London really was a tale of two cities: not so much of the City and Westminster, but of the north and south bank of the Thames. Crossing the river southwards anywhere between Lambeth and Southwark was a short journey from the moneyed to the moneyless. As early as 1981 I was seeking out what I thought of as the “other” London, a Dickensian knot of three or four-storey nineteenth-century terraces, not unlike the East End, but within a hardly more than a stone’s throw of the counting houses of the City or the theatre houses of the West End.
This is a photograph of what is today called Lower Marsh, but what was known to us as the “New Cut” or simply “The Cut”. The look of it had barely changed since the time of Dickens. There was always a vast street market here, the largest of which had been held on Saturday evening in order to attract working people to buy provisions for Sunday dinners, described in great detail by Henry Mayhew in the 1840s in his work, “London Labour and the London Poor”. By the time I reached this market with my camera, it was still solidly working-class, noisy, colourful and completely authentic. The market catered for local wives doing their basket-shop and there were still long standing businesses with their Art-Deco shop signs, Cohen’s house clearance, Waterloo House for knitting and sewing supplies and Linton’s for “corsets and brassieres”. Today, like everything else in London, all is changed. A newly sanitised Lower Marsh consists largely of office space and outlets where millennials can eat Cuban food or buy their vegan latte and artisan bread. I suppose that reflects both a changed society and local demographic, but I liked the old London street and covered markets, which were part of a world I recognised and understood.
The Salt Winds, 17/50. The street market at The Cut, or Lower Marsh, Lambeth, London, August 1981. Ilford HP5
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