Petticoat Lane Market

Street market since around 1760

Petticoat Lane's early history
Contributed by Survey of London on Aug. 3, 2020

Petticoat Lane ‘is not what it used to be’.1 This lament has echoed through recent decades, as demography and shopping habits continue their perpetual churn, but it is older. An aura of nostalgia has clung to Petticoat Lane from its earliest times.2 In the 1590s John Stow bemoaned the transformation of Hog Lane, as it was then generally known: ‘This Hogge lane stretcheth North toward Saint Marie Spitle without Bishopsgate, and within these fortie yeares, had on both sides fayre hedgerowes of Elme trees, with Bridges and easie stiles to passe ouer into the pleasant fieldes, very commodious for Citizens therein to walke, shoote, and otherwise to recreate and refresh their dulled spirites in the sweete and wholesome ayre, which is nowe within few yeares made a continuall building throughout, of Garden houses, and small Cottages; and the fields on either side be turned into Garden plottes, teynter yardes, Bowling Allyes, and such like, from Houndes ditch in the West, so farre as white Chappell, and further towards the East.’3

This suggests both that the line of the street was built up between 1550 and 1600 and that the hinterland remained undeveloped. Stow is inexact, but it has been suggested that the reference to tenteryards refers to those created on the City side in the 1570s.4 Bowling is recorded in the 1530s in a nearby Whitechapel garden, and in the 1590s William Megges had a bowling alley at his great house to the east of Petticoat Lane.

Hog Lane to Petticoat Lane

The name ‘Petticoat Lane’ was in use by 1586, when two houses in ‘Petticote’ or ‘Pettycote’ Lane were to be searched in connection with the Babington plot that led to the execution of Mary, Queen of Scots.5 One of these houses was that of John Gage (b. 1563), the recusant grandson of Sir John Gage, Queen Elizabeth’s sometime chamberlain, and younger brother of Robert Gage who was executed for his part in the plot.

Petticoat Lane appears to owe its name to a different kind of illicit activity. Hog Lane, even when still so called in the late sixteenth century, was the location of a well-known ‘disorderly’ house owned by John Holland, part of a ‘mobb’ with brothels dotted around London.6 In a pamphlet of 1591, Thomas Nashe (as ‘Adam Fouleweather’) wrote that ‘if the Beadelles of Bridewell be careful this summer it may be hoped that Peticote Lane may be less pestered with ill aires then it was woont: and the howses there so cleere clensed, that honest women may dwell there without any dread’.7 The following year, Robert Greene relayed a fictional tale of a confidence trick or ‘cross bite’ in a ‘Trugging house’ in ‘Petticote Lane’.8 In 1596 the libertine-turned-Catholic, Thomas Lodge, poured scorn on an imaginary ‘lord of all bawdy houses, & Patron of Peticote-lane’.9

A similar imputation of general disreputability occurs in 1601 in Thomas Middleton’s pamphlet The Penniless Parliament of Threadbare Poets which postulates as an implausible scenario that ‘men shall be so vent'rously given as they shall go into Petticoat Lane and yet come out again as honestly as they went first in’. There is a more specific suggestion that Petticoat Lane was a haunt of sexual vice in a pamphlet by Samuel Rowlands, based on the work of Robert Greene, about a ‘whore’, who, in a common trope, had tried to facilitate theft from a client in her lodging ‘which was in Peticote Lane’.10 The use of the word ‘petticoat’ for a prostitute and the substitution of ‘Petticoat Lane’ for ‘brothel houses’ in different editions of Middleton’s work have also been noted. The suggestion has further been made that the ‘Garden houses’ referred to by Stow were, in fact, these brothels.11 In 1632 Donald Lupton opined that Petticoat Lane and Rosemary Lane (another former Hog Lane that gained notoriety as a clothes market) housed populations of women who ‘traded on their bottom’.12

Such commentary does not constitute a dispassionate archival source, but while the accounts are undoubtedly embroidered for sensational effect, these allusions to a specific street, by several different authors, did not come from nowhere. They are sufficiently numerous, and consistent with late sixteenth-century Bridewell court records, which show Aldgate as one area where prostitution was concentrated, to allow the inference that the street’s name derived from the lewd associations of ‘petticoat’ rather than, anachronistically, from the area’s later popularity as a locus of trading in second-hand clothes.13 That must be noted because a literal interpretation of the word ‘petticoat’ has been conflated with the beginnings of the street market. No such link is necessary.

What is not specified in these sources is what part of Petticoat Lane, which stretched from the junction with Whitechapel High Street north almost to Bishopsgate Street, is referred to in the allusions to bawdy houses. In Ben Jonson’s The Devil is an Ass, first performed in 1616, the character of Iniquity suggests he will ‘lead thee a daunce, through the streets ... Downe Petticoate-lane, and vp the Smock-allies’, which suggests an area further up the lane in Spitalfields, the location of Smock Alley.14  Other early references to ‘Peticote Lane’ merely as a street name occur in 1602 (specifying only that it is ‘in London’) and more precisely in 1604, when property, probably an inn, ‘on the east side of Petticoat Lane’, was held of Sir Thomas Bodley by John Wright, the innholder at the Crown in Aldgate High Street at his death in 1607.15 Little can be said about the lane’s early residents. In the 1750s William Maitland noted that the Whitechapel end of Petticoat Lane was ‘not mighty well [affluently] inhabited. Those of the most account are Horners, who prepare Horns for other petty Manufacturers.’16 This had been the case for nearly a century. Banished from the City, the noxious trade had concentrated around Petticoat Lane. The most substantial horner was George Harrison, resident in Petticoat Lane by 1666 until his death in 1706. He held several leases on the east side of Petticoat Lane around Tripe Yard and Swan Court, including that of his own house with a high rental value in 1693 of £50, as well as other leases in Old Montague Street and elsewhere in East London.17 Other houses of reasonable size, clustered in the centre of the Whitechapel stretch of Petticoat Lane, were occupied by horners in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, including William Axtell (d. 1690), Edward Edwards (d. 1727), William Layton (d. 1728) and John Abraham (1700–67).18 The only other substantial resident of this period seems to have been Edward Lloyd (_c._1620–96), a ‘merchant … and late of Mary Land, planter’. Lloyd was an ambitious Puritan emigrant who had returned to England in 1668 and died in Petticoat Lane in possession of thousands of acres and many slaves in Maryland. He was resident in Black Bell Lane in a ‘Great Howse’ with a garden and orchard from 1689 to the end of his life.19

Petticoat Lane to Middlesex Street

The process of ‘pestering’ with tenements and courts that Stow bemoaned took off in Petticoat Lane around the time that the customs of the Manor changed in 1617, and proceeded apace throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. When William Browne acquired a Boar’s Head Yard holding in 1621, he already held land in Tripe Yard, a narrow alley that eventually connected with the north end of Boar’s Head Yard to occupy together more than a third of the Petticoat Lane hinterland between the High Street and Wentworth Street, with access to both the High Street and Petticoat Lane.

