Soaring overhead costs, dwindling footfall and market square construction: How the Downey Brothers fishmonger was forced out of Globe Town Market.
Roman Road’s longest standing fishmonger serving the East End since 1851 has been forced to close its stall on Globe Town Market citing soaring overhead costs and lack of support from Tower Hamlets Council.
The Downey Brothers market stall has been passed down through four generations of the Downey family. Del Downey, its most recent owner, is a well-recognised and much-loved face on the Roman, selling cockles and muscles to Globe Town and beyond until Saturday 10 December when he was forced to pack up his stall.
‘I’ve been selling fish on the market for 42 years and I didn’t even have time to say goodbye to my customers before leaving,’ said Downey: ‘Christmas is usually a busy time, but this year it wasn’t the same and unfortunately I’m not just for Christmas.’
Downey said that he had not made a penny’s profit for six weeks prior to his leaving, citing rising costs of electricity, stock and water for his stall’s closure, as well as construction on Globe Town Market square reducing footfall and disrupting trade.
Compared to fellow stallholders Herbert’s Fruits and Salads and Martin Fuller’s Plant stall, Downey’s fishmonger requires a large amount of electricity to keep the fish cold in his lockup storage space at the back of the square and has been hit much harder by rising energy costs. Downey also used to make his own ice to display the fish, using a large amount of water.
Marc Herbert, Downey’s fellow market trader, said that the two stallholders’ fathers had been trading on Globe Town Market square together since Herbert’s dad arrived in 1974. Herbert said he has also been struggling with overhead costs and that he had applied to the Council for business rates reductions to help with rising prices but found he wasn’t entitled to any.
‘It’s really disappointing because market traders that I know in Newham and Lewisham are entitled to business rate relief, but Tower Hamlets Council said that they were not going ahead with relief schemes,’ said Herbert: ‘Lots of individual traders are giving up … we feel like the local Council just don’t care.’
Feeling the weight of his family legacy, Downey said: ‘My family survived World War I, World War II and I traded every day during the pandemic, but now costs are just too high to keep going any longer.’
Globe Town Market pitch rents cost £27 on Saturdays and £9 per day from Monday – Friday, with some stalls like Herbert’s taking up two pitch spaces. On top of that traders in Tower Hamlets pay £70 per month on business rates, and £50 per month for a lock up.
According to Herbert these prices were reasonable when Globe Town Market was receiving more footfall, but since construction started on the square in October 2022 the market has not been attracting enough customers to the area.
In March 2021, Tower Hamlets Council’s High Street team invited comments and feedback from local residents, businesses, market traders, and local community groups about the new design of Globe Town market square.
Proposed improvements included planting new trees, and adding new planters, more seating to the square, cycle stands and festoon lights.
A spokesperson for the Council said that the renovations will ‘increase the number of trees on the square from one to 19 which will improve the look and feel of the square, provide solar shading and contribute to assisting air quality on the square.’ In addition, they said that the festoon lights ‘will make the space more inviting in the winter months and visually appealing from passers-by.’
The works were due to be completed in December 2022 but according to the Council they have been delayed due to access to materials and are expected to be completed in early February. Since construction started market traders can no longer drive their vans into the square for deliveries which has impacted how stallholders can unpack their goods.
Downey had £750 stolen when his van was broken into last month and said that it had become too risky to leave his van off the square while unpacking his stock. Herbert also had his window smashed recently and said he had noticed an increase in antisocial behaviour in the square since works began.
A spokesperson from Tower Hamlets Council said: ‘During the Globe Town improvement works, which include tree planting, seating and new lighting, there is limited space for traders to park their vehicles … Once the works are finalised, parking provisions will change and there will be off street parking provided for traders, to enable the public space to be car free.
‘In terms of attracting more traders to the market, we are looking to secure more funding so we can implement a communications plan that aims to raise awareness of the market and its offering.’
Though Herbert said he is all for improvements being made to the square, in Herbert’s view funding for Globe Town square could be put to better use.
‘They’re spending money on new paving slabs and new lampposts, but there was nothing wrong with the old lampposts,’ said Herbert: ‘I suggested that they construct permanent trading huts to bring more stalls back to the market and give them a chance to get established, but I never heard back from the Council,’ said Herbert.
The last remaining independent fish seller on the Roman, the closure of Downey’s stall reflects the wider demise of fishmongers in the UK and will leave Bow without an independent fish seller. Locals will remember the closure of George’s Place in 2018, which had been run by Tom Disson since 1982 and had been a fish shop since 1898. The store is now occupied by Ona’s sushi bar, selling seafood of a rather different variety.
Without Downey, the only two remaining stalls on the market are Herbert’s Fruits and Salads and Martin Fuller’s Plant Stall, the latter who will not be trading in January due to cold weather damaging the plants.
Downey said that he didn’t know what he was going to do after having packed up the stall, and with his three children in other occupations the Downey Brothers fishmonger has likely come to the end of its long life in the East End.
If you enjoyed reading this article, see our photoessay capturing the faces of Roman Road from Bow to Globe Town.
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