Stratford Market -2


In any description of the way in which London is supplied with fruit and vegetables, the Stratford Market should be included.

The market in vegetables and fruit at Stratford lies close to the Stratford Broadway in the borough of West Ham. It differs from other markets already described in that it is owned by a railway company. The market was established in about 1879 by the old Great Eastern Railway, which now forms part of that vast railway company the London and North Eastern. Railway sidings connect the market with running lines, and vegetables, at the rate of 100,000 tons a year, are delivered in railway trucks direct to the merchants' warehouses in this market.

Stratford Market is from 300 to 400 yards long. Extending down the middle is a broad arcade, on either side of which are platforms, and on these are the offices and warehouses of the tenant firms. Of these tenants there are more than fifty. The unique feature of the design is that immediately behind these premises are railway lines permitting the trucks consigned to the various firms to be brought to the proper point. From these trucks the commodities are carried direct to the warehouses or to the carts which draw up in the road alongside the platforms. With a minimum of handling, the food-stuffs are thus transferred from the farms in the country to the shops of the retailers in London and its neighbourhood.

All business is done by private treaty. Some of the firms which have premises at the Stratford Market own their own farms in the Eastern Counties. In addition, they may, and do, buy large quantities of produce from the growers, and they may, and do, sell goods on commission. The gates of the market are opened on weekdays at 4 a.m. between June and September, and at 5 a.m. between October and May. On five days of the week the gates are closed at 4 p.m., and on Saturdays the closing time is 1 p.m. 

In accordance with the custom at all the other London markets for the distribution of food-stuffs, the busiest hours are in the early morning, but a certain amount of trading continues throughout the day until the closing hour.

The Whitemoor Express

Business really begins with the arrival of the Whitemoor Vegetables Express, which is due at Stratford Market at 4.15 a.m. Among those concerned with the marketing of vegetables, this train possesses a distinction comparable with that attaching to some of the best known passenger trains among the travelling public.

It is so called because the trucks, which are brought from various stations in Lincolnshire and Cambridgeshire, are marshalled at Whitemoor into a train which regularly thunders fast through the night, when most people are in their beds, direct to Stratford Market. On its arrival there the work begins of dividing up this long train and shunting the various wagons, so that they may be brought alongside the warehouses of the firms to which they are consigned.

Each wagon may contain from 5 to 6 tons of potatoes and other vegetables, including celery, for which Stratford is a principal market, and very shortly after the train is due the retailers begin to arrive to make their purchases and to carry them away in their vans. After the discharge of the goods from the trucks, another stage begins in the work of the railway officials. The trucks have to be drawn away from the platforms to the sidings, there to be made up into other trains and sent away, if possible, loaded. The idea of the railway company is to avoid, as far as practicable, hauling empty railway trucks for long distances across the country. A few hours later the work will again be undertaken in Lincolnshire of making up a fresh Whitemoor Vegetables Express.

Food from the Eastern Counties

In addition to this Express, consisting as a rule of fifty trucks, there are generally four other trains entering Stratford Market daily with vegetables from various points in East Anglia, which shares with Lincolnshire the distinction of being the chief agricultural district supplying London and its environs with these commodities. The area directly served by the Stratford Market is thickly populated and is growing. It includes not only a large part of the East End of London, but also important suburbs, and notably Ilford, Woodford, Wanstead, Snaresbrook, Forest Gate, and the new London County Council estates at Becontree and Dagenham. While the market is primarily concerned with the feeding of these big districts with the produce of the Eastern Counties, it also deals in supplies from other parts of the country and in imported fruit - such trade is, indeed, necessary in order that retailers may look to that market for the bulk of their supplies. One of the most important trades carried on there is bananas.

Traffic is also brought from the Continent without break of wagon by the train ferry from Zeebrugge to Harwich, which is, of course, served by the London and North Eastern Railway. The management of the Stratford Market  is under the control of Mr Percy Syder, the London City Manager of the London and North Eastern Railway, whose offices are at Broad Street, in the heart of the City, and who maintains close touch with the tenants and is concerned to make the market of the utmost use to the community, while there is also a responsible representative permanently at the market to assist traders in their daily needs.

An extract from Cuthbert Maughan's "Markets of London", 1931.

(Originally published as Local Studies Notes No. 61 by Newham Library Service)