By the 1670s there were more than 200 houses on the Whitechapel section of Petticoat Lane and the alleys and courts leading off it. Of those recorded fewer than twenty per cent had four or more hearths; more had only one. Typical perhaps of the two- or three-hearth houses was that leased in Boar’s Head Yard in 1669 to the horner William Axtell, whose larger principal dwelling fronted the lane. It was of brick, of four storeys including a cellar, with only one room on each floor.20 Hollar’s aerial ‘Surveigh’ of the post-Fire City of 1667 stretches as far as this corner of Whitechapel, and shows in a schematic but realistically representative manner a continuous line of two and three-storey mostly gable-fronted houses of modest width along Petticoat Lane. By 1676, there were thirteen courts or alleys off Petticoat Lane on the Whitechapel side, including minor but proper streets, Three Tun Alley, Black Bell Alley (on the line of New Goulston Street) and Horseshoe Alley.

Apart from horners and the poor, Petticoat Lane’s closed-off back alleys provided a home for religious nonconformists. There was a meeting house by 1723, perhaps much earlier, on part of the site of the Boar’s Head Theatre. It passed from Independents to Anabaptists around 1765, on to Calvinists in the early nineteenth century, and finally became a synagogue, with stables beneath, until demolition around 1882.21

Despite rebuilding and renaming, this dense topography carried on as a locus of poverty, disease and crime, often, as ever, in brothels. In 1725 Petticoat Lane was given as an exemplar of a place a ‘boarding school miss’ would be ashamed to admit was home.22  A large open area at the end of Black Bell Alley, marked ‘Blackguard’s Gambling Ground’ on Horwood’s map of the 1790s, might be identified with a court called the Gaff, where, it was said in 1818, ‘Jews used to play at pitch and toss’.23

As Petticoat Lane’s population increased, public houses were established on its east side. The earliest was the Black Bell on the corner of Black Bell Alley, present by the mid seventeenth century and later just the Bell, which pub survives in rebuilt form. Another was the King of Prussia (sometimes the King of Prussia’s Head), on the Wentworth Street corner by 1767, rebuilt in 1868 but falling to road widening around 1881. The Black Lion adjoined by 1750 and met the same fate. These places were reputed to be haunts of receivers of stolen goods.24 The notoriety of the name ‘Petticoat Lane’ saw it replaced, very gradually, over the nineteenth century by Middlesex Street – it was part of the county boundary. The new name was first used in 1805 for the part of the street between Whitechapel High Street and Wentworth Street, but it was not until the 1830s that it seems to have taken hold, even for legal or official use.25 The blandness of the new name coupled with the familiarity of the old name, meant that even in the 1890s there were references to ‘Middlesex Street (late Petticoat Lane)’ and ‘Middlesex Street, better known as Petticoat Lane, Whitechapel’.26 By the end of the nineteenth century the whole street to Bishopsgate was Middlesex Street.27 In a final turn of the Petticoat Lane wheel, one of the last enterprises in Boar’s Head Yard was a temporary refuge for fallen women, opened in 1860 in an initiative by the Rev. Samuel Thornton of St Jude’s Church. There

‘sixty-four young women — mostly fallen, some in danger — nearly all from the neighbourhood, have passed through the institution; … This excellent institution is in some degree self supporting, the inmates earning money by washing, mangling, and needlework.’28

The whole of Whitechapel’s Petticoat Lane/Middlesex Street frontage was cleared for road widening and its alleys for slum clearance in 1880–3 for the Goulston Street Improvement.


  2. Noel Malcolm, ‘A Week in London’, Country Life, 24 Jan 1991, p.44 

  3. John Stow, A Survey of London. Reprinted From the Text of 1603, C. L. Kingsford (ed.), 1908, vol.1, p.127 

  4. Stow, Survey, vol.2, p.288 

  5. William Durrant Cooper, ‘Notices of Anthony Babington, of Dethick, and the Conspiracy of 1586’, The Reliquary, vol.2, 1861–2, pp.177–87 (p. 183) 

  6. John L. McMullan, The Canting Crew: London’s Criminal Underworld, 1550–1700, 1984, p.139 

  7. George Saintsbury (ed.), Elizabethan and Jacobean Pamphlets, 1892, p.191 

  8. R(obert) G(reene), The Black Bookes Messenger: Laying Open the Life and Death of Ned Browne, 1592, p.8 

  9. Thomas Lodge, Wits Miserie and the World’s Madnesse: Discovering the Devils Incarnat of this Age, 1596, p.52 

  10. (Samuel Rowlands), Greene’s Ghost Haunting Conie-Catchers, 1602, p.28: Gary Taylor and John Lavagnino_, Thomas Middleton: Collected Works_, vol.1, 2007, p.2008 

  11. Gary Taylor and John Lavagnino (eds), Thomas Middleton and Early Modern Textual Culture: A Companion to the Collected Works, 2007, p.343: Edward H. Sugden, A Topographical Dictionary to the Works of Shakespeare and His Fellow Dramatists, 1925, p.407 

  12. McMullan, Canting Crew, p.61: East London Observer, 22 March 1902, p.3 

  13. Paul Griffiths, ‘The Structure of Prostitution in Elizabethan London’, Continuity and Change, vol.8/1, 1993, pp.39–63 

