Street art on Surrey Street can’t fill the gap in the market

Feeling the squeeze: Surrey Street Market remains one of the best places in the borough for value for money fruit and veg

Armed with his re-usable canvas bag, KEN TOWL strolled down Croydon’s ancient street market to pick up a bargain and find out how the traders are getting along, more than a year after its £1.1million makeover

The scene on Surrey Street Market yesterday morning. Fewer stalls inevitably lead to fewer potential customers visiting the market

It is a truth universally acknowledged that the high street is going to wrack and ruin and, as I passed by the shut-up shop fronts of North End, I wondered how things are going in Surrey Street Market at the heart of Croydon.

The ancient street market, founded by royal charter in 1276, has been providing good quality fruit and vegetables to the people of Croydon for centuries, but was more recently described unhelpfully as “tatty” by a senior councillor, before being given a bit of a facelift last year.

That spruce-up seems to have consisted mostly of the commissioning of some public art and the provision of a lot of coloured gazebos over the stalls.

The question I asked myself as I stood on the footbridge that crosses Surrey Street was, “Why does it look half empty?” In late March last year, the market was cleared and some (but not all) of the stall-holders were moved to a temporary site in North End while radiators in Surrey Street were painted in bright colours, lines and numbers for pitches were painted on the ground, and a blue child soldier with a grenade in his hand was stuck on a wall.

After 10 weeks the stall-holders who wanted to come back were allowed to do so and the inherent “tattiness” of the fruiterers was leavened by the introduction of organic delicatessen farmers’ market hipster street food bourgeoisification.

Fewer stalls, but the air con units are colourful, which is nice

By preventing the market’s traders from plying their trade for nearly three months in 2017, the council managed to drive away half the remaining stalls. 

A market that once boasted some 100 stall-holders now has, as of the morning of Tuesday December 18, 2018, 16 providers of fruit and vegetables, two selling cut flowers (and, this month, wreaths and Christmas trees), one selling fresh fish, another selling lingerie and one more selling a variety of household materials, plus a handful of trailers selling street food such as doughnuts.

I spoke to some of the traders who, quite frankly, appear a little subdued, a little worried about the future of the market.

In the lead up to Christmas , things “could be better”, trade was described as fairly quiet. “So-so,” was the way one trader put it.

The Centre for Retail Research has just published findings that suggest that neither retail nor online sales are high this year but that this Saturday, December 22, will be the peak “Super Saturday” for the high street (after “Frenzied Friday”, the last big day for pre-Christmas internet sales).

Surrey Street Market is not quite on its uppers, though, and the current empty spaces where the uninspired councillor had envisaged there would be gentrifying croissants, cupcakes and charcuterie only serve to point up the real attraction of the market, the good quality vegetables at better-than-supermarket prices.

Great quality and value for money is what Surrey Street has always been about

The cry of “pound a bowl” is still to be heard in Surrey Street and for your pound you get a lot. Three cucumbers, for example, or 20 clementines, enough carrots to feed a herd of reindeer, or a lifetime’s supply of Brussels sprouts.

If you are doing your Christmas shopping this weekend, you could do worse than stock up on oranges, sprouts, potatoes and parsnips at Surrey Street.

Despite the best efforts of the council, the market is still the beating heart of Croydon’s retail offer, and it will continue to be so as long as we use it.

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News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email
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5 Responses to Street art on Surrey Street can’t fill the gap in the market

  1. Lewis White says:

    Glad to note that Surrey Street is still in existence, and, earlier this year, I was impressed with the number of stalls I saw. I did buy a lot of the produce on sale too, and wished I had several more arms so I could carry more shopping baskets.

    I was really glad to see that there are a lot of traders from London’s Black and Ethnic Minority communities, plus some old-time Croydon market stallholders whose forbears might well have been there when the king dished out the Royal Charter . One was singing out her traditional cry which sounded like “Chimmy chimmy!” or was it “Chirry chirry!. She was selling cherries . Marvellous!

    I was so happy, I quietly but spontaneously broke out into the market sing-song of my childhood memory of the 60s………
    “‘Arf a pound of ripe tomaters, ‘arf a pound of SALAD tomaters! “……” Mind your backs please”…

    I would like to see all the street food outlets being allowed to have proper outdoor seating.. I NEVER buy street food as I want to sit down to eat it–not walk along or stand.

    I bought a pint at the Dog and Bull because I could sit outside in the open air and sunshine, and enjoy seeing the market down there almost as busy as it was in the 70’s. Great vibe. .

    Finally, I want a Sunday market that sells fruit and veg. Otherwise I will not bother to visit it.

    I am glad that the council invetsed in the new paving.

    I want to see more seating, and ideally a brewery outlet for local breweries. I cannot be alone in this hope?

  2. mikebweb says:

    Next time try standing on the bridge and looking the other way = you will find there are many more stalls, the produce is still good and the customers are coming!
    So stop knocking it!

    • We did. And there weren’t.

      There were fewer than 30 traders out yesterday. The report is not “knocking it”, as you say. Quite the contrary.

      But the facts are the facts. There are fewer stalls now on Surrey Street than at any time in the last 100 years.

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