Since 1981, when he moved to London from Liverpool, Phil Maxwell has been taking pictures daily on Brick Lane, creating an unparalleled canon of photography that records the changing face of Spitalfields over the last thirty years.
So, in 1991, when the nocturnal Fruit & Vegetable Market which flourished here for more than three centuries was to be moved out, Phil turned his attention to capturing the last days of this unique phenomenon. These pictures compose Phil’s personal elegy to the Market which – along with the Truman Brewery – once comprised the core of Spitalfields’ historic identity as London’s first industrial suburb.
“It was a great place to wander around because there was so much life in it,” Phil recalled fondly, “The Market had its own ecosystem that surrounded it, including the homeless people who gravitated there, the ladies of the night who ran a cottage industry servicing the lorry drivers, the women from Hackney who came every day to scavenge discarded vegetables, and the twenty-four hour pub and cafe trade. A lot of different people came through Spitalfields then.
I think of the Fruit & Vegetable Market as a dynamic and energetic place in contrast to the City of London next door. It was a barrier, as if there was a wall preventing the City expanding any further. But since the Market left the City has moved closer, causing a large increase in the price of property and land which increases rents. You can see the result today – it’s become very difficult for small businesses to survive because rents have become so high. There is no comparison between the liveliness of the Fruit & Vegetable Market and what you have now”
Photographs copyright © Phil Maxwell
Follow Phil Maxwell’s blog Playground of an East End Photographer
See more of Phil Maxwell’s work here
Phil Maxwell’s Brick Lane
The Cat Lady of Spitalfields
Phil Maxwell, Photographer
Phil Maxwell & Sandra Esqulant, Photographer & Muse
Phil Maxwell’s Old Ladies
More of Phil Maxwell’s Old Ladies
Phil Maxwell’s Old Ladies in Colour
Phil Maxwell on the Tube
and more pictures of the old Fruit & Vegetable Market here
Mark Jackson & Huw Davies’ Photographs of the Spitalfields Market
Spitalfields Market Portraits, 1991
Night at the Spitalfields Market, 1991
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