  14. Ben Jonson, The Deuil is an Ass: A Comedie Acted in the Yeere, 1616, by His Maiesties Servants, 1631, p.8 

  15. R. A. Roberts (ed.), Calendar of the Cecil Papers in Hatfield House, vol.12, 1910, p.168: Tower Hamlets Local History Library and Archives (THLHLA), P/SLC/1/17/10: The National Archives (TNA), PROB11/109/210 

  16. William Maitland, The History of London from its Foundation by the Romans to the Present Time, 1756, vol.2, p.1009 

  17. TNA, Hearth Tax returns (HT) 1666 and 1674–5; PROB11/493/136: Ancestry: British History Online, Four Shillings in the Pound Assessments, 1693–4 (4s£) 

  18. Ancestry: TNA, PROB11/613/330; PROB11/626/37; PROB11/929/284 

  19. Birmingham Archives, MS3415/100: 4s£: TNA, PROB11/432/371: Kenneth L. Carroll, ‘Persecution and Persecutors of Maryland Quakers, 1658–61’, Quaker History, vol.99/1, Spring 2010, pp.15–31 

  20. HT 1674–5: Ancestry: THLHLA, P/SLC/1/17/13: TNA, PROB11/367/97 

  21. Herbert Berry, The Boar’s Head Playhouse, 1986, p.88: London Metropolitan Archives (LMA), MBW/2635/20; Land Tax Returns (LT) 

  22. Mist’s Weekly Journal, 11 Dec 1725: Derby Advertiser, 8 June 1738, p.4: Derby Mercury, 7 Oct 1747, p.2: Sussex Advertiser, 29 Jan 1749, p.3 

  23. Morning Advertiser, 12 Dec 1818, p.3 

  24. LMA, CLC/B/192/F/001/MS11936/361/559056; MR/LV/6/79; MR/LV/8/68: Post Office Directories: Morning Advertiser, 25 July 1868, p.1: LT: Watts Phillips, The Wild Tribes of London, 1855, pp.58–72 

  25. Morning Chronicle, 2 Oct 1805, p.4: LMA, CLC/B/192/F/001/MS11936/438/804144 

  26. London Evening Standard, 31 Aug 1891, p.3: Globe, 11 Aug 1894, p.7 

  27. F. H. W. Sheppard (ed.), Survey of London: vol.27,Spitalfields and Mile End New Town, 1957, p.237 

  28. John Hollingshead, Ragged London in 1861, 1861, pp.51–2 

Petticoat Lane Market
Contributed by Survey of London on Aug. 3, 2020

The origins of Petticoat Lane’s street market are obscure, and its antiquity has been much exaggerated. John Strype, Stow’s successor as a London historian who was born on Petticoat Lane, did not mention a market in the early eighteenth century, nor is there any evidence to indicate a significant presence of market trading in the street before about 1760. While the origins of the street name do not lie in the clothing trade, for reasons already given, there were clothing markets not far away by the time the name Petticoat Lane came into use. This has contributed to historical conflations since the nineteenth century. As ‘Petticoat Lane’ was a shorthand for prostitution around 1600, so Houndsditch, to the west, was for clothing. Ben Jonson refers to it in Every Man in His Humour, first performed in 1598: ‘Where got’st thou this coat? … Of a Hounsditch man, Sir, one of the devil’s near kinsman, a broker.’1 By the mid eighteenth century a City triangle bounded by Houndsditch, St Mary Axe and Leadenhall Street hosted a thriving market in new and secondhand clothes, another Rag Fair, as on Rosemary Lane.2

A feature of these markets was the ‘old clothes man’, a recognised type of itinerant street hawker, always on the move, selling and soliciting stock, and almost invariably Jewish. While there is no evidence of an established street market in Petticoat Lane, there are hints that street trading of some sort might have been taking place there by the 1760s, and that the traders were Jewish. Whitechapel’s Paving Commissioners ordered the setting up of pitching places or porters’ stands at the Whitechapel High Street end of Petticoat Lane in late 1771. The stories that made it into the press were bleak. A man called Levi, ‘a dealer of old cloaths’, hanged himself in his lodgings in Petticoat Lane, Whitechapel, in 1766; Solomon Porter, ‘an old Cloathes-man’ who also lodged in Petticoat Lane, was hanged for his part in a burglary in 1771; and a gang of thieves conveyed their ‘Plunder to a noted Jew (a Receiver of stolen Goods) in Petticoat Lane’ in 1778.3

Reports of Petticoat Lane as thick with pickpockets suggest crowds if not markets. In 1789 a public meeting called on magistrates to assist in ‘extirpating a notorious gang of thieves and pickpockets, who have long been suffered to annoy and plunder the peaceable inhabitants of that neighbourhood … Petticoat Lane is a very considerable thoroughfare … and certainly would become more so were it rendered safe for the public to pass and repass.’4

The mutable and mobile character of the area’s street markets is evident from accounts of prosecutions of traders in Cutler Street, leading east out of Houndsditch towards Petticoat Lane. In 1820 ‘Four old cloathsmen were charged … with obstructing the highway, and establishing an old cloaths market in Cutler Street, Houndsditch … from two o’clock until four each day, the street was blocked with Jews and old cloaths … as soon as [the dealers] were moved from one end of the street they were seen crowding together at the other, and their baggage was all spread upon the pavement with the greatest speed.’5 The market in what was already becoming Middlesex Street may have arisen as a further spilling eastwards of the Houndsditch clothes market.

Laxness in use of the name ‘Petticoat Lane’ does not help clarification. In 1839 it was reported that: ‘The origin of the term “Rag Fair”, held in Petticoat Lane, as Cutler Street is called, can easily be traced to the commodities exhibited for sale.’6 Cutler Street and Harrow Alley were perhaps the conduits by which the clothes market did become established in Middlesex Street, but quite when is hard to say. In 1830, a report of a court case (written entirely for comic effect) related the theft in ‘the Market in Petticoat Lane’ of ‘a pair of inexpressibles, value 2_s_’. The wife of the accuser, Moses Levi, described the market: ‘Petticoat Lane Exchange is conducted with the greatest regularity – five or six hundred people jostle one another about all day – that she considered quite regular – (Laughter.)’7 After this date reports of the market in Petticoat Lane increase, featuring stolen goods and general sharp practice, usually couched in comic terms that rely on Jewish and, sometimes, Irish stereotypes.

