These ‘then and now’ photographs of Roman Road Market, recreating archive images from the 1960s to the 1990s, reveal how much the Roman has changed over the years and how some aspects have stayed reassuringly the same.
Using archive photographs of Roman Road Market from the Tower Hamlets Local History and Archive library, we asked local resident and photographer Dawud Marsh to carefully recreate each photograph taking the shots from the same vantage point to show how the market is today in comparison to yesteryear.
The clothes may have changed but there are some striking similarities. Percy Ingle still stands on the corner of Parnell Road and Roman Road. Women and girls still trawl the stalls looking for bargains. Piles of rubbish are still a feature on street corners and the market traders continue to fill their stalls with as many goods as possible. Even the carts the traders use are much the same, made by a local family of wheelwrights.
Some things have definitely changed. Today, there are noticeably more chain stores, like Iceland and Costa than there were way back when. The market used to be stuffed full with fresh fruit and veg, but today, there is only one stall, run by the lovely Sam Wells and his mum.
No matter how much it has changed, it’s still the Roman, and we love it all the same.
Roman Road Market began as early as 1843, when it was illegal ‘but withstood several attempts to close it down’. It was recorded as a fully fledged market in 1887 by Booth, who toured the area with the local policeman and reported that ‘Roman Road…is one of the great market streets in London. Things to be bought of every sort, even patent leather shoes. Some demand for good quality as well as for cheapness’. The market is the heart of Bow, and ‘going down the Roman’ has been a tradition for generations.
The market used to be open for long hours: there are oral accounts of trading going on until 10 pm well into the 20th century. Today, the market only stays open until the afternoon.
Percy Ingle on the corner of Roman Road and Parnell Road
Percy Ingle has remained a stalwart presence on the Roman until today, feeding the locals with iced buns and steak bakes.
Market stalls on the junction of Roman Road and Hewison Street
Armagh Road used to cross over the Roman, but the South side is now known as Hewison Street.
Market stalls on Roman Road
Boots has been replaced by charity shops and beauticians, but rails of clothing still line the streets.
Clothes replace fruit stalls
In the 1970s, the market played host to multiple fruit stalls, but these are depleted today, with just one remaining, and have been replaced by a much wider variety of clothes stalls.
Same old rubbish
Unfortunately, the piles of boxes that could be found on the Roman in the 1980s can still be found today. At least today, they seem to be much more contained.
Although chain stores like Iceland have appeared along the Roman, people still come to shop the market stalls, and they are a far more integral part of the road than the supermarkets.
Still a good place to browse
Yet another fruit stall has been replaced by a clothes stall full of bargains.
Old Bow Library then and now
In 1990, stalls were piled high with as much as the market traders could find, but today, each stall sells a select type of product. The green and white stall in the ‘now’ picture exclusively sells dog-related products.
Metal rigs replace wooden barrows
Clearly, it is important to get the best bargain possible, and bringing friends and family along to do this is something that hasn’t changed.
Golden Virginia billboard
Looking towards St Stephen’s Road, both sides of the Roman are still lined with stalls bursting to the seams. Today however, you won’t see any smoking advertisements on the street!
Spot the difference
Stalls used to spill onto William Place, outside the Old Ford School but today, this is now used as parking for the market traders.
Old Ford School
Where stalls outside Old Ford School used to be full of children’s clothes, the offering today is a little more sparse.
A good place to sell bananas
Again, the vibrant fruit stalls of the 1970s have been replaced by stalls selling handbags and men’s apparel.
Low rise has been infilled
A Costa coffee stands where Dresswise, an independent shop used to be.
All photos credit to Dawud Marsh. Marsh is a Bow-based photographer who photographs flowers, architecture, streets, people and sports. He will be continuing to research this project and would love to get in touch with people who remember the Roman Road market from the 60s, 70s and 80s and who would be happy to share their photos, memories and memorabilia that will help make sure our voices are remembered and stories passed down. Please email him at firstname.lastname@example.org if you are happy to be involved and would like to add your voice to this ongoing project.
If you like this, you might like to look at the winners of our Roman Road Market photography competition.