Saturday, November 27, 2010

Walworth I: An Area Through Time by the London Archaeologist

There have been markets in Walworth since the sixteenth century, we’re told, and, if now they’re contained within marked and numbered pitches, things haven’t always been so formal.

Most days, he’d be at the local with the lads, and a bloke would come round with a shirt, a bit of silverware, a leg of lamb, too, a prize in hard times, after an offer. But then one day, a Sunday with the place busy for the markets, this bloke sticks his head round and goes, anybody want to buy a horse?

It amazes me all these years I’ve passed through it never to have noticed the area until now, as they begin demolishing huge chunks of it again, I get called to the sites where they’re digging – something’s come up, I’m told, that may be a mammoth bone, or the limb of a forgotten god.

This informal trading may be the key to cockney London, this skirting stacked odds, a rapid and unrecorded exchange of goods, knowledge, cash, style, opinion, or, in the present instance, anecdote, George Dyer, the Threadneedle Man, passing on a story passed on to him in turn by his friend and associate, publicist, local writer Mark Baxter, a story that may turn out to be the man’s jackpot, already post-production, out soon.

What attracted me into Dyer's wasn’t the cloth, fine as it was, wonderfully styled, but a book for sale – rare enough sight in a tailor’s window to have me passing through the old wood framed door: Walworth Through Time.

If markets figure heavily in these posts, it’s not simply for the photo ops they undoubtedly represent, and the traders in East Lane are justly proud of a stretch that, though those who have been there longest suggest unanimously it’s declining, still manages enough intensity of activity, banter, humour and variety to resist the glacial grip of Iceland, Pound Shops, and Boots.

From the walls around Dyer as we talked, and, slowly realising he’d have to have a central place in the Walworth posts, as I snapped, I gradually became aware of an extent of reputation I hadn’t guessed at, guests – for so even the most notable clients must be of this character the expansiveness of whose character was the stuff to accommodate any number of them, roving with his interests in the few minutes of my visit through Ronnie Scotts, subject of a large print by a local artist up by the ceiling at the front, to the connection between architecture and photography via perspective, film, a good story, what the mods did for the suit, his hands all the while giving the measure of these ideas, reeling them out like so many yards of cloth, chopping them up, realigning, pinning them down before folding them away for the next one – actors, boxers, entertainers, frequent journalists – having each furnished, along with further snippets, signed snapshots on their way.

The book, it transpired, wasn’t there out of interest alone, but found itself caught up in his roaming passion for anecdote, a love of the area he’d bought into with the premises of this, his first business, and itself a product of that, stitched together from shared stories, swapped photos, exchanged accounts of how Clint Eastwood, for instance, had drunk at the Red Lion, subject of local artist Morganic’s refuse bin, the old trades of Boundary Lane, and the crimes on the Heygate Highwalks.

How much truth lies behind the story don’t ask, anymore than you would where it comes from of a juicy leg of lamb in pinched times, and much is under wraps pending release, but it turns out it was a racehorse, and it was the fact the lads took a chance on it that led to a chain of events taking in not only the local area of Walworth, nor even the city as a whole, but, in one way or another, international.