Henry Mayhew supplied much greater definition in 1849. His colourful description, widely quoted, explains the topography of Petticoat Lane, indicating that it did, inter alia, occupy ‘Petticoat-lane proper’ (Middlesex Street): ‘Petticoat-lane is essentially the old clothes district. Embracing the streets and alleys adjacent to Petticoat-lane, and including the rows of old boots and shoes on the ground, there is perhaps between two and three miles of old clothes. Petticoat-lane proper is long and narrow, and to look down it is to look down a vista of many-coloured garments, alike on the sides and on the ground.’8

Mayhew’s full account goes on to illustrate the difficulty in distinguishing between the expanding street display of shops and a market with fixed hours of operation, stall-holders operating from barrows independently of  shops. Hierarchical distinctions were made between shops, street traders with fixed stalls, and itinerant vendors, pedlars and hawkers, who traded on the hoof. While there had been some increase in the numbers of poor Irish immigrants in the old-clothes trade, the itinerant vendors remained predominantly Jewish.9

Petticoat Lane’s status as a ‘Sunday market’, arising from its Jewishness, became a focus of attention in the 1850s. Henry Ker Seymer MP reported that in Petticoat Lane there was a ‘regular fair’ on Sundays between eleven and one o’clock. He argued that ‘the violation of order and decency which there prevailed’ meant that it should be suppressed. A fellow Tory MP, Robert Carden, agreed, having visited on a Sunday morning and found ‘an assemblage of some 10,000 or 12,000 people’. A difficulty was that half of the street was in the City, half in Middlesex. It became apparent that for the City, the market had become ‘almost a legalised nuisance’, tolerated ‘in order that they might get rid of a similar nuisance which at that time existed in more important thoroughfares’.10  It was also pointed out that it was invidious (and implicitly anti-Semitic) to single out Petticoat Lane for condemnation when trading was going on elsewhere on Sundays. Daniel Samuel of 32 Middlesex Street (on the City side) explained: ‘if you would please come into Petticoat Lane on Saturdays you would see the Sabbath kept, – the closing of all shops, a cessation of all business.’11 Further, for the poor, who mostly worked six days a week, Sunday was often the only day for food shopping. George Gordon of the National Sunday League wrote in support of the Petticoat Lane traders and against the anti-Semitic grain, though perhaps as idealising as others were scornful: ‘I saw nothing objectionable in this poor man’s bazaar not the least violation of the peace … This unassuming locality is free from the fashionable vices of adulteries, murders, and robberies … In certain parts I have seen jewellers, &c, expose their valuables for sale, which at first made me tremble for their safety; but such is their confidence in the sterling honesty of the unwashed multitude that the religious and moral characters of Duke-street, Houndsditch, and Middlesex Street are beyond reproach.’12

Petticoat Lane market continued, with occasional increased police presence, and by 1871 not just on a Sunday. A reporter then estimated vendors to number around 700 and the press of customers, ‘from all parts of London’, at 10,000. For a non-Jewish readership, the repeated tropes were the cheapness of goods, the presence of criminals and the ‘foreignness’ of vendors and customers: ‘This Sunday morning spectacle … is one of the most sickening of all the unadvertised sights of London. … the behaviour of those who congregate here is a ruffianly swagger, while the constant din serves only to remind you of a Jew’s quarter in a continental town’.13

In 1880, a visitor detected that Petticoat Lane was not as busy as it once had been, and that more of the clientele was not Jewish.14 But the market was about to receive substantial boosts. Road widening at the south end made an immediate difference to available space and then there was the impact of mass Jewish immigration from the Pale of Settlement following the pogroms of the early 1880s. When Charles Booth embarked on his exhaustive study of the Life and Labour of the People in London in 1889, he began in the East End, just as the Whitechapel murders (Jack the Ripper) generated wider fascination. The descriptive tone is little different from that of the previous forty years – ‘a medley of strange sights, strange sounds, and strange smells’, but this account provides a clearer sense of the street topography, ‘lined with a double or treble row of hand-barrows, set fast with empty cases, so as to assume the guise of market stalls. Here and there a cart may have been drawn in, but the horse has gone and the tilt is used as a rostrum when the salesmen with stentorian voices cry their wares’, and the goods on offer, the ‘cheap garments, smart braces, sham jewellery, or patent medicines. ... Other stalls supply daily wants – fish is sold in large quantities – vegetables and fruit – queer cakes and outlandish bread.’ It also suggests again that the demography was changing: ‘In nearly all cases the Jew is the seller, and the gentile the buyer; Petticoat Lane is the exchange of the Jew, but the lounge of the Christian.’ Booth testifies as well to a further eastwards shift, with mention made of market stalls in Brick Lane, and the animal market in Sclater Street.15

The renewal of the 1880s is also evident in a report on London markets from 1893, which stated that Petticoat Lane ‘is probably the largest street market in London’, but also that in ‘its present condition the market is not more than about 10 years old: before that time there were not more than a few stalls in the streets: but of late years since the great influx of Polish and Russian Jews it has greatly increased. The market is continuous, but most business is done on Sunday mornings, Friday afternoons, and the days preceding Jewish festivals.’ The report makes clear the move away from clothing to food. Of 335 stalls, only 52 dealt in apparel, broadly interpreted – boots, clothing, haberdashery and hosiery. Vegetables and fruit (59 stalls), poultry (30), fish (55) and fruit only (61) were by far the most numerous. Shopkeepers occupied thirty-five stalls.16

Subsequent accounts of the market augment emphasis on brightly coloured exoticism with a sense that many in the market were recent arrivals who did not speak English. An unusually sympathetic reporter for The Queen in 1895 found that she could ‘converse freely’ in German with the Yiddish-speaking traders. She took a particular interest in the food stalls, the ‘enormous gherkins, in tubs of salt and water … Dutch herrings in tubs’, the ‘Jewish cakes, including the thin Passover cakes; enormous brown and white loaves … or a hot dish of dried peas and cabbage’, and the perennial East End favourite, ‘stewed eels in jelly’. Hebrew books attracted her attention, as did a kosher butcher. Of the people, she concluded: ‘They were in many cases the poorest of the poor, yet were orderly and even deferential as we passed, answering our questions politely, and rather pleased than otherwise at our interest in their wares … Petticoat-lane on a Sunday morning is intensely interesting. … these people, with their own tongue, their own religion, their own manners, and their own customs, are a living, breathing part of this great metropolis.’17

