With jellied eels an archetype of East End culture, it’s not surprising that Roman Road offers one of London’s few dedicated angling stores, keeping the local fishing culture alive and flapping.
Number 624 Roman Road has been in the Langston family for 30 years, but its previous life was somewhat different to the fisherman’s haven it is today.
Packed to the rafters with tackle, rods, bait – live and artificial, hooks, nets and wire, Roman Tackle is a treasure trove of everything a fisherman could need. Entering the shop front be careful not to knock-over the little pot of tasty, wiggling maggots, left out for the pied wagtails who have been visiting the shop for years.
Sharon Langstone and her husband Terry have been married for 37 years, and have both lived in Islington their whole lives. Market traders to the core, they’ve been selling goods in the East End since before they wed.
Back in the 90s, Sharon ran the shop on Roman Road as Aladdin’s Cave, selling beddings and soft furnishings, which they also took to markets all over London.
Having fished a bit as a boy, Terry got back into angling around 21 years ago, and was immediately hooked. Starting off with a market stall selling tackle and bait, as he gained more local customers and made a name for himself in London’s angling circles, it soon became Terry’s turn to fill the shop with his choice of stock. Aladdin’s Cave became Roman Tackle in December 2000.
While Sharon hasn’t quite been won over to pick up a rod herself, she has become an expert in advising customers. The Langston’s daughter, Michelle is also a familiar face in the shop, helping out the family business and running the shop’s popular Facebook Group.
Terry, meanwhile, is still out and about most days, setting up fishing stalls at North Weald Market near Epping, and until recently in Dagenham – which has sadly now closed, or purchasing stock from wholesalers. Of course, he might also be out fishing.
While inner city London might not seem the most obvious spot for keen fishermen, the East End is famed for its range of places to pull up a seat and dip your rod in the water. ‘The canal is very popular in the summer, as is Victoria Park, and you’ve got fisheries going out into Essex, going up to Hertfordshire in Chingford, so people haven’t got far to go for a private fishery either,’ says Langston.
The shop serves a wide range of urban anglers those visiting this specialist shop from further afield. ‘A lot of Eastern Europeans and white people will go to the canals, Victoria Park and of course the fisheries that are not too far from here. We’ve got some Asian customers that do fish in those areas too, but most like to sea fish. They fish for Mackerel, Cod; fish they can actually take home and eat.’
Carp, Tench and Perch can be found in the freshwater canals and Victoria Park angling lake, as well as smaller fish including Rudd and Roach, and of course London’s infamous eels. A rod licence is required to fish in Victoria Park’s West lake and all fish that are caught must be put back. Though if you fancy a large portion of paper wrapped fish and chips, you’ll find the Saucy Kipper right next-door to Roman Tackle.
Quite a few of the shop’s customers are disabled, explains Langston, causing concern that changes to parking regulations in the area will prevent customers with mobility issues from visiting the shop. ‘That’s already worrying people that they won’t be able to get here,’ says Langston.
While some river banks can be tricker to get to on a mobility scooter, Victoria Park’s jetties are accessible to all. Hang around Parnell Road long enough and you’ll likely spot local legend Chris Kimberley speeding up to the Park from Roman Tackle, fishing rod poked out the back of his scooter.
Fishing is not the reserve of older men though. This hobby is alive and flapping with the younger generation. ‘We’ve got one boy, Ted, from the age of four or five he was out fishing on the canal with his grandad. At the age of seven or eight he had the whole of the Bethnal Green police station watching on the canal, they were baffled he could fish that well’.
And the giant soft toy carp is one of the shop’s best selling items. ‘People like to pose with it for “I caught one this big” shots’, says Langston.
While Roman Tackle has built a reputation as an angler’s paradise, it wasn’t quite goodbye to Aladdin’s Cave. In a straight swap, you’ll find everything from sheets to cushions, blankets and bolsters at Sharon’s stall, directly opposite Roman Tackle on market days.
Market traders to their core, Sharon and Terry Langston have each sold the wares they know best. For her, it’s soft furnishings, and for him, fishing tackle. Together, they make a market power couple, and keep the fishing tradition alive and well in our East End.
If you enjoyed this, read our article on G. Kelly, Noted Eel & Pie Shop.
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