King William Passage

King William Walk, SE10

King William Passage is cunningly constructed to keep locals away and keep tourists lingering around the entrance only. Why this should have have happened escapes me, but then, perhaps cunning has nothing to do with it…

For starters, it doesn’t look very big at all. A tiny entrance along King William Walk with a stunningly awful selection of tourist tat – everything from plastic policeman’s helmets and tube map ashtrays to gilt models of the Houses of Parliament and T shirts that say “My son went to London blah-de-blah-de-blah” (btw has anyone ever seen anyone actually wearing one of these T shirts – from any country or city?) On the other side of the entrance is an ice cream stall, and because it’s usually thronged with confused-looking visitors licking 99s, it doesn’t always occur to us to push through, like Lucy pushing her way through the fur coats to the back of the wardrobe to find the magic world beyond.

Well, the rest of King William Walk is hardly Narnia. But some of the shops that lie behind the tourist stalls at the front are a whole lot more interesting that first glances might imply, and if nothing else, it leads out at the back to another part of the market (at least for now.)

The first stall that hits sells Middle Eastern goods – Moroccan lamps, curly rusted-iron picture and mirror frames, some with little shutters, tiled splashbacks and mosaic-topped garden tables. There are giant metal, many-faceted lanterns with coloured glass, and tiny, vellum-covered lamps in bright colours. I can never quite tell who runs what part of the stalls here, so I’m not sure if it’s the same people who also sell bonsai trees, but if they do then it’s a fabulous and unexpected meeting of cultural minds.

Moving on, there are some soft coloured leather items – pink slippers, soft tooled purses and bright handbags. I suspect that this is part of the same Middle-Eastern shop – but who can tell?

Beyond these stalls things tend to be slightly more fluid. A rather useful frame and mount-cutting stall is no longer there any more, but there is a shop that sells Egyptian prints and some rather fun belly dancing kit – jingly belts, necklaces made of ‘coins’ and sequined wonderbras. There are also some stalls selling cheap fashion items and one that purveys what my gran used to call “fancy goods.” Stalls come and go on a much more regular basis, so it’s worth keeping an eye on what’s going on; visiting from time to time to see who’s coming and going.

Right at the back (or the front, if you’ve come in from the other end…) there used to be an antiques area, but I noticed the other day that this seems to be mainly modern furniture now with a few repros. It may change again, this area never seems to stay the same for long.

King William Passage spills out onto what must be the most endangered part of the market – the little bit around the back which must have once been warehouses or something to do with the railway which runs by it – there still are a few there warehouses now, currently occupied by various mini-shops, until the developers get their wicked way. For the moment it’s a junk/antiques/sundries/ fancy goods (there goes my gran again…) market – but that’s for another day…

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