By this time, the appearance of Middlesex Street had greatly altered, following the clearances of the 1880s and the building of Wentworth Dwellings, Brunswick Buildings and shophouses and warehouses fronting Middlesex Street. Houndsditch had become wholesale, Petticoat Lane retail. Occupancy of the shops lining the streets had changed. Where clothing had predominated, by 1902 it was ‘now only a secondary business, there being only six clothes shop in the Lane. … the beginning of it is occupied by dealers in light refreshments, consisting of hokey pokey, wally wallies, hot peas, whelks, cakes of various kind, hot drinks and cold drinks, stewed eels, sweetstuff, fruit, fried fish, apple fritters, trotters, and many other cheap luxuries. Next is an exhibition of moving pictures!’18
The first decade of the twentieth century saw a number of threats to the market’s future. The developer Abraham Davis built a ‘Jewish Bazaar’ complete with kosher slaughtering facilities at what became Hessel Street market in Stepney, then in 1906 tried unsuccessfully to create a new market for Petticoat Lane traders on the south side of Fashion Street in Spitalfields.19

The Aliens Immigration Act of 1905, a reaction to recent Jewish immigration, passed despite opposition. But even some of its opponents wanted Petticoat Lane’s Sunday market closed. A bill to limit Sunday trading, others argued, would mean ruin to the market’s ‘2,000’ traders and ‘10,000’ shoppers, many of whom, paid on a Saturday evening, were reliant on Sunday shopping. The bill failed repeatedly in 1906 to 1908 and clauses limiting Sunday trading were dropped from the Shops Act of 1911. Petticoat Lane carried on.20

Redevelopment on the City side of Middlesex Street in the 1920s and 1930s still did not dislodge the market. It was said to have had, ‘a great fillip since the war’, and the old stories of colour and crime persisted: ‘It used to be jokingly said … that if you missed your purse or handkerchief at one end of the Lane, you would find it for sale at the other!’ Food continued to fascinate: ‘You can get fritters done to a turn – you see them emerge from a tank of boiling fat in a compact little kitchen on wheels. All the improvised “eat shops” do a roaring trade, and eels, winkles and every form of mollusc are greatly relished.’21

One enduring presence in Petticoat Lane market was Tubby Isaac’s jellied-eel stall. This stood at the bottom of Middlesex Street from 1919 and later in Goulston Street until it closed in 2013. Tubby Isaac was the nickname of Isaac Brenner (1893–1942), Whitechapel born. He ran his stall in Petticoat Lane for twenty-one years then emigrated to the United States in 1940, working his passage as a ship’s cook. Tubby Isaac’s or Isaacs, as the stall came generally to be known, was taken over by Soloman Gritzman (1908–1982), said to have worked on the stall since it opened when he was aged eleven. Gritzman ‘became’ Tubby Isaacs, in Goulston Street, certainly by 1957, where the stall remained, and for some years in the 1960s at the south end of Middlesex Street.22

In 1928 Petticoat Lane market achieved official status when Stepney Borough Council brought in licensing, and in 1936 it received further protection under the Shops (Sunday Trading Restriction) Act, whereby Jewish shopkeepers and stallholders who did not trade on a Saturday were permitted to trade on a Sunday till 2pm. But that same year stallholders had to fight off an attack by youths, ‘said to be Fascists’.23 The market still does not trade on Saturdays, though the religious rationale has long since lapsed.

Substantial Blitz damage in 1941 destroyed buildings at the south end of Goulston Street and Middlesex Street, and parts of Wentworth Dwellings. As a consequence, a large extra trading area opened up in the cleared site between Goulston Street and Middlesex Street. A sign of the extent to which the market was thriving in the 1950s was the expansion of the Tubby Isaacs business. By 1957 there was an additional stall on Goulston Street, outside 133–137 Whitechapel High Street. The Middlesex Street pitch was used until road widening in the late 1960s made it less salubrious.24 Soloman Gritzman continued the jellied-eel business until around 1976 when Ted Simpson took over, in turn replaced by his son Paul (b. 1964) in 1989. The stall also served typical East End delicacies of winkles, cockles, prawns and mussels, augmented by hamburgers by 1965, latterly even oysters, which attracted professionals from the City. The business used an open-sided stall that could be rolled into storage. By the early twenty-first century there was a more compact towable fast-food trailer, with a counter along one long side and boards that fold up in transit. ‘Branch’ seafood stalls operated in Walthamstow from the 1980s until 2012 and in Ilford and Clacton in the early twenty-first century. By 2008 another food van had pitched up opposite Tubby Isaacs, selling halal burgers and hotdogs.25

There were reports in 1964 that ‘the Lane will soon be under cover’, with redevelopment of the bomb site underway. Cromlech House (see below) did provide an open covered area, mainly for the storage of barrows and stalls, and Mike Stern, long-standing President of the Federation of Street Traders’ Unions, was quick to point out that the covered section would provide space only for ‘a limited number of unlicensed traders’ on the east side of Middlesex Street and that the ‘building will not remove the colour or attractions from the market’.26

By this time the rhetoric of journalist visitors to Petticoat Lane tended to centre not on ‘foreignness’ but on bargains and lively Cockney patter – ‘Most stall-holders are quick-witted cockneys, with an entertaining spiel whether the product interests or not.’27  The imputation that goods were of dubious provenance endured, and was not wholly imagined. Stolen goods – bicycles seem to have been particularly popular – did turn up in Petticoat Lane. A mark of the nostalgia around the idea of ‘the Lane’, the commodification and mythologizing, was the opening in 1968 of ‘Cockneyland’, an indoor market-cum- museum of ‘East End Life’ at 88 Middlesex Street, just north of Wentworth Street in Spitalfields, run by traders Jo and Jack Josephs.28

An Illustrated London News correspondent noted the changing demography of Petticoat Lane in 1968: ‘The salesmen’s faces betray a variety of origins, French, Jewish and Asian’, reflecting, at least as regards ‘Asian’, immigration from Pakistan, especially East Pakistan (later Bangladesh), that had been going on since the late 1950s. Cockneyland, however, had fallen by the wayside by 1974.29 The pace of changing demography accelerated from the 1970s with the departure of most of the Jewish stall-holders and their clientele, mostly to London’s Essex edges.

