Camden Town [1F, 61] Camden is the only market I spent any amount of time at, but there are many other markets that are worth checking out. Camden is actually home to a whole series of markets, all fairly different. You can easily spend a couple of hours rooting through racks of clothes, jewelry, CDs and assorted bricabrac. There are also permanent shops that sell food, leather goods, shoes and so forth, as well as rather dodgy stalls set up on the sidewalks to sell watches and tapes.Will Snyder's "London Book Junket: Quest for the Out-of-print Rarity" (2004) is about book markets in particular:
The first market you’ll probably see is Camden Market (Thursday-Sunday, 9 - 5:30). It’s the first market on your right as you walk north from the Camden Town tube along Camden High Street. Camden Market tends to sell mostly clothes; t-shirts, Doc Martens (£35 new!), military peacoats and the like. You can also buy jewelry, makeup and records. If you get hungry, there are some cheap ethnic food stalls whose quality I will not vouch for.
Continuing up Camden High Street you will pass over the Camden Lock, an artificial waterway. Along with the usual t-shirts and jewelry, the Canal Market also offers up some more interesting items: African statues, bootleg concert videos and tapes (but don’t bother buying the videos because you won’t be able to play them in the States. Europe uses a different format, so unless you have a VCR in your flat, they will be useless), Swiss army knives, blankets, and more. Sometimes there are collector’s items like stamps or comic books as well.
Across the street from the Canal Market is Camden Lock Market. It sprawls around the market hall, a multi-story shopping center. The items you’ll find here are similar to those in other markets: mood rings, official Guinness pint glasses, bootleg concert CDs, used books, cheesy souveniers, and all the rest. The permanent shops are interesting, though. They include a Turkish Bath shop, a palm reader, and a nice glass shop, and they are open seven days a week, unlike the stalls that only spring up on weekends.
If you continue north through the Lock Market you will quickly find yourself in a warren of brick alleyways. This is the Stables Market, which bills itself as London’s biggest antique market. Whether it is or not, it’s still massive, and there is plenty to be found there. There are antiques by the bucketloads, of course: spoons, clocks, and coins dominate. There are also clothing and army surplus stalls, record shops, vintage book stores, and a metalwork stand.
There’s also plenty of food in the Stables, as well. You can try the Oasis Food Arch, which gathers six international food stands into one area by the south entrance. There are also carts that sell packets of roasted coconut and peanuts (£1) and a stand that sells burgers (£2 for veggie or meat versions).
Camden is a fairly touristy area, with lots of foreign students as well. All of the markets are crowded. Camden Market in particular can get packed, with barely any room to squeeze past. In short, it’s a pickpocket’s heaven, so play it smart: keep your wallet in a front pocket, and securely close any bags.
Camden Town is a wonderful place for bargain hunters to shop. Initially, the prices are high, but with a little persuasion from the buyer, these vendors will gladly lower their prices immediately. Open Thursday to Sunday from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., this market is just right for anyone who enjoys a crowded, but relaxing, scene for shopping. Even if you aren’t a shopper, or if your budget does not include buying clothes in London, go for the cultural experience. The people are friendly and interesting.
I discovered that there are at least eleven book markets operating on a regular (at least once a week) basis. I chose to visit three of the best-known markets: Southbank, Portobello Road and Camdem Road.
Southbank Book Market is a “romantic” outdoor market devoted almost exclusively to books, open every day 11am- 7pm under the Waterloo Bridge and continuing along the Thames in a wide pedestrian open space. This is where Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts fell in love in “Four Weddings and a Funeral,” but the day I visited it reminiscent only of the funeral. The morose damp weather had kept all but one vendor away, and it was rather sad to see his displayed books amidst a sea of locked wooden storage trunks. It was too depressing to even browse.
I walked across the Waterloo footbridge to Embankment tube station and headed off to Notting Hill and the famous Portobello Market. This Saturday market is mostly indoors, with scattered bookstalls accessible through gallery entrances off the Portobello Road and Westbourne Grove and down cluttered alleyways, like interconnecting rabbit warrens. Luckily I had my Book Lovers’ London guide to indicate where the booksellers were hiding.
Many of the stalls are specialized in specific types of books, from history to rugby to fine and applied arts, or just first edition novels. Most have a selection of leatherbound volumes that are sometimes purchased for their decorative value without concern for the content. The overall presentation is quite varied, ranging from dishevelled chaos to a system that would make Dewey proud. I made a few small purchases, travel books from the early 20th century.
From Portobello I took the tube Circle line, changed at King’s Cross, and took the Northern Line to Camden Market (open Saturdays and Sundays). Again, the book market stalls were hidden in the myriad of corridors offering New Age / Punk / Afro-exotic apparel and accessories. I was lucky to have my handy guidebook indicating the target locations. Times had changed, however, and some establishments mentioned in the guide had closed down, leaving only Black Gull and Walden Books surviving. Both were excellent finds, however, with a huge selection of multi-disciplinary used books and very knowledgeable and friendly management. I bought three books, including a great find on wine walks in France.
I spent the next day at the heart of the used and specialist bookshop district, along Charing Cross road from the National Gallery to Oxford Street. Some are located along quaint pedestrian streets like Cecil Court –a book lover’s heaven- and nearby art specialist stores off of Picadilly. There are stores so filled with stock that step ladders are provided so customers can reach the upper shelves. Typically bargain tables are placed outside. Some have rare volumes locked behind glass fronted cabinets. All shops I visited had very helpful staff who usually knew if Mark Twain’s Travels in Europe was in stock - though if you are just browsing, they will leave you on your own.
I picked up a poster and some postcards at a shop specializing in films and performing arts, and some out-of-print fiction on Cecil Court. And then I found some more travel books which I couldn’t resist.
Finally, I looked at the large number of book fairs held in London during the year, allowing booksellers who may simply have a mail order service from their homes across England to have a stall at these fairs. For example, monthly book fairs are held at the Hotel Russell in Russell Square that are free and very popular. And there are frequent annual events, like the Chelsea Book Fair in June, Performing Arts Book Fairs in April and October, the Travel and Exploration Book Fair in March and the Antiquarian Book Fair in June that attract hundreds of booksellers. Truly a book lovers paradise, a trip to London offers so much more than the mainstream chain store giants.
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