We all love Broadway Market but Stephen Selby looks back to a time when it was struggling to survive

In 1970 Broadway Market, once one of the most thriving markets in East London, was left with only a handful of street traders, plying their trades with their traditional painted barrows.

Shops were abandoned and many were left clad in corrugated iron.

Grafitti on the walls about Broadway Market

Grifitti has always been interesting in Hackney

Then, out of the blue nine years later, the GLC Highways Authority proposed to demolish it in order to put in a “feeder” road through from the Blackwall Tunnel.

Two young shopkeepers (myself and Stewart Goodman), recognising the potential of their surroundings, arranged to meet the GLC chief to make a case for saving the market.

They arranged a carnival with
decorated floats, drum majorettes and Victorian fancy dress. They invited local residents, together with MPs – even policemen wore their striking dress uniforms to impress. The market was saved.

Old photo of Broadway Market, probably taken in 1910s

Old photo of Broadway Market, probably taken in 1910s

Ironically, the GLC itself was
terminated in 1986, and sold all the properties for a mere peppercorn to Hackney Council, sadly without a supporting budget for repair.

Hoping for refreshed vigour, a few shops were re-opened, but the street limped on with little impetus or financial backing from the council. Two visiting council officers were asked whether they lived in Hackney and their retort was “We wouldn’t dream of living in a dump like this”.

In the early 1990s, the
Broadway Market Traders & Residents Association (BMTRA) was formed to help revive this little oasis that no one bothered to visit.

Saturdays were especially bleak. Local residents preferred to shop at Tesco in Morning Lane. Our market was empty.

Hackney’s regeneration department invested in an office and personnel to give the place a boost, then a new flower market was formed and managed in the background by those who ran Columbia Road Flower Market. This new market closed within 12 months.

Hackney Markets Deptartment then invited the London Farmers’ Market to set up a food market on the site.
Again, conflict with the Ridley Road traders restricted their ambitions.
Three years of delay was too much for everyone. Hackney Regeneration closed its office and retail shops and developers were left without a commercial plan.

BMTRA stepped in with a positive idea – to create a high-quality
market, not in conflict with anyone.

The council, eventually, in May 2004 effected the road closure. At this point 25 years had passed between saving the street market and
reopening it.

It took only three weekends to sign up 49 interested traders from Borough and Spitialfields Markets, Camden Passage and Stoke
Newington.

The first day was remarkably successful and the market has since grown to 125 traders.

In fact, demand for a stall pitch is so great that the waiting list is presently closed. It has the cheapest rents in London and donates to local
charities and amenities. It’s been the finest place for young entrepreneurs to launch their businesses and is so successful for the traders that most don’t ever want to leave.