A Trip Around London's Markets... In Watercolours

Will Noble
By Will Noble Last edited 61 months ago
A Trip Around London's Markets... In Watercolours

Artist Liam O'Farrell has traversed London's biggest markets, immortalising them in his wonderful watercolours. Here, we see the markets through Liam's eyes — some bustling, some deathly silent — and hear about them in his own words.

Borough Market: "This is one of London’s most popular and 'up market' markets you will find. No point looking for cheap knock off Nike trainers or 30 bananas for £1 here.

"You will discover a labyrinth of eateries, wet fish stalls, the best cheeses in the country and everything in between. All this squeezed into the narrow spaces beneath a spaghetti of wrought-iron and brick railway bridges."

Camden Market: "The stall holders are mainly modest independents so naturally, big corporates have made bullish attempts at muscling in on all that lovely money going in the wrong pockets, but so far so good.

"Despite attempts to knock it all down and build something in glass and steel, the leaky, rusting Camden market soldiers on. It is like no other shopping street in the country and has more in common with Marrakech than Manchester, and all the better for it."

Smithfield Market: "The Market opens at 2am would you believe? This is far too early for a visit for even the most intrepid tourist, that said, we were all still mustered outside Barbican Station at 7am.

"As Peter [Twist, who does tours of Smithfield] took us around the market, I busied myself in making written notes and drawings around the site, and inside too.

"The view I finally chose was the three quarter view showing the majestic sweep of Horace Jones' design with the towers on each corner."

"The self-styled 'Biffo' is more than willing to hold court, and told us that if someone is getting married they are likely to be stripped and covered in flour below the market clock.

"He recalled, when he first joined, workers would fight each other for the best jobs. It was a heavily unionised, hard man's world. Not a place for a sensitive artist!"

Covent Garden Market: "To me at least Covent Garden is not ‘London’, it is an international gathering spot, a place where visitors go and look out at London though they are unlikely to experience it there. Covent Garden is a sort of safe 'Tourist-ville' mini state.

"I am not saying don't go there, of course any adventurer needs a base camp, a familiar place to re-charge before the next expedition. Covent Garden, Piccadilly Circus, Leicester Square and such are ideal for this, they are fine places."

Columbia Road Flower Market: "The lovely building that once housed the market was sadly demolished in 1958, so they moved to the street. The local French Huguenot population were keen on cut flowers so flowers dominated the sales from then on. They were also keen on caged song birds too and one of the streets pubs is still called ‘The Birdcage’ as an echo of this time."

Leadenhall Market: "Whilst wondering about The City of London one weekend, I accidentally came across Leadenhall Market. I had no idea it was there and it is a bit of a shock at first site. An ornate red wedding cake of a building muscled in either side by concrete and glass.

"I did this painting on a Sunday. This being the financial district — the City of London — is almost empty at the weekends and particularly empty on a Sunday so I had the place to myself more or less.

"I considered packing it with city workers dashing to and fro or celebrating bonuses at the cafes, though in the end, I decided against it as I rather liked its deserted face."

Spitalfields Market: "The Royal charter for a market proper was set up by Charles II in 1682 as London began to spread out following the fire of 1666.

"Due to road congestion Spitalfields food market was moved to Leyton in the 1980s and the old buildings now ply their trade in numerous ways."

Berwick Street Market: "Berwick Street and its adjoining streets has a very long history with the music business. A small example being that at the end of the street where it joins Brewer Street, through an alley, is Madam Jo Jo’s. In 1964, David Bowie’s first band, Dave Jones and The King Bees, played here when it was called The Jack of Clubs. And it was that night David Bowie got his big break.

"At the very same time, T-Rex front man, Marc Bolan, worked on his mother’s stall in the market in the 1960s. I wonder if he sold David an apple or two?"

Broadway Market: "Broadway Market is a great East End gem, and has a great atmosphere. This is not just because of ‘new money’. Any market throughout time which is well used will generate its own vital energy; it’s in the human DNA.

"The Market Café which is featured here is a lovely place to spend an afternoon. A great view of the canal as well."

Real Food Market, South Bank: "Markets have been set up along the Thames for thousands of years so it should be no surprise, to see one tucked just behind The Royal Festival Hall on the Southbank. It can be tricky to find for a first time visitor, though well worth the journey once located.

"The main big sellers are ready to eat food. You will find the very best of British and foreign cheeses, breads and wines too. There is also a pretty good line in hot food as well."

Portobello Road Market: "Portobello Road Market is in Notting Hill, and is about two miles long. It was developed in the mid 19th Century to sell fresh produce to the wealthy inhabitants of the surrounding squares.

"The market has since developed into the largest antiques market in the UK, it's also festooned with pubs, cafes and food stalls."

Brick Lane Market: "There has been a market on Brick Lane since the 17th Century and was then known as ‘The Truman Markets' after the old brewery that used to be on situated at number 91.

"...it is so crammed with differing varieties of food that, in an effort to gain a unique selling point, one place has opened that just sells breakfast cereal. ‘Cereal Killer’ is the second building from the right in my painting. Right next to Bacon Street, which rather amused me!"

You can admire more of — and buy — Liam's work on his website.

Last Updated 14 July 2017