twentieth century

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