The Covered Market

The epicentre of modern Greenwich is the covered marketplace. It’s surrounded by that horrid one-way system which means you take your life into your hand just crossing the road, but for all that it’s a fascinating area which repays a closer look. It’s only small, but has a lot more personality than many a bigger market, and changes on a daily basis.

For the first few days of the week, it’s largely empty, and even a fair few of the shops around the edge don’t bother opening. Of course it’s a good time to see the architecture on those days – a funny design which although it has a columned archway as its main entrance, the rest of the openings just take the shape of tiny alleys or doorways, straight out of a Dickens novel. The mixture of cobbles and flagstones on the ground meld well with the Georgian architecture, but my favourite bit is the quote from Proverbs just above the entrance, – ‘A false balance is abomination to the Lord but a just weight is his delight.’ It makes me smile every time I see it.

What a shame about the horrid glass roof which can never have been an attractive sight, even when new. Thursdays and Fridays have more antiques than the other days – though the prices are generally rather high for the not-fabulous-quality goods. Frankly I’m surprised that much of it sells – though it must do or they wouldn’t do it, I guess.

Saturdays and Sundays are the real crowd-pullers, and are more varied with craft and clothing stalls as well as specialist food emporia such as one which sells curry sauces and another which stinks the whole place out with the sickly smell of revolting flavoured coffee. Yeuch. Talk about an abomination…

For my money, the man who sells various trendy kilts is worth a visit, as is the guy who sells giant ceramic pots which you can use as impressive flame oil lamps. In fact I bought them for several friends last Christmas which went down very well indeed, though on reflection it might have been wiser to buy them on different occasions and not try to get six of them on the bus at once.

In a different, currently-under-threat-from-developers part of the market, across the railway line and round the back, there are some much better quality antiques stalls and even a two story warehouse which sells 20th Century Kitsch and memorabilia – it’s not cheap but the quality’s pretty good. Look for it behind the Car park at the bottom of Crooms Hill opposite the Ibis Hotel.

There’s also a big building which sells ethnic-y furniture, if you like heavy Thai-influenced hardwood and metal stuff. Heaven only knows what will happen to these important little one-off shops when the developers move in and do their best to standardise Greenwich to match the rest of the country.

Every so often the naval charity that owns much of Greenwich “threatens” to redevelop the covered market, which always results in the same local uproar, a few national newspaper articles and very little else.I always used to be at the forefront of such outraged protests – yes – I even wrote to Time Out about it the last time – but I confess my attitude has softened after a conversation with Warwick Leadlay who owns the very fine Warwick Leadlay Gallery in Nelson Road.

I absolutely agree that the idea of raising rents so that all the lovely individual shops that Greenwich is so proud of are forced out in favour of chains is a VERY BAD THING INDEED. But I then started to think what a redevelopment of the market might actually do for the community. It’s sold as a dreadful idea, lock stock and barrel – but here are a few things to think about.

1) The actual buildings around the outside are listed. Nothing can be done to them.

2) The proposals appear to be the demolition of the god-awful 1950s monstrosities INSIDE the covered market and the redevelopment of shops where they are now with flats on the second floor to pay for them. What if we were able to keep the delightful little businesses downstairs with ATTRACTIVE upper floors inhabited by a few yuppies that we don’t really ever get to see?

3) That might lead to a NICE glass roof that we could actually see through and Greenwich Market being more like the glorious renovations at Leadenhall. Presumably the ridiculous prices the yuppies would pay for apartments would lessen the ‘necessity’ to maul the independent shop owners with rent hikes.

Just a thought.

I’d be willing to at least listen to proposals. Naturally if they want to bring in a Body Shop, Tie Rack, Baby Gap or Next, all bets are off.


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