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A to Z Ridley Road Market



Instructions This is a walk through one of the most exciting markets in London, if not in the country. It is not on the tourist trail and it is not trendy, although it shares a postcode with the trendiest bars and clubs in East London. The market smells of fish, cow hooves, ripe mangos, dyed fabric, Turkish coffee, spices and humans. You can come here to shop, to watch, to try things out, to breathe in aromas, to talk, to be inspired. Here people have real stories to tell and each bowl of fruit costs just a quid. This guide has been created following a 26-day-long structured research project which used the alphabet as a way to approach this area. A different letter from A to Z has been explored during each research day and market traders were closely involved in the process. This guide is here to inspire you to visit this hidden gem and keep going back. After all, returning customers are what markets need to thrive! A number of people were given one-to-one tours of this market in May 2011. Their voices have been made visible throughout the guide. Look out for a Visitor’s Voice. The dynamic of the market changes daily. It is quiet and relaxed on Mondays and Tuesdays. It has ‘an against the river flow’ feel on Wednesdays and Thursdays and is totally jammed on Fridays and Saturdays. On Sundays the market is closed and all of a sudden Ridley Road turns into a wide, quiet and empty street with only a selection of halal butchers open. Make sure you arrive with shopping bags as it is hard to leave the market with empty hands, and remember look people in the eye if you are up for a conversation. Dalston Kingsland Station is our starting point. You can get here on the overground or a bus. To plan your journey visit



Dalston Kingsland Station

Birkbeck Road

Kingland High Street (A10)

Birkbeck Mews












Kingsland Shopping Centre





Saint Mark’s Rise

resce tone C





U Ridley Road


A is for arrival A is for austerity alternative audience aesthetics apples abundance accents access affordable Afro-Caribbean aroma asphalt autonomy Start the walk at Dalston Kingsland station in the heart of Dalston. Once you are outside of the station inhale deeply! This is the smell of multicultural East London, poor and dodgy and at the same time trendy and gentrified. You should be hit by a range of smells and mixture of colours. On the horizon you should see the aorta - Ridley Road Market. Note, the market is closed on Sundays and is not very busy on Mondays or Tuesdays but this makes the beginning of the week perfect if you want to chat with local people and traders and explore the market at a slower and calmer pace.

Visitor’s voice: It is both bustling and slow, teeming with life and objects! Visitor’s voice: When I first moved to London I stayed with a friend in Hackney. It was a sunny morning and we wandered around the neighbourhood. Ridley Road was mostly empty but the remnants and leftovers of the market actually were everywhere around us. A

B is for best coffee B is for business (hours 4am - 5pm) blisters bread butter bowls boxes bags buckets bundles big bargain!!! budget bananas beetroot beans broccoli blackberries baby clothes blankets bones bracelets bulgar bagels brew birds The market officially opens at 6am but in reality the first cars arrive into the street earlier, around 5am or so. The outdoor coffee stand Bean About Town (www. run by smiley baristas opens around 6ish. This is a perfect start to the walk if coffee gives you a buzz and energy. Grab your cup, have a sip – the baristas will be there in sunshine, frost or rain. The market is here in all weather too. It is a constant and local people rely on it.

Visitor’s voice: A real market that represents the needs of its community. B

C is for critical mass C is for customers celebrity (Alan Sugar) communication community character cheap coincidence chillies cabbage cafés citrus clothes coconuts coffee curry culture current cuts You are now standing at the back of the most popular fruit and veg stalls. This is a good observation point. You are still invisible, you are not a customer yet, but you can already witness the buzz, the energy and the flow.

Visitor’s voice: Before I moved to Hackney people used to tell me horror stories about Ridley Road Market. “You can buy a small child there” they used to joke. Now I come here to shop daily. C

D is for development D is for damage darling data dazzler decoration dedication DVD dress dynamic dawn dusk dialogue drug dandruff difficulty digesting disappearing debt You should be facing Kingsland Shopping Centre, a typical shopping-mall-style building that holds high-street brands and a couple of supermarkets that largely sell the same produce that the market offers. What the shopping centre does not offer is the market culture. No one calls you ‘love’ as you are choosing your rice from the supermarket shelves, no one will advise you on anything. You are left to your own devices. The market does not allow you to hide. You are quickly engaged in conversation, debate and exchange – word for word, money for goods.


