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To some, it’s a road that runs from Homerton High Street to Millfields Park and Leabridge Road, in Clapton, providing a short cut, void of traffic and traffic lights, but there is so much more to this road and it’s surrounding community. We take a closer look.
Next to the bakery on Chatsworth Road is ‘The Shop’ – which has changing window displays but nothing for sale. The Shop is actually a home, and the owner readily admits he could never leave this ‘peculiar and wonderful street’. Made up almost entirely of independent shops, Chatsworth Road is a rare jewel among the homogeneous high streets of modern Britain. There’s no McDonalds here, no Gap, no Starbucks – just a roll call of unique businesses that locals love.
Paks Cosmetics, a Black hair and beauty shop that caters primarily to African Caribbeans, does a brisk trade, while a steady flow of customers buy fresh yams and plantains from the Caribbean supermarket next door. ‘Mighty Meats’, the local butcher of 30 years standing, and a tyre shop that has been trading for 50 years are typical of the treasured old guard. Stalwarts like the Kashmiri Kebab shop and Jamaican take away reflect a more recent demographic. And now, a new breed of outlets is multiplying.
The Ceramics Café looks across the road to the French Deli – L’epicerie, which faces the boutique coffee shop. A little further on is Lorenzo’s quirky juice bar, while an Italian café is currently taking shape in the building once occupied by the Thai restaurant.
Chatsworth Road was once home to Hackney’s biggest street market, but it fizzled out in the recession of the 1980s. Thanks to the efforts of local people, it is set to make a come back this year. After extensive consultation (and despite the huge success of nearby Broadway Market) Chats will serve a very different demographic, providing local residents with reasonably priced goods.
Wide pavements and deep parking bays make Chatsworth Road the perfect place for a street market. Unlike most high streets in Britain, Chatsworth was built as part of a planned new neighbourhood. Originally a field path, the road was built from scratch in the 1870s, hence its handsome proportions.
At one end of the high street are a hospital, library and arts centre; at the other end are a church, school and funeral parlour – in between, a startling array of shops. With such amenities, its no surprise that many locals don’t stray far. Mike from the local locksmith is not alone in suffering ‘withdrawal symptoms’ if he leaves the street for a day. If Chatsworth Road is missing anything it is a local pub, though Chatsworth Kitchen, a modern British diner is a welcome recent addition.
Many of the shops are open all year round (Christmas day is just another normal day) and until 9pm every evening. Most traders work more than 14 hours a day, seven days a week.
There’s no doubt that recent years have been a struggle, as they have for many high streets, and this is reflected in a number of boarded up shop fronts. First there was Sunday trading, then the closure of the post office. The hated introduction of parking controls meant drivers could no longer easily stop and shop.
The reintroduction of the market will give a much needed boost to local businesses, and allow local entrepreneurs to start trading on a small scale without being tied to crippling business rents. It will be a vibrant addition to the neighbourhood and an enjoyable way to shop in the local community. The initiative is a wonderful example of community spirit in the face of global recession and the increasing might of large supermarket chains.
The plan is to open the market on Sunday, initially monthly and progressing to weekly, with stalls selling a mixture of meat and fish, flowers, second-hand goods and arts and crafts. Professional stallholders can register their interest at www.chatsworthroade5.co.uk, and the organisers are also looking for volunteers and help with fundraising.
Herbert, who has lived just off Chatsworth Road for all of his 87 years, remembers the high street and market when he was a boy.
“When you woke up in the morning you could hear the birds singing. It was a different world then. There would be bands playing on the marshes, kites in the sky and real street parties with acrobats. It might sound like heaven – it was – but we didn’t know it then. There were seven butchers – I used to get faggots, salt beef and saveloys.
“We did all our shopping on Chatsworth Road and had all our entertainment there too. There was no need to go anywhere else. Where the snooker hall is now was the cinema and we all used to go to the pictures a lot. Cohen’s Grocery Store was there, the first Tesco. There were two pie and mash shops – one was where the Chinese takeaway is now; we had a lot of dinners in there. The old post office was an electrical shop and the dentist by the school was a television shop. There were two ironmongers that sold everything, as well as a tailor’s, a drapers and several fishmongers. The Blackhorse pub was wonderful and always busy. The market stalls used to go right down as far as Chats Palace and opposite was the Corner Pin pub where everyone went. At the market they used to make sweets – they smelt lovely.”
Two local residents, who live just off Chatsworth Road, have spent the last year recording the high street in words and pictures, before it changes beyond all recognition. The work of acclaimed street photographer, Colin O’Brien and award-winning travel writer, Jane Egginton, will be on display later this year in Chats Palace Arts Centre in Chatsworth Road.
Last of the Real High Streets
8th October – 27th November
Chats Palace Arts Centre, 42-44 Brooksby’s Walk
London E9 6DF
London Overground – Homerton
Buses – 236, 242 and 276
12–5pm (‘til 9pm Thu)