The last stand: the rise, fall and rise again of the street stall
- Credit: Published by kind permission of Philip Rocker
There's a void on Crouch End's Broadway. It's the place where Paul Saxton had his news stall for more than forty years - the third generation in a family business that's now runs its course.
The open-to-the-elements news kiosk now feels as anachronistic as the "Read all about it!" news vendor, the "Stop press" column and the Saturday football results special (though happily, as you will have noticed, the paid-for local paper still thrives in our area).
You have got to look hard to find an old-style news stand in our corner of London, and other traditional forms of street stall are also on the way out.
But it's not all bleak - indeed some new types of pavement stands (think crepes or flat whites) are coming into fashion.
Paul Saxton kept to the task much longer than most - the endurance of his stall (painted a non-descript grey, with no confectionery on sale and don't even think of paying by card) was part of what made N8 special. Crouch End has lost a little of its soul.
On Paul's last day at the end of February, he was showered with gifts, cards and fond farewells. The most charming of these tokens of esteem was a wooden scale model of his stall - exquisitely made, and already a memento of times past.
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The stall itself isn't that old - dating from some time in the 1980s, as far as Paul can recall. But his presence on the Broadway was a thread of continuity to an earlier incarnation of the high street, when there was less uniformity between one locality and another.
Crouch End was fortunate in keeping its news stall for so long. The stand at the end of Parkway in Camden Town, which once displayed such an impressive array of Irish local papers, closed some years ago.
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The news stall I patronised for many years outside Tufnell Park tube station shut up shop even longer ago, in the autumn of 2010. But that lives on in its memorable depiction by a local artist, Fermin Rocker. To judge from the streetscape and the clothes, you might imagine that this painting dates from the drab 1950s. In fact, Rocker - who died in 2004 aged 96 - didn't move into the area until the late 1970s.
"Time stood still for my dad and then slowly went backwards," Philip Rocker says. "So fashion, cars, things like that are often a poor indication of the date of a picture."
There are still street markets across London, of course, and an array of stalls and pop-up businesses. But some of the most iconic stalls have packed up for good.
Tubby Isaac's seafood stall on Goulston Street in Aldgate was for many decades a defining aspect of the old East End - a link to Cockney culture that's fading fast. It was established in 1919 by 'Tubby' Isaac Brenner and remained in the family for four generations until, after 94 years in business, it finally succumbed to the hollowing out of the inner East End (and the declining appetite for jellied eels).
Syd's coffee stall on Calvert Avenue in Shoreditch also got going in 1919 and was a family business throughout. It was on wheels and said to be the last London coffee stall of its kind, though in later years it was kerbed in and immobile. Syd's initially sold Camp Coffee - a coffee and chicory mix which is best described as an acquired taste - along with tea and cocoa, but above all it was a precursor of the fast food stall. In its early years, the most popular dish was a 'sav and a slice', in other words a saveloy sandwich with a touch of mustard. Sadly, Syd's closed for good in December 2019.
But as one type of stall disappears, another springs to life. The vogue for frothy designer coffees has ushered in the age of the coffee cart. The stall near Kentish Town station has become a local favourite. More recently, another well patronised coffee cart has set up from time-to-time in the forecourt of Highgate cemetery in Swains Lane.
But what happens to the old stalls when the businesses close? Well, Syd's is now in the care of the Museum of London. The old newspaper kiosk at Tufnell Park has been repurposed as a flower stall.
And Paul's old gaffe?
"It will just stay here," he says, "..until the council come and take it away!'
- Andrew Whitehead is a local resident and historian and author of the 'Curious' series of books about North London's past.