That’s what makes Brixton’s covered markets so special
The demographic of Brixton changed significantly at the turn of the 20th century. The wealthy middle classes moved on and the working classes moved in. Cheaper accommodation started to attract a bohemian crowd and the area blossomed into a vibrant creative hub.
And it remains so to this day – certainly our undercover markets are testament to that. But Brixton as a come-to shopping destination is nothing new. The period between the two world wars was a heyday for Brixton’s traders. With three department stores, and all manner of entertainment facilities, the area became South London’s unrivalled shopping destination. It was during this period that the three covered markets – Reliance Arcade, Granville Arcade and Market Row – were built.
A lot changed in Brixton as a result of the second world war. The first wave of immigrants, mainly from the West Indies, started to settle in Brixton straight after the war. They were known as The Windrush generation – named after one of the first ships bringing a large group of immigrants to the UK. This demographic change made a significant contribution to the spirited, community focused Brixton that we know today.
Where the markets were concerned, their arrival also meant that Granville Arcade and Market Row became a flourishing emporium of independent outlets – a thriving hub for Brixton’s Caribbean community. Needless to say then, these undercover markets have always been central to the community of Brixton.
But regeneration came onto the Council’s agenda the end of the century – their plans, somewhat unbelievably, included a demolition of the town centre. The rationale – some good old ‘modern’ town planning (think dual carriage ways and segregation of pedestrians and traffic). These plans put these undercover arcades under the spotlight, but thankfully the people of Brixton came to the rescue.
Back in the day
Caribbean Market (1961)
If you can bear a bit of old-fashioned Daily Express style stereotyping (where the male narrator twice suggests that all housewives are just the same!) then check out this pathe video.
This 1961 film shows Granville Arcade in full technicolour splendour, all about the joys of the food and fashion which Brixton had to offer. Not much has changed then!
In 2009 a campaign, spearheaded by Friends of Brixton Market (involving traders and residents), successfully scuppered plans to knock down Granville Arcade. They vehemently opposed plans to make way for private flats. After much lobbying a National Heritage Grade II listing was given to Brixton’s three covered markets. The decision was on the grounds that the markets have huge cultural significance as one of the principle hearts of the UK’s Afro-Caribbean community, and the fact that they are some of the few arcades of their kind left in the UK.
Shortly after this the Space Makers Agency was called in. It was tasked with coming up with ideas to bring in more foot traffic to Granville Arcade, which was arguably at a low ebb – certainly a significant number of business units had been empty for a while. The Arcade, now popularly referred to as The Village, and Market Row, quickly took off as a fusion of cuisine and creativity, which saw them grow into some of South London’s most sought after retail space.
So once again, Brixton and its undercover markets are pulling punters south. And as market traders, we aim to keep these uniquely Brixton ingredients – community, creativity and independence – alive. After all, they make our little corner of South London just what it is.
Did you know?
Brixton’s always been a fascinating place to shop for food. Independent traders sell almost anything, from giant African snails to pigs heads. That’s one of the reasons there has been a community backlash against the proliferation of supermarket chains in the area. What’s interesting though, is that Brixton actually had its own part to play in forever changing the UK’s food shopping habits.
The very concept of self-service style stores was first introduced by the Greig family back in the late 19th century. Named David Greig, the company’s HQ was right here in Brixton. You can still see evidence of the old HQ right opposite Brixton Wholefoods (on Atlantic Road). Despite opening over 200 stores though, the company’s idea didn’t quite take off as expected. David Greig’s went bust in the early seventies, after a succession of family deaths. Evidently though, the idea of self-service did eventually catch on.
The eventual rise of this phenomenon was down to a Brixton barrow boy named Jack Cohen. Cohen went on to open one of his first bricks and mortar stores on Popes Road (right opposite the public toilets). To some of you, the name of Cohen’s company might ring a vague bell – for he settled on calling it Tesco.