Tuesday 8th August 2018 – Old Spitalfields Market, London
It’s all very well working somewhere for a couple of years but eventually you get a bit bored with the same old streets every day. With that in mind, I’ve resolved to do some “lunchtime tourism” to see what I can see in the space of 60 minutes or less. This means that things need to be nearby and/or free (or on the case of Saint Paul’s Cathedral which is just across the road, offer an annual ticket for £1 more than the standard entrance fee). As it was a nice day, I was in the mood for a little walking and so headed off along London Wall towards Liverpool Street Station, with the intent to get lunch at Spitalfields Market. It’s territory I haven’t explored yet, because most of my exploration has been various routes between Cheapside and Euston Station on my way into or home from work, at least so far.
The walking serves a couple of purposes, starting with preserving my sanity because it means I don’t have to battle my way into the Underground and onto an overcrowded Tube train, and ending with ensuring my current weight loss effort benefits, because I’m getting more exercise. With that in mind I detoured off through Finsbury Circus Gardens, or rather I attempted to but it’s full of building works at the moment as the juggernaut that is Crossrail rumbles on its way towards its repeatedly delayed completion date. So the oldest public park in London will have to wait for another day.
From there I wended my way to Liverpool Street Station, because I knew I needed to get to the eastern side of it so I could get to my destination. I was briefly distracted by a couple of things, the first a homeless man, begging, with a massive and very friendly tabby cat on a lead, the second this statue in Hope Square, round the side of the station, Kindertransport – The Arrival. A plaque on the wall behind it carried the dedication “to the Children of the Kindertransport, who found hope and safety in Britain through the gateway of Liverpool Street Station”.
On the statue itself, although it was hard to see it for the people who seem to consider it an alternative seating area, is a further dedication, explaining that the statue, created by one of the children it commemorates, is “in gratitude to the people of Britain for saving the lives of 10,000 unaccompanied mainly Jewish children who fled from Nazi persecution in 1938 and 1939”. Around the base are the names of the places they set off from: Cologne, Hanover, Nuremberg, Stuttgart, Dusseldorf, Frankfurt, Bremen, Munich, Danzig, Breslau, Prague, Hamburg, Mannheim, Leipzig, Berlin and Vienna. Apparently it was originally one of four sculptures erected along the children’s route to safety. The other three, also by Frank Meisler, are The Departure which is in Danzig, Trains to Life – Trains to Death at the Friedrichstraße railway station in Berlin, and Channel Crossing to Life at the Hook of Holland.
There’s now a fifth work, in Hamburg, called The Final Parting, which was erected in May 2015. I found it odd that so few of the people there seemed to be paying it any attention at all, and that anyone would treat it with sufficient disrespect to sit on it to eat their lunch. It just didn’t seem right to me. I went on my way before I could shout at them to get off and go and sit somewhere else!
From there it’s a reasonably short hop to Old Spitalfields Market, via Bishopsgate, where I didn’t have time to linger if I wanted to eat as well. The area around here used to be very run down, and I used to drive along Commercial Street with the doors locked back in the 1980s and 1990s, especially if I was headed that way after dark, when it was a major red light district. It’s changed a bit since then, and I doubt anyone from back then would recognise the place! I doubt the fruit and vegetable merchants who used to work here would either.
The market itself seems to have different themes on different days, including a vintage market on a Thursday, and a vinyl market selling LPs and singles (ask your Grandparents) but I managed to avoid most of those as I was aiming for the food truck line down one side of the market shelter area.
First though there was a need to examine a work of art, the Wooden Boat with Seven People, which is by Kalliopi Lemos, and is part of what is referred to as the Spitalfields’ rolling art programme. The installation uses a boat that was used to transport refugees from Turkey to Greece before being abandoned and then acquired by the artist to use as part of her series Navigating the Dark. It provided a thought provoking counterpoint to the Hope Square statue, and also “makes direct reference to the successive waves of migrants who have arrived in Spitalfields through the centuries”.
Anyway, that was all the culture I really had time for. I needed lunch. I’d heard of the Duck Truck and was most keen to try them out. I did do a swing up and down the line of shiny and not so shiny trucks first though.
However, I wasn’t going to change my mind. Duck it was. I duly located the Duck Truck and queued up happily behind several other would-be diners.
There were plenty of choices (though all revolving around that fine thing, the confit and otherwise cooked duck).
I snagged my chosen meal, and swung around the outside of the market building to see what Commercial Street looks like now (the answer is clean, tidy, busy, lined with tiny but interesting restaurants, and no longer plagued by importuning prostitutes). I was amused in particular by the cheese shop, which does a fine line in dreadful puns – and cheese.
I set a fast pace back to the office and was back at my desk inside an hour, enjoying my lunch of duck with red cabbage, salad and pomegranate dressing very much.
I have since discovered the the Duck Truck are in the final four listing for Street Food vendor of the year in Harden’s London Restaurant Awards and they richly deserve it!