E is for East E is for economy evangelise estimate empty edge ethnic emigration eavesdrop eccentrics eclectic entertainment employment epilogue You are now in the middle of it all! It is happening! You most probably will be pushed, excused and asked to move out of the way. This is the place to hear the traders shouting their encouraging mantras (Sweet mangos! No touching! No squeezing!) mixed with the words of God delivered by local evangelists. If you arrive early (between 8am and 9am) you might be able to see a unique performance delivered by a local celebrity who walks through the market nearly every morning and dances! Her moves encourage traders and shoppers to give her constant rounds of applause! Unforgettable.

Visitor’s voice: I bought an octopus at Ridley Road Market. It was delicious. It was the first time I purchased an octopus ever! Visitor’s voice: I dare you to eat the snail!!! E

F is for family business F is for flesh fish fabric foot family (the Mayos, the Julians, the Cains, the Lamberts, the Fishlocks) false fame fan fermenting functional funeral You are doubling back on yourself slightly to be able to squeeze in between the stalls and explore some of the shops hidden behind the market. As you do so look at the faces of the traders – many of them are related and you can spot the same noses, foreheads, and chins. The market used to be run by just a few families. It used to be a very close-knit community of people who not only spent their working week together but also their time off too. St Osyth, a little village by the sea in Essex, used to be the retreat for this community. Nowadays the market traders come from different countries and cultures but you can still meet the Mayos and the Lamberts whilst strolling through the market. They are fountains of local knowledge to say the least.

Visitor’s voice: all-white luv? F

G is for gentrification G is for garbage gravel gum gals guys gents guts gem giggling gold Mr Bagel’s is a good place to grab something to eat. There is a wide range of things to choose from - from bagels to curries. Go for something you have never had before! This café is perfect for people watching. Sit by the window and scan the crowd. It contains a real mixture of characters, cultures and class. The fears of local traders that their existing clients will be pushed out from the area by gradually more and more expensive rent and costs of living are matched with the crowd you see in front of your eyes. Ridley Road is filled with creative folk - illustrators, designers, musicians, artists who have their studios or flats around this area. Just a short stroll from the market there are major new developments – luxurious flats that are beyond the reach of many local people. New people who are moving into the area often want to shop for different foods and at different times and many of them are disengaged with the market. This adds to the tension that one can feel building up. All of this adds to the richness of Ridley Road Market that seems to still exist outside of health and safety laws and political correctness.

Visitor’s voice: Unbelievable market, great way to view it, so many interesting facts, spaces, colours, smells. Amazing! Visitor’s voice: “You can’t bring it back used over a year later and expect a refund” policeman intervenes at the pots & pans stall. G

H is for history H is for hunger hospitality hub Hackney hipsters halal hamam headscarf handiwork handwritten health heart heat hair handbag heavy hierarchy hire As you leave Mr Bagel’s you should be able to spot the eggs stall – the only one at the market. Usually Sue (AKA Eggs Sue) is manning the stall. If you want an insight from a local trader and you are in need of a dozen eggs she is the person to have a chat with.

Visitor’s voice: I feel challenged by things that are strange and unknown but then inquisitive to find out more. I sense that the market has changed organically as the residents and culture has changed. H

I is for Identity I is for incense insect ice This is an optional detour – a short walk to Colvestone Crescent. Your escape route if you have already had enough but also a quiet road where you can relax. You are given an opportunity to look at the local housing stock in case you are tempted to move in. It is a prime location and a room in this area usually costs min £500 + bills. Tempted?

Visitor’s voice: This is more than a market, it is a community, identity and spirit! I

J is for Jews J is for jelly-nut jester jewellery juice juggling job joy journey juxtaposition You are standing on the spot that changes from day to day from a temporary restaurant to hosting a BBC van but ordinarily this concrete space offers an area to sit and relax for busy shoppers. Join in – this is a perfect spot to meet locals who come here to shop. This is where you might hear stories about the market’s past. The market was predominantly Jewish when it started and the bagel shop on the corner is one of the few references to this past.

Visitor’s voice: There were piles of grey/beige bathing caps in bins at several of the butcher’s stalls… Or… some kind of offal I don’t usually see?! There is a friendliness that attracts the buyers which continues beyond the sale and allows you to enjoy a long day outdoors in the community. J

K is for khazi

Toilet break! Have change ready!


L is for language L is for lip-gloss landfill locals lads lambs leather leftovers lemons The market offers a true mix of languages and accents. This is the place to come to if you are writing a book and looking for the right language for one of your characters. This is the accents heaven and creative speaking class rolled into one. Come here to collect new phrases that are not part of the mainstream just yet! One of my favourite accents belongs to Samina who sells lip gloss, eye shadows and mascaras at affordable prices £1£3. Stop for a chat and get yourself a nail varnish in canary yellow.