The process of transformation was gradual. Bilal Haq, who has worked in the textile trade on Wentworth Street since 1983, has recalled how, ‘This whole area was populated by Jewish people, they know the business and I [was] … partnered with them [for] ten-fifteen years. I learned my way with them.’ It is no longer evident, but the connection persists. His ‘suit shop was opened in 1972. Jewish-owned, yes. They still own the building. It’s a corner building. I mean I’m just paying the rent, basically’.30

The market, for more than a century the target of official disapprobation, received encouragement from the 1960s. Storage space at Cromlech House was supplemented in the renovated Wentworth Dwellings (Arcadia Court) in the early 1990s and then in a building conversion for London Metropolitan University in Goulston Street. In 2005 concertina gates, with mandorla shapes composed of stainless-steel tubing and a panel announcing ‘Petticoat Lane’, were installed at the east end of Wentworth Street to close the road to vehicle traffic during trading hours.31

However, there is a suspicion among local traders with a long connection to the area that gentrification and the financial rewards it offers to local authorities may soon finish off Petticoat Lane. Paul Simpson, the owner of Tubby Isaacs, closed the stall in June 2013. ‘I’m the last one ever to do this … The business isn’t what it was years ago … All the East End eel stalls along Brick Lane and the Roman Road have closed – it’s a sign of the times.’32 This message was echoed in 2019 by Mark Button of Barneys Seafood, originally run by Soloman Gritzman’s brother, Barney Gritzman. His premises in Chamber Street were sold in that year for development as an apart-hotel, the stall in Petticoat Lane having closed years earlier: ‘Sadly, with the red routes, no parking, double lines, no taxi drivers allowed to stop, changing it all back to a two-way system from one way, the Congestion Charge, all the things which put people off of coming … it slowly killed the trade.’ He will continue making jellied eels, probably further out in East London.33

Bilal Haq dates decline of the market to the mid 1990s, blaming some of the same factors as well as poor facilities (especially the closure, as is typical, of the public lavatory) and Tower Hamlets Council’s enthusiasm for subcontracting social housing to allow lucrative private developments. Like many Jewish traders before him, he has moved out to Newham.

‘Nobody is here … Five, six o’clock, nobody … only a few bars privately owned ... Apart from that, nobody. It is scary. If you even come about seven, eight o’clock, it’s scary. [In] ten years time, it will be untouchable, this area. Even to get a property in terms of lease, it will be untouchable. … This area is going to go up, that’s what I believe … I’ve seen the way the whole area is getting changed. It’s happening for good but some of our small businesses are getting hit.

… I hope somebody comes out and says, “Look, we want to keep some of the heritage”.’34

  1. Ben Jonson, Every Man in his Humour, W. MacNeile Dixon (ed.), 1901, p.68 

  2. James Lackington, Memoirs of the Forty Five First Years of the Life of James Lackington, 1792, p.208: /multireligiosity-as-a-rallying-call-the-petticoat-lane-street-market-in-the- 1850s/ 

  3. Oxford Journal, 18 Jan 1766, p.3: Caledonian Mercury, 16 Dec 1771, p.2: Derby Mercury, 9 Jan 1778, p.1: Tower Hamlets Local History Library and Archives (THLHLA), L/SMG/G/4/3/4: Todd M. Endelman, The Jews of Georgian England, 1714–1830, 1979, pp.180–1: V. D. Lipman, Social History of the Jews in England, 1954, pp.29–30 

  4. The Times, 27 Nov 1789, p.2 

  5. Public Ledger and Daily Advertiser, 28 July 1820, p.3 

  6. Shipping and Mercantile Gazette, 28 June 1839, p.4 

  7. Morning Advertiser, 14 July 1830, p.4 

  8. Henry Mayhew, London Labour and the London Poor: The Street Folk, vol.2, 1861, p.38 

  9. Lipman, Jews in England, pp.29–33 

  10. Jewish Chronicle (JC), 9 July 1858, p.240; 2 July 1858, p.230: George Binns, ‘Shops (Sunday Trading Restriction) Act, 1936’, Journal of the Royal Sanitary Institute, vol.58/7, 1 July 1937, pp.436–47 (p. 436) 

  11. JC, 23 July 1858, p.253 

  12. JC, 30 July 1858, p.259 

  13. City Press, 4 Feb 1871, p.3 

  14. London Evening Standard, 12 Aug 1880, p.2 

  15. Charles Booth (ed.), Life and Labour of the People in London, vol.1: East London, 1889, pp.66–8 

  16. London Metropoliatn Archives (LMA), LCC/PC/SHO/03/008 

  17. The Queen: The Lady’s Newspaper, 29 April 1895, p.674 

  18. East London Observer (ELO), 22 March 1902, p.3 

  19. Coventry Herald, 23 Oct 1903, p.3: ELO, 12 Dec 1903, p.3: Isobel Watson, ‘Rebuilding London: Abraham Davis and his Brothers, 1881–1924’, London Journal, vol.29/1, 2004, pp.62–84 (pp.68–9) 

  20. Sunday People, 28 May 1905, p.5: John Wigley, The Rise and Fall of the Victorian Sunday, 1980, p.163 

  21. The Graphic, 1 May 1920, p.24: Daily Herald, 25 March 1920, p.2 

  22. Daily Mail, 2 Sept 1926, p.3: The People, 17 March 1974, p.2 

  23. Daily Herald, 20 July 1936, p.11: William Addison, English Fairs and Markets, 1953, p.80: George Binns, ‘Shops (Sunday Trading Restriction) Act, 1936’, Journal of the Royal Sanitary Institute, vol.58/7, 1 July 1937, pp.436–47 

