Thursday - 23 October 2014

Big announcement due on Bermondsey

10 January 2013Written by Joan Porter

A decision is due soon which could prove very significant for the future of Bermondsey Antiques and Vintage Market.

Southwark Council are currently considering applications for a two-year licence to run it, and their markets and streets trading manager, John McHenry, said: "Southwark want an expert market operator in the operation of antique markets to develop and grow the existing market for the benefit of traders, shoppers, and the local community. It is expected that the winning bidder will be announced this month to take up post at the beginning of March."

Back in 2009, the council identified this famous market in Bermondsey Square as being in decline, declaring that it needed rebranding and relaunching. The words 'action' and 'plan' were much bandied about. Since then, lack of funds has seen this largely put on hold.

The market has a rich history, as Kevin Dolan's 2010 documentary Market tellingly evokes, showing pre-dawn buyers peering at Georgian silver glistening in torchlight, and is, or was, famed as a dealers' market focusing on silver and jewellery since its origins in Islington to its relocation to the square in 1948.

Graham Jarvis, a silver dealer here for 30 years, feels that dealers with fresh stock each week can still do very well, but traders who bring the same stock each week may struggle.

The event has much to commend it for a market manager who enjoys a challenge. It is right by the achingly-cool Bermondsey Street and surroundings, heaving with media and arts folk, not to mention the revamp of the London Bridge area and the mighty Shard building.

Jewellery dealer Joan Bygrave, chairman of the Bermondsey Antique Traders Association, is now nearly 80 and drives up from her Kent home in the very early hours of Friday morning when she starts to get the market ready for arrivals around 4am for the open market's traditional 5am start.

For her, as for many of the other long-term traders, alarm bells rang when the developers moved in on the square around 2000, relocating the stallholders to temporary accommodation until the reopening in 2007, which saw them surrounded by offices blocks and a hotel - but all surely with good potential for custom.

She said: "From the giddy days of the 1990s with 250 stalls, standholders started to leave when the developers moved in, never to return. There was too much uncertainty for this hardcore of serious London dealers and this has remained, so we now have just around 40 dealers."

Ever since I have known Joan she has been an eternal optimist: "I'm always hopeful" is her trademark phrase. On the role of a manager for the market, she said: "This person will need a lot of guts, experience and vision." She added: "This market has been my life for 50 years and I can't imagine a Friday without it."

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