Canning Town night market, 1912

Just enhancing some catalogue entries for the diaries of Isabel Fry (1869-1958). I’ve been trying to find an entry to stick up here for a while, but I originally wanted to find one that I could say “on this day X years ago Isabel Fry wrote…”. Perhaps I’ll manage that in at some point, but for now I really liked this description of the Canning Town night market, from 29 December, 1912;

“Last night I spent with Augusta Sewell in her little workman’s house at Canning Town. The region is inexpressively slummy! It seems so foreign & remote from one’s ordinary experiences that one wonders if they talk English. At 7.30 we sallied out to see the Sat. night markets. They were not in full swing, but street after street was already alive & men were already bleating out the strange cry (it did not sound like intentional words) of Buybuybuy! Buybuybuy! They seemed to do it as a dog barks – not the least as a man speaks! Nothing was cheap – in fact dear rather than otherwise.

There was a flowershop – must be for graves but with anemones 1d each. I asked if they would clean them & they said ‘oh yes, sure to. People would have them for button holes’. A negro quack was selling medicines, his voice dropping to a thrilling whisper as he pretended certain confidences & then burst out ‘No I told him I didn’t want to sell my medicine’s cheap’ etc –

Slop shops were full of children’s drawers & petticoats – 5 1/2d for drawers – & A.S. tells me no one can sew effectively in Canning Town.

Cinemas there were almost as thick as pubs; fights & temporary entertainments in odd scraps of ground”

It makes me laugh how this entry makes Fry sound a little snobby (eg. the comment of the people of Canning Town not being able to sew effectively, and the expression of the area being “slummy”). Fry was a socialist, and was involved in slum clearance. Her observations therefore, were most likely an examination of the conditions of the people she saw, not a judgement on them. I’ll be updating this catalogue with as much detail as I can. Updates will appear incrementally here.

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