  24. Addison, pp.78–9: street-trader-tubby-isaacs-serves-a-customer-some-news-photo/3428379 


  26. JC, 17 Jan 1964, p.46: Addison, p.79 

  27. Globe and Mail (Canada), 2 Dec 1978, p.48 

  28. Kensington Post, 25 April 1957, p.6: The Sphere, 8 Sept 1962, p.353: Daily Mirror, 11 March 1968, p.68: The Stage, 14 March 1968, p.3 

  29. Illustrated London News, 4 Nov 1968, p.41 


  31. Tower Hamlets planning applications online 

  32. stall/: The Tatler, 27 Nov 1965, p.27 

  33. Interview with Mark Button, 2019 

  34. changes-on-petticoat-lane-since-the-1980s 

Charles Booth on Petticoat Lane
Contributed by laura on Sept. 4, 2016

Charles Booth published a highly colourful description of Petticoat Lane in the 1880s: "The neighbourhood of old Petticoat Lane on Sunday is one of the wonders of London, a medley of strange sights, strange sounds, and strange smells. Streets crowded so as to be thoroughfares no longer, and lined with a double or treble row of hand-barrows, set fast with empty cases, so as to assume the guise of market stalls. Here and there a cart may have been drawn in, but the horse has gone and the tilt is used as a rostrum whence the salesmen with stentorian voices cry their wares, vying with each other in introducing to the surrounding crowd their cheap garments, smart braces, sham jewellery, or patent medicines. Those who have something showy, noisily push their trade, while the modest merit of the utterly cheap makes its silent appeal from the lower stalls, on which are to be found a heterogeneous collection of such things as cotton sheeting, American cloth for furniture covers, old clothes, worn-out boots, damaged lamps, chipped china shepherdesses, rusty locks, and rubbish indescribable. Many, perhaps most, things of the 'silent cheap' sort are bought in the way of business; old clothes to renovate, old boots to translate, hinges and door-handles to be furbished up again. Such things cannot look too bad, for the buyer may then persuade himself that he has a bargain unsuspected by the seller. Other stalls supply daily wants - fish is sold in large quantities - vegetables and fruit - queer cakes and outlandish bread. Except as regards these daily wants, the Jew is the seller, and the Gentile the buyer; Petticoat Lane is the exchange of the Jew, but the lounge of the Christian."1

  1. Charles Booth, ed., Life and Labour of the People in London. Vol. 1: East, Central and South London, London and New York, 1892, pp. 66-7 

Petticoat Lane and Tubby Isaacs' jellied eel stall, 1940s
Contributed by eric on Nov. 1, 2016

Memories of Eric Shorter, b. 1936

Another of our regular week-end outings was to Petticoat Lane at its original site in Middlesex Street. I don’t remember why we went: mother rarely shopped for anything, and the crowds of people were suffocating, and there were places where as a small lad I was bothered about being crushed. It was common for me and mum to get separated because of the pressure of the crowds.

Petticoat Lane Market, looking north from the corners of Aldgate High Street (left) and Whitechapel High Street, a still from the 1955 film A Kid for Two Farthings

But at the top of Petticoat Lane, at its junction with Aldgate High Street was Tubby Isaacs' jellied eel stall. He was always there, and his customers seemed to discard their eel vertebrae on to the pavement.

Solly Gritzman, or 'Young Tubby Isaacs', who took over the jellied eel stall after Tubby departed for the US in 1938, seen at his stall in the 1968 BBC film Georgia Brown: Who Are The Cockneys Now?

Mark Button of Barneys Seafood remembers Tubby Isaacs and Petticoat Lane market
Contributed by Survey of London on Nov. 8, 2020

Mark Button, managing director of Barneys Seafood, recalls the stalls in Petticoat Lane, including Tubby Isaacs.

'[My father] bought a seafood stall in the 1960s which was at Aldgate, ... known as Barney’s [who] was the famous relative of Tubby Isaacs. Well, Gritzman was their name, it was Solly Gritzman who was the Tubby Isaacs [by then] … the two Gritzman brothers … the Tubby Isaacs brand has been going on a bit earlier … but as I say they both decided to do the same job in the same street and they were literally looking at each other day in day out and didn’t speak for many years, sadly.

'....we ended up taking over the Barneys business in 1968/69, I believe, and from there we developed the wholesalers and into the early Seventies even when Tubby Isaacs decided he didn’t want to do his own jellied eels any more and asked my father, Eddie Button, to do his eels as well, with the understanding that no one knew, as there was a feud between the two brothers, no one could know it was the same supplier supplying both sides of the road… they’d even spit at each other…. From the 1970s to early 2000s we supplied the stalls at Aldgate and sadly there’s no more traditional jellied eel seafood outlets in the East End, as we know.

'[Solly Gritzmann] was - a small man in size, but grand in stature, you know he could hold court with anyone - being at Aldgate was almost like being at a show, and as a child being taken to Aldgate on Sunday mornings when my father would bring me to work, he would say to me ‘Don’t let go my hand because if you do, I’ll never find you in this crowd.’ And that was the case and all I remember seeing was knees and coat tails and hundreds and hundreds of people hustling and bustling around, looking at these stalls where everyone was holding court and shouting out their wares you know ‘Jellied eels here, come and get your jellied eels, and various other items that were sold on that market.

'And Solly he was a character... he would always take time to speak to you … good family man… enjoyed his trade and worked at it all of his working life, and I think anyone who was in that trade at the time was always the same, they worked very hard lots of hours, from the morning, being on the stalls, back in those days till midnight. My father worked at the Barneys stall, you know he’d work there in the evening from 6 till midnight and be at the fish market in the morning by 5am, do that job, come back make more jellied eels, his brothers would work with him, and they’d do various shifts at the stall and the he would do his shift again at the stall at 6 or 7 in the evening but those days you was constantly replenishing the stall as there weren’t too many options on fast food if you want to call it that… there [were] very few Indian restaurants on Brick Lane, and the Chinese restaurants, but we had none of the fast foods, McDonalds, or the burger type places, and chicken shops didn’t really exist, the area was very much .. busy.. mainly a Jewish population… the Bible shops had been there many years on Brick Lane, the salt beef shops used to be there, and… there was just a few jellied eels stalls as well around the area which was quite successful.