Visitor’s voice: I love Ridley Road market for the reason that you can walk through it as a friend, a local, a resident, a customer, a tourist. Or all of these at once. L

M is for Muslim Community Centre M is for market mate mocking muscle money movement moment memory mentality mind menthol madness maintenance malfunction masculine mapping mass meat meet mildew mutual matchmaking meal migrant multilayered moaning micro-cosmos monologue Keep walking behind the market stalls until you reach the watch shop run by a smiley Muslim gentleman. The shop is regularly closed for prayers, so if this is the case, make sure you retrace your steps and visit when it reopens. It is worth a wait! Although the main part of the space is taken over by a watch shop, this is only part of its function. The chair by the counter is for you. Sit down and you will most probably be offered tea or coffee to help you relax. This is an independent Muslim community centre for one. You can get advice here on any issue you are battling with be it faith, relationships, sex or the meaning of life. The knowledgeable Imam is here to help and if your issue is a truly hard one, he consults with others. The advice given is delivered from an Islamic perspective but nevertheless offers you a unique experience and insight from a religious point of view.

Visitor’s voice: I have lived around here most of my life. It’s been interesting to spend a bit of time seeing the market through the eyes of others. I had an interesting chat with the man running a community centre in the watch shop! M

N is for Nollywood N is for narration nail varnish noise need nibbling nickname nightwear nitpicker nurturing nourishing nuance number numb nuts nyah normal Once you have left the community centre go back to the main road. You should be standing in front of a large stall with a vast selection of DVDs. The majority of the films on sale here are Nollywood productions. Haven’t heard of Nollywood before? I suggest you look it up on YouTube. Nollywood - the cinema of Nigeria is currently the second largest film industry in the world in terms of its number of annual film productions, placing it ahead of the United States and behind the Indian film industry. The delicious selection of films here allows you to see at one glance the size of the industry and its many faces. Ali, the owner of the stall is very helpful. Ask for advice if you fancy trying this new genre.

Visitor’s voice: I stood on the outside teetering on the edge of people lives, observing the comings and going and marvelling at the surreal differences and diversities of the people that make this place. It may struggle, but it thrives with energy, life and richness of character and identity – a gritty, real, punching soul! N

O is for Olympics O is for origin obesity object obligation observation octopus occupation occurrence offer offline onions oranges organs opposition other owner oh boy ontology odd If you visit the market in 2012 the Olympics will most probably be the word that will hit your ears most. This guide is an alternative to the sporting showcase taking place just a few miles away from Dalston. The market benefitted from the Olympic fever with improvements such as new tarmac and electricity poles being part of the East London preparations for the 2012 Games. Not interested in the 100m run? Perfect! Stop by Peter’s stall (on the right hand side just 15-20m down the market from the DVD stall) for the news of the day filtered through his view of the world – down to earth, purposeful, entertaining. Better than TV! Peter also always has on sale something no one else does on the entire market be it redcurrants or Green Zebra tomatoes.

Visitor’s voice: You should never just pass through Ridley Road. You need to take a real look around! O

P is for private-public P is for pictures portraits performance pounds peckish pedestrians peer group people pennies picturesque pigeons politics pollutions pub publicists puncture pure Carry on walking down the market. This is a quieter part. Stalls are not as full and traders are not as busy. The everyday life of people who live locally is more and more visible. You can spot locals sitting on the doorsteps of the shops engaged in conversation with kids running around. Don’t snap continuously though, let people be.

Visitor’s voice: Will Google help us understand Ridley Road Market? Visitor’s voice: The market reminds me of what a real sense of being human is. Exchanges, smiles, bartering and more. P

Q is for quarter Q is for questions quantity quality queen quid You should be facing Ridley Road Shopping Village - a mini market within a market. This building holds many things and you will explore some of them in a minute. Don’t be surprised if you are not allowed in though. This space is often occupied by film crews who use parts of Ridley Road as a backdrop for crime scenes. Some of the TV series’ crews are also a regular feature at the market. If you are lucky you may be hired as an extra!

Visitor’s voice: I felt transported! Q

R is for recession R is for research reading rain raw rent ribbon recreation rights rituals race rails radical rags reaction reality regeneration reciprocity Wander into the Shopping Village and spend time cruising through the narrow corridors. You should emerge in the shopping village cafĂŠ that is run predominantly for the benefit of the market stallholders. This is the local headquarters for gossip exchange, vocalising political views and never-ending dialogue around council regeneration policies. It is one of the many real faces of the recession.

