London looks its best when Christmas lights bring a magical quality to the streets, the winter sunshine shimmers off the Serpentine, carol singers make last-minute shopping just about bearable and family outings to the theatre create a buzz on the frosty streets.
Colourful, atmospheric street markets, ancient and modern, create a similar sense of occasion year-round.
In London, markets are enjoying a powerful revival in popularity and have become a magnet for home buyers. Driving gentrification and boosting property values, markets imbue a neighbourhood with a sense of place, community and occasion.
Today, London has more than 200 markets — more than Paris. It seems every fashionable neighbourhood and up-and-coming district has a farmers’ market or a flower market, an antiques market or a craft market; a posh one, a pop-up one or a shabby-chic one.
“It’s a lifestyle thing, fuelled by the fashion for localism and a craving for village life in an increasingly urbanised city,” says Dr Peter Border, a parliamentary researcher.
London Farmers’ Markets, which represents traders, says an increasing number of markets are being held in the week as well as at weekends because of demand from local residents.
Markets also chime with the buying tastes of London’s twenty- and thirty-somethings, who want to engage with small businesses that share their social and environmental values. These customers have an interest in how food is sourced and prefer farmers’ markets to supermarkets.
Town hall planners can’t get enough of markets either, and property developers are creating market squares within new housing areas, as at Royal Arsenal, Woolwich, where Berkeley Homes collaborated with residents to start a now-flourishing weekend market that has given the area a heart.
A 15,000-home riverside district is being built at Greenwich Peninsula, and the first local Christmas market has been unveiled. A designer-makers affair with a tepee snug bar, calypso and panto, its launch coincides with that of Upper Riverside, five towers with flats priced from £530,000. Call 020 3713 6153.
Developer Capco has used its ownership of the splendid central market buildings and dozens of surrounding streets in Covent Garden to give residents an area to be proud of, with sensitive regeneration architecture and care of old buildings, while keeping the eclectic mix of shops, bistros, craft and food stalls.
Capco has “curated” good-looking King Street with interesting shops, and is converting heritage buildings into homes, the best of which now cost as much as Mayfair properties.
For many people, Covent Garden is the true heart of the capital: quirky and individual, buzzing with the excitement of opera and theatre. The world-famous piazza draws 45 million visitors a year.
Capco bought the market in 2006 and recently raised £175 million for ongoing investment. Most new homes are part of small-scale refurbishments, mainly office and warehouse conversions.
The Colyer, 14 flats in Great Newport Street, is named after a Sixties venue where Eric Clapton played his first gig and the Rolling Stones held a residency. Prices from £950,000 to £3.75 million. Call CBRE on 020 7420 3050.
Next to Southwark Cathedral at the foot of London Bridge, Borough Market has existed in one form or another for 1,000 years. Nearly perishing at the end of the 20th century, the historic wholesale market has since morphed into a successful food market. Property prices have quadrupled and spillover markets have sprung up half a mile away in warehouses and railway arches along Maltby Street and Druid Street, previously run-down pockets that are also attracting home buyers.
Bermondsey Central, a new apartment scheme edging the railway, has given momentum to the creep of gentrification. Prices from £640,000. Call 020 7940 3888.
Christmas orchestral concerts are being served up at Spitalfields Market, which kick-started regeneration of the Shoreditch area in the late Nineties. Some of the original Victorian buildings remain and dovetail with a new office complex, shopping precinct and market square with everything from fashion to food, collectibles to craft.
A sensitive scheme of 49 flats called London Square Spitalfields, alongside the market in Commercial Street brings rare new-build to this conservation area, and a new public garden. Prices from £695,000. Call London Square on 0333 666 0110.
Near London Fields, Broadway Market almost disappeared at the turn of the century, but the introduction of a few stalls into a drab street was a turning point. “Within months, stalls had spread down the street, followed by coffee shops and boutiques; the rest is history,” says Nick Davies, director of Stirling Ackroyd in Hackney. Homes near the market increased by an extra 10 per cent. Fifty Seven East is the latest new development, a 15-storey cylindrical tower with sweeping City views. Prices from £575,000. Call 020 3296 2222.
Portobello Road, which has had a market since the 1860s, winds north from now-rich Notting Hill to gritty Kensal Town. The area has been winning new fans ever since fashion designer Stella McCartney set up her atelier in a former chapel in Golborne Road. Hipsters have moved into listed concrete Trellick Tower flats, and gentrification continues as greasy spoons and discount shops disappear.
Portobello Square is a new address that aims to reinstate the area’s original Victorian street pattern. Demolition of a Seventies council estate has paved the way for change. The first phase of 324 homes is complete and includes mews houses with garages, courtyard gardens and roof terraces. Flats cost from £625,000. Call 020 7758 8478.
Another fast-changing district, Brixton has a lively arcade market along Electric Avenue — and it’s a glorious urban success story. You can still buy Jamaican jerk spice, saltfish and ackee, but trendy bars and boutiques have moved in.
The former Bon Marche department store is set to become a new creative centre, the old fire station and stables are earmarked for local start-up studios and Lambeth council is moving into a modern town hall, freeing up land and buildings for 194 new homes around a new market square.