Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Market forces in Romford

“NO FAKES,” reads a sign above one of the stalls in Romford Market. It’s a moniker that neatly sums up Romford. The idea you would even suspect fakery is very Essex in this old East End enclave stuck out on the tundra of Essex. There’s even a pie and mash shop and a Tubby White’s stall selling jellied eels. (Why are seafood stalls always run by men called Tubby?)

“50p yer caulies!” hollers a woman on a fruit and veg stall. Across the market an old geezer rasps “Paarnd a bowl yer joocy oranges… Yorksher rhubarb! Yorksher rhubarb!”
Suddenly I realise where I subconsciously attained my “50p yer 'Ammers fanzine!” selling technique from, when I used to sell Fortune’s Always Hiding outside West Ham’s ground.

Romford has a market square dating back to the 1247 and a couple of listed pubs in The Golden Lion and The Lamb, along with the more rock’n’roll The Bitter End and of course, a nail salon.

My daughters and their old man have just had lunch with Auntie Kaz in a greasy spoon where the chip portions are large and the tea bags stay in the mug.
We’re opposite the legendary Yates’s, where Kaz says you can see the girls in micro-skirts and stilettos go out every Friday night and where one Romfordian confessed to punching her boyfriend for gross moral turpitude in the recent Channel 4 documentary Welcome to Romford.

Walking down South Street it’s impossible not to think of Ian Dury’s immortal line abut stealing a razzle mag from Razzle in my Pocket: “Romford, South Street, shopping arcade, in me yeller jersey I went out on the nick.”

The arcade, now covered, brings a Proustian rush of nostalgia. This was a big trip out on the 247 bus from Great Warley when I was a kid. Unlimited shops and cheap wide-collared shirts and Oxford Bags at Mr Byrite's. My dad said “You won’t get anywhere messing about shopping in Romford,” and perhaps he was right, because here I am, still doing it.

There’s a West Ham shop selling endless WHU branded casual jackets, teddy bears and babygrows and to the joy of the girls both a Waterstone’s and a Claire’s Accessories.

It’s heaving on a Wednesday market day at 3pm and definitively Essex. Compared to up west, as they say on EastEnders, there’s decidedly more leopardskin, eye make-up, chiseled cheekbones, pink handbags and lots of phrases like “in’t they?”.

Waterstone’s has a tempting book on the history of Upminster and lots of dvds on WW2 in Essex and the East End. Nell buys a set of silly bands in Claire’s Accessories that are supposed to be chocolate scented but aren’t. Fired up with a rejuvenated sense of Essex bartering ability, I wait for the supervisor and manage to blag an exchange. Result.

Karren Brady would love it here. Entrepreneurship is in the Essex soul. In the centre of the arcade stand numerous temporary stalls and hawkers pushing their products like wannabe Apprentice candidates.

There’s young people in red t-shirts offering Love Film vouchers, a stall offering samples from Subway sandwiches, Sky offers, and a jewelry stall called Magnolia that is embossed with “Prague, Sydney, Tel Aviv, Toronto”. Does the Prague stall read “Sydney, Tel Aviv, Toronto, Romford”?

Seeking some local colour, I accept a leaflet on Crystal double glazing from a man in a brown and beige two-tone leather jacket standing by a selection of stained dark brown casement windows. A mistake: one thing they know how to do in Essex is sell.

“Would you like 40 per cent discount voucher too sir and a free estimate no obligation your wife makes all the decision sir well between you and me that’s always the case in the home have you seen our beat the VAT offer you see it’s now 43 per cent off not 40 per cent energy saving recommended seven point locking system we just need your name to prove that I’ve spoken to you otherwise they won’t believe me and your home number and we do need a mobile which is the best number to call you on you’ll receive a courtesy call within a day…

Pleading a rendezvous with my 12-year-old daughter I scarper for the safety of Claire’s Accessories, fleeced of my phone number and done up like a mug punter from north London. The courtesy call duly arrives the next day and they may continue for the next millennium.

Still, it’s a shame to retreat back to London on the train. So many shops, so many stalls. It’s hard not to love the buzz of Romford Market where commerce is theatre and you will never be short of juicy oranges and high performance windows.


  1. Gav comments:

    "Romford market - one of the best markets in Southern England - and I've been to a few. Chocolate sold in bricks, burgers and onions, eggs and chips ... the first place I heard my mum called 'darling'. And a bookstall run by Mr Sherry (?) where my dad used to go for hardbacks and I went for paperbacks. Long may it continue!"

  2. Oh dear, GIANT fail! Romford is as east London as it gets & a completely seperate & different place than the rural county of Essex.
    A long, long, time ago, even before England won the World Cup, Romford was in Essex, & so was Stratford, East Ham, West Ham etc. None of these have been in Essex for over half a century now. They're all in London.