Located in the East End’s Spitalfields area, Petticoat Lane is one of the oldest and most famous markets in London. Over the years, the market has been best known for selling fashion and clothes, but it actually sells just about everything now, from designer goods to fruit and veg and bargain goods.
East End Markets – Petticoat Lane.
Petticoat Lane is actually split into two markets in two locations – the market on Wentworth Street runs six days a week and the Middlesex Street market is only open on Sundays. This is a popular day to visit for both locals and tourists alike, and you can see up to 1,000 stalls if you visit on a Sunday. If you ever wondered just how much a market trader can make in markets like this, think of Alan Sugar. He took his first business steps in Petticoat Lane where he had a stall.
History of Petticoat Lane
Although the market at Petticoat Lane was not formally recognised and given legal trading rights until the 1930s, this location has been a market site of sorts for many centuries. Like much of the East End of London, this area was once fairly rural. It was originally known as Hogs Lane, as early as the Tudor period.
Street names tended to be descriptive in the days before street signs, or literacy, and their names would tell people what went on in the area. It is thought that Hogs Lane got its name from the pigs that bakers kept in the street, although it may also have been a reference to an old droving road that was used to bring livestock into the city, dating back many centuries earlier.
By the beginning of the 17th century, the area had become more commercial. London was getting bigger and its rural outskirts became more developed with housing and businesses. Its first reference as Petticoat Lane came in the early 1600s, when it was called Peticote Lane. Even at this early stage, traders would sell clothes and other items here, usually cheap and second-hand. Things ramped up a level later in the 17th century and the area got a lot busier.
At this point in time, Huguenot weavers moved into Spitalfields to escape persecution in France. They tapped into the area’s reputation for manufacturing and selling clothes and woven goods, and the market started to take the shape it still has to this day. Future generations of Jewish and East Asian immigrants have also made their mark on the market.
The Sunday market, for example, is thought to have continued over the years because of the influence of the local Jewish community. Saturday is their Sabbath, so they wanted to shop on Sundays.
The market has been fairly notorious in the past, attracting many criminals and dubious activities. Although trading was the market’s main business in Victorian times, other things going on in the area could be quite shady. An old saying states that you can expect someone to steal your petticoat at one end of the market and then sell it back to you at the other end.
Known as “The Lane”, this area was a well-known spot for fences, many of whom would buy stolen goods from criminals before selling them in their shops or on stalls. The notorious Victorian fence, Ikey Solomon, was just one East End criminal who operated in Petticoat Lane. He ran a jeweller’s or pawnbroker’s shop in the area as a front for his fencing activities.
This was not always a safe place to be. Described as “long, narrow and filthy” and a “modern Babel”, many Victorians saw the market, and its surrounding area, as a place that respectable people avoided. This may, in part, be down to prevailing attitudes of the time towards the local Jewish community. The East End of London at that time was also crowded and often unsanitary. This was a poor area with high numbers of criminals and prostitutes. It was also smack in the middle of Jack the Ripper territory.
Infamous Petticoat Lane Market
Before the market was formally recognised in the 1930s, it was regularly raided by the police and local authorities. It was not uncommon for police cars and fire engines to simply drive through the market with their sirens on to try to disrupt the market’s activities until it was made into a legal trading site.
Don’t expect to find Petticoat Lane market on Petticoat Lane, as the street name no longer exists. It was changed in the 1800s to Middlesex Street. It is said that this change was made to spare the blushes of Victorians who didn’t like to have a street name that referred to underwear. If you’re visiting Petticoat Lane, you’ll also be close enough to walk to the markets in Spitalfields and Brick Lane. They are also worth a visit and are open on Sundays.