Visitor’s voice: I think Ridley Road is an excellent example of the issues in modern London. Changing everyday but also allowed to remain the same by its lack of jurisdiction. I hope in 50 years time it will still be here‌ R

S is for sustainability S is for satsumas seagulls St Osyth season seat seed segregation shouts singing shallots soap opera sugar suitability suitcase Turn your head towards the fruit machines. Gambling is a big and hidden part of the market. The café changes its atmosphere towards the end of the day when the traders are pouring in through the door for a drink and to gamble away their change. If you have a spare 50p in your pocket try your luck!

Visitor’s voice: I was impressed by the £27 drop. I wonder how much money is lost or made on those machines. Visitor’s voice: Super snail shells salmon sheep heads and stomach linings… Sickening! Visitor’s voice: It is a shame to see that the fruit machines no longer have moving parts. On the old ones you could cheat by using magnets! Visitor’s voice: 50p spin was a winner either way! S

T is for tea T is for tights thighs team testers temperature thermals tattoo time tired title tour toffee trade transaction travel The best way to inhale the local atmosphere and feel part of it is to stay for a drink. Tea costs less then a quid and there is usually a table free. You will miss out if you don’t make time to stop for a cuppa.

Visitor’s voice: Long live Ridley Road! Let’s keep it a market for everyone! T

U is for useful U is for un- up- utopia Ăœbermensch underwear underdog ugliness ulcer upwind urban urine utility ugh It is a fact that Alan Sugar used to have a stall at this market. In people’s memories he sold umbrellas. No one is entirely sure where his stall was but some suggested it used to be opposite the exit from the Shopping Village. Turn left and carry on walking down the pavement. On the left hand side you will come across a truly extraordinary place: Dalston Mill Fabrics that sells any fabric in any design. It is worth going in purely to be surrounded by the orgy of colours and patterns.

Visitor’s voice: Very much London in a nut-shell! U

V is for vegetables V is for vacant vacuum void value vandalism volunteer variety vintage vulgar vortex view voice volume virtual vocabulary Go back to the main road. You are near the end and this is a perfect spot to do some veg shopping. If you fancy Caribbean specialities go to Barry’s stall to stock up on sorrel, yams and jelly nuts. If you fancy tomatoes and cabbages approach the stall next door run by Tony and his son Keith. All three gentlemen do more then just sell fruit and veg! Each purchase comes with a joke thrown in free of charge and both Barry and Tony represent families that have been at the market for generations. Fancy first hand stories about the old days? Well you are in the right place talking to the right people.

Visitor’s voice: This market makes me feel like a tourist in my own city! V

W is for weatherproof W is for way wages wagons West Indies walking waiting wandering wondering words This is an optional detour. Turn left into a square behind the garage-like structures. This land operates as a storeroom, toilets, car park and waiting room in one. If it is a market day it will be heaving no matter what the weather is doing. People here are weatherproof.

Visitor’s voice: There is a lot that can be seen and said about this market. Visiting it is one of the most impressive experiences you can’t prepare for. It spans from strawberries to melting fish! W

X is for x

As you exit the square you will come across a tiny shed where you can get your hair plaited or get extensions at unbeatable prices! The atmosphere here is always jolly too so if you feel like pouring your heart out to a hairdresser to wrap up your Ridley Road experience – this is the perfect place!


Y is for you Y is for yum yam yadda yadda yadda yarmulka yesterday year This is the end. You reached Saint Mark’s Rise where the market ends these days (in the past it carried on further down). This moment is for you.

Visitor’s voice: I recommend a coconut stall for a fresh coconut drink! Visitor’s voice: It reminds me of Feira de Sao Joachim in Salvador in Brazil. I feel as much like a tourist here as I did there – an outsider looking into others’ worlds and lives. Y

Z is for zone

There are bus stops on St Mark’s Rise. The little bus that stops here (No 236) can take you either back towards Dalston Kingsland High Street (stop: Crossway) or forward to another market (stop: Broadway Market). The choice is yours and of course you can always walk back.

Visitor’s voice: It was like a bizarre holiday tour into the weird and wonderful theatre of life. Visitor’s voice: Oh my god! It was here all this time and I DIDN’T KNOW IT?! Z

A to Z Ridley Road Market is a project by Ania Bas commissioned by Open Empty Spaces as part of its 2011 project Stalls & Traders. Text and images copyright the artist and courtesy Open Empty Spaces. Photography the artist and Sam Perry.

A - Z Market  

Research, guided tours and an e-guide to one of the best open markets in London - Ridley Road Market, Dalston.