'It was about the late Seventies early Eighties… and we closed the Barneys stall down as there wasn’t enough trade for two stalls ….up to about five or six years ago [we still had one stall] …. but sadly with the red routes, no parking, double lines, no taxi drivers allowed to stop, changing it all back to a two-way system from one way, the Congestion Charge, all the things which put people off of coming in to certain areas so it slowly killed the trade.'

Mark Button was talking to Aileen Reid of the Survey of London at 55 Chamber Street, 26 June 2019.

Lanterns and Smoked Salmon at Petticoat Lane
Contributed by Sarah Milne, Survey of London on June 3, 2017

Jackie remembers Petticoat Lane in the 1960s:

I was born in the Marie Celeste Ward at the Royal London. I went to Harry Gosling School. As a kid I remember that when it got dark at Petticoat Lane all the lanterns came out on the stalls, they were hung outside. Definitely on the weekends. I'd go with my father and I remember the street was lit as we'd pick up oranges. The produce was seasonal, so we'd only get some fruits at certain times of year. There were shoe shops, one very famous shop was Mossi Marks' on the corner of Wentworth St and Toynbee St, all the Jewish community knew that shop. It sold smoked salmon. We ate a lot of smoked salmon. I brought my kids in there and we'd have a chat and the shopkeeper would give us samples of all sorts of different types of salmon. It was sliced paper thin. There was another shop called Kossof's, a Jewish bakery, in Petticoat Market (they had another two branches elsewhere in the East End). Their jam doughnuts were delicious, my son loved them.

Down the Lane in the early 1960s
Contributed by patricia on July 5, 2017

We used to go to Petticoat Lane on Sundays to shop. When we became teenagers we went more often and met friends and hung out there. We went to The Lane mostly to shop for food but also we looked at the stalls at the clothes, etc. My mother worked at a dress-manufacturing factory owned by my uncle, which was situated in the Lane. Two of my aunts also worked there and my much older cousin. The factory moved a couple of times, but it was always 'down the Lane'. I would visit there often as a kid and tried to help out. During the week the Lane was quieter without the Sunday crowds and I would prefer going then.There was a huge Jewish population around Whitechapel when I was growing up, so many of the food shops in the Lane and in Whitechapel catered to us. Around the early or mid 1960s the Indian population increased around Brick Lane, where they opened shops and restaurants.

Pettitcoat Lane in full song, 1960
Contributed by Survey of London on June 5, 2018

BBC Archive footage of market traders in Middlesex Street portion of Petticoat Lane in 1960

Daniel Mendoza, boxer
Contributed by Maureen on July 31, 2017

Daniel Mendoza the boxer came from Petticoat Lane and later lived in a house in Paradise Row, Bethnal Green. He was the great great grandfather of Peter Sellers.

Marks of the Lane, 59 Wentworth Street, c. 1960
Contributed by mark3

Marks of the Lane business card
Contributed by mark3

Shop on Wentworth Street
Contributed by tamara

Marks of the Lane - making the Lutkas 1978
Contributed by mark3

Marks of the Lane on film
Contributed by mark3

View down Wentworth Street 1976
Contributed by mark3

Marks of the Lane, 59 Wentworth Street, 1978
Contributed by mark3

Marks of the Lane Deli
Contributed by mark3

Leyden Street
Contributed by tamara

Marks of the Lane deli, c. 1974
Contributed by mark3

The Palkowski warehouse on Old Castle Steet
Contributed by mark3

Goulston Street
Contributed by tamara

Shop on Wentworth Street
Contributed by tamara

Golda Levy at work in Marks of the Lane deli, 1975
Contributed by mark3

Mark Palkwoski's chinaware shop, Wentworth St and Old Castle Street
Contributed by mark3

View west along Wentworth Street
Contributed by Derek Kendall

Shop on Wentworth Street
Contributed by tamara

View towards Marks of the Lane, Wentworth Street
Contributed by mark3

Marks of the Lane smoke hole letterhead, c1950s
Contributed by mark3

Market on Wentworth Street in 2017
Contributed by Derek Kendall

market on Wentworth Street in 2017
Contributed by Derek Kendall

Market on Wentworth Street in 2017
Contributed by Derek Kendall

Petticoat Lane Market sign in 2017
Contributed by Derek Kendall

View to the City with Petticoat Lane Market sign in 2017
Contributed by Derek Kendall

Memories of A Kid for Two Farthings (1955) being filmed in Whitechapel
Contributed by Survey of London

Petticoat Lane market in February 2014

This clear amateur footage is a snapshot of Petticoat Lane Sunday market on 16 February 2014, showing Wentworth Street, Middlesex Street and finally the south end of Goulston Street, with the market-stall storage portion at the north end of the 1960s Cromlech House which was demolished in 2016.

Contributed by Aileen Reid on Sept. 19, 2016

Petticoat Lane in the 1960s

This amateur colour footage from the early 1960s shows the extent then of Petticoat Lane market, with shots of Wentworth Street, Goulston Street and New Goulston Street, as well as Middlesex Street, which is usually identified with "Petticoat Lane"

Contributed by Aileen Reid on Sept. 19, 2016

Petticoat Lane in 1959

Silent but evocative scenes around the Lane in 1959

Contributed by Survey of London on March 10, 2018

Petticoat Lane market at the beginning of the 20th century

From the British Film Institute archive, silent (of course) footage of Petticoat Lane market more than 100 years ago. Not much architectural context but the scene at the beginning pans west along the north side of New Goulston Street, with Davis Mansions (with its distinctive pedimented doorways) in the background, past Reuben Isaacs' "eating house" at 1 New Goulston Street to the corner with Middlesex Street and a view along the surviving buildings at 52 to 72 Middlesex Street. Source: Post Office Directories

Contributed by Aileen Reid on Sept. 19, 2016

Scenes around Petticoat Lane in the 1960s

From a time when the market was still packed out... featuring a Pearly King, a brass band and a monkey. Sadly, no sound.

Contributed by Survey of London on Aug. 1, 2019