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Petticoat Lane Market to get ‘new coat of paint and more’ with Tower Hamlets Council’s rejuvenation plans

PUBLISHED: 13:38 02 March 2018 | UPDATED: 09:26 07 March 2018

Petticoat Lane's thriving Sunday street market. Picture source: LBTH

Petticoat Lane's thriving Sunday street market. Picture source: LBTH

LBTH

Plans to ‘update’ Petticoat Lane have been revealed with a feasibility study to see how London’s most-famous ancient and iconic street market can be rejuvenated.

Young 'entrepreneurs' from Bethnal Green's Virginia primary school trying their hand at street trading in Petitcoat Lane in 2015. Picture: Tony Hussey Young 'entrepreneurs' from Bethnal Green's Virginia primary school trying their hand at street trading in Petitcoat Lane in 2015. Picture: Tony Hussey

A scheme is on the cards for Middlesex Street and the whole market area behind Whitechapel High Street, including Wentworth Street and Goldstone Street.

A feasibility study is being carried out over the next six months involving market traders, shoppers and householders by Tower Hamlets Council looking at ideas.

“The name ‘Petticoat Lane’ evokes visions of a classic London street,” Mayor John Biggs said.

“It has been on the tourist trail for generations, but location and tradition alone are not enough to ensure it continues to thrive. So we’re considering ways to bring a new lease of life.”

Tubby Isaacs' famous jellied eel stall in Petticoat Lane, 1940s. Picture source: Brenner family album Tubby Isaacs' famous jellied eel stall in Petticoat Lane, 1940s. Picture source: Brenner family album

Petticoat Lane was not formally recognised as a street market until an Act of Parliament as late as in 1936, even though it had been a trading thoroughfare back to Tudor times.

It was unregulated and police cars and fire engines were often brought in to disrupt the illegal street trading as late as the 1930s.

But Parliament finally gave in and protected the rights of stallholders to sell their wears every Sunday morning, with new trading licenses issued by Stepney borough council.

One of its famous stallholders was the flamboyant jellied eel ‘king’ Tubby Isaacs serving up traditional eels, whelks, cockles and mussels since 1919.

Petticoat Lane Sunday market early 1900s outside Jews' Free School. Picture source: Tower Hamlets Archive Petticoat Lane Sunday market early 1900s outside Jews' Free School. Picture source: Tower Hamlets Archive

The stall set up by the original 28st ‘Tubby’ Isaac Brenner a year after the First World War finally stopped trading in 2013 by four generations in the same family. It had its heyday up to the 1950s, especially Sunday mornings serving the market crowds.

The name ‘Petticoat Lane’ came from selling petticoats and from the fable that “they would steal your petticoat at one end of the market and sell it back to you at the other”.

It was known in Tudor times as ‘Hogs Lane’, at east end of the City of London on the parish boundary with St Mary Whitechapel, an ancient droving trail for pigs outside the city wall.

‘Peticote Lane’ by 1608 became a regular street market for second-hand clothes and bric-à-brac sold and exchanged.

French Huguenots fleeing persecution arrived in the late 17th century, with master weavers settling in the surrounding streets in the new town of Spitalfields.

Jewish refugees from eastern Europe arrived a century later, many entering the local garment industry and joining the market trade.

‘The Lane’ became a centre for the East End’s rag trade, for manufacturing and selling garments.

‘Peticote Lane’ changed to ‘Middlesex Street’ in 1830 to mark the boundary between Whitechapel the City of London, both part of the old County of Middlesex at the time. But the old image continues to this day. No-one ever calls it “Midlesex Street Market”—the world knows the East End’s famous Sunday market as ‘Petticoat Lane’.

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