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History of Petticoat Lane Market

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.

Huguenot Weavers

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.

12 thoughts on “History of Petticoat Lane Market”

  1. To Terry Abrahams .yes I also used to visit Cohen’s on a Sunday morning for herrings and pickles .this would have been around 1958/60 .if I remember rightly there was a chicken processing plant in the upper floors where they were blessed and killed by the rabbi .there was always crates of live chickens in the side street .

  2. I came over to England in 1987 to work on the buildings around London and have a very fond memory of heading to the lane and buying my pride and joy which was a very nice leather jacket. I even remember how much it was, I use to normally work seven days a week and get paid £25 per day and the jacket cost £175 a whole weeks wage. I had that jacket for years and then on a good night out I caught the pocket on a door handle and ripped it, end of that then. Now live in lovely Devon and do from time to time go back to the big smoke and often think I’d like to go again to the lane but so far never have. One day

    1. Hi, I moved to Devon in 2015 and occasionally head back to London as a “tourist”. Amazing the changes everywhere and particularly the East End. I can just about remember the derelict cranes and warehouses where City Airport now is.

  3. My Great Grandmother was born in Petticoat Lane in 1823, I desparetly need to find her birth certifcate for e to be able to keep my 9 year old Mother here in England and to claim benefits as she is getting very frail and I need extra help as I a a widow for a year and my income is very low, can someone help me – Mary Wills

  4. II am Desperate, My Great Grandmother was born in Petticote Lane in the 1820’s I need to find her birth certificate to alow me to keep my 97 year old Mother in the UK and so she can get benefits, can someone please help me

  5. As a kid I remember a good friend of my mum’s called kitty bass. She worked in a fish shop. We lived in Wentworth dwellings In Wentworth street E1. Does anyone recall the fish shop?

  6. Terence Abrahams

    I’d be grateful. Does anybody remember I think Cohen’s on Wentworth Street. A typical grocers with fish & pickle barrels on the pavement. In 1955 i had a Sunday Job there for 10 shillings. I’m compiling a family history so would be grateful for any information. Thank you.

    Terry Abrahams Suffolk

  7. Howard Levinson

    Hi All, I am a ex-Londoner of 88 years of age, during the years 1`945-1948 & 1953-1995 i used to visit the Lane on quite a lot of Sundays and on other days of the week.

    These articles are very good as showing what the Lane is like now-days but it in no way captures what it was like in the old days around 1940 & 1950.

    My Grandfather had a butchers shop there, the Houndswitch Wharehouse was situated there, and Blooms Restaurant or (fast food joint) in the area of Whitechapel. Plus all the jellied ell stalls around.

    There was also a animal market close by,

    I had friends who had a stall down there selling skirts etc, Phil & Sybil so i did visit them quite a lot.

    I was also a London Cabby (Black Cab) for a number of years, badge No 8334. This Web Page certainly evokes many memories of far gone days.

    Adios Howie.

    1. Hi Adios
      I’ve only just got onto the site. Yes, my dad used to work on a stall in the Lane on a Sunday in the 1950s and 1960s selling material and haberdashery, I was a kid in the 1950s but I used to love going with him, and then going to Whitechapel to get some smoked salmon to take home to mum. We lived in Southend-on-sea in those days.
      I remember a chap called Alfie Cohen who had a drop-side van and sold bedding towels and curtains. He used to have the women in the palm of his hand as he had the gift of the gab!
      Anyway, great memories of a good childhood

  8. My 5th Great Grandfather was a baker on Petticoat Lane in the 1700’s. His name was William Curnock….Can you give me any suggestions as to how to research this further. I understand it was a very rough area, and Bakers had pigs in the streets???? Would there be a register of some kind of merchants in the area.

    Thanks, Diane…

  9. I am trying to trace records of my Grandfather who was a licenced trader in the City of London in 1950/60. He wore a large brass arm badge with a licence number. Where can I look for these records please.

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