The Wonderful World Of Stolen Goods
Eek! The Hidden Victorian Mothers are back! (see earlier post) And I don’t like the cut of that blond kid’s jib, either, he looks like a young Edgar Allen Poe.
There’s been a lot of discussion about whether the children are dead, but I think people are confusing two entirely separate types of photograph. It was not uncommon in Victorian times to have your child photographed in the hours following death (infant mortality rates being extremely high) is as natural a pose as possible.
These photographs would then go into a death album, which stood on a little wooden stand in your front room along with all the other Victorian clutter, birds in cases and the like. I remember seeing a whole batch of gold-edged child death albums on sale at Bermondsey Market, the strange market just over Tower Bridge that used to open at 4am every Friday morning. They would get themed batches of items come in. The fact that these were clearly collections made you very suspicious about their provenance.
I virtually furnished my last house from the torchlit stalls of Bermondsey. The police kept an eye on the place, too. The market was unique in that it was the last one in London to really use the ancient law of marche overt, which was only abolished in 1995. Under this law, in number of designated markets including Bermondsey Market, if an item was sold between sunrise and sunset then its provenance could not be questioned, so stolen goods could be traded and good title would pass to the purchaser. I imagine several nicked Banksys ended up there. In the warehouses around the market edges were more legitimate items from reputable dealers, but on the stalls you’d find masses of strange old Victoriana, often very cheap.
As far as I know, East Lane, Portobello Road Leather Lane and Petticoat Lane all went legit – but you could always find high-end stolen stuff in Bermondsey. Then coachloads of Japanese tourists started invading the market, and it stopped being fun to wander around with your glass of hot sarsaparilla, the biting sweet blackcurrant drink that had ceased being popular at around the time Oliver Twist was first hitting the shelves. As the alleyways became overran with camera-waggling tourists, we retreated – ands then the site was redeveloped. Today it’s all but unrecognisable, and the nearby Bermondsey Street is dead posh instead of being somewhere you could fence a dinner service.
Supposedly the market still takes place, but as the actual square itself seems to have disappeared, I don’t know where they hold the market – perhaps someone can enlighten me?