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Traffic-free Christmas market a roaring success

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Image captionImage 1: North End Road Christmas market on 28 November 2015

See more pictures of the North End Road Christmas market

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Thousands of shoppers thronged traffic-free North End Road for the first of two colourful Christmas street markets last Saturday.

Nearly 150 stalls did a roaring trade as continental strolling replaced nose-to-tail traffic for the day. The market was organised by Hammersmith & Fulham Council with the support of North End Road Action Group as part of their long-term efforts to revive the road.

Cllr Andrew Jones, H&F Cabinet Member for Economic Development and Regeneration, said, “It was wonderful to see the community come together on November 28, and I’m sure the second street market on December 12 will be bigger and better still”.

“These markets are the perfect introduction to trading for anyone. It’s all part of our drive to regenerate the market, the road and the area for traders, shops and the community.”

To finish off the day with a sparkle, large crowds gathered to watch Made in Chelsea star Louise Thompson formally switch on the Christmas lights. Louise also took a market stall to sell her Pocket London designer clothes.

More to come

Those who missed the fun – or want to repeat it – don’t have long to wait as the next Christmas market in North End Road is in less than a fortnight on Saturday 12 December from 10am to 5.30pm, when traffic will again be banished and Fulham Brass Band will be one of the groups providing the festive soundtrack.

Fresh food galore

On Saturday, from children’s funfair near the Lillie Road mini roundabout down to St John’s Church – where there was also a flea market behind the churchyard railings – the event was a triumph, with stiltwalkers strutting up and down along the dotted white line.

Smells from Indian street food, Turkish kebabs, cheese toasties, Caribbean jerk chicken, Greek souvlaki and freshly baked Colombian corn bread wafting up and down on the chill breeze and the range of goods on sale was bewildering.

Dotted among the groaning, amazing value stalls of the regular fruit and veg sellers (where else can you get 15 bananas for a quid?) were stalls laden with baskets, teapots, handbags, aloe vera gels, embroidered cushions, henna gifts, Christmas door wreaths, hand-made jewellery, scarves, designer T-shirts, light sabres, carpets, lamps, glass vases, vintage telephones… even a five-foot-tall replica of King Tutankhamun.

There were also framed paper sculptures, macaroons, balloons, festive decorations, olives, cakes and hand-made dolls... among the finest being those at Wesam Tahboub’s stall, which also sold alpaca knitwear and cosy felt shoes. Helena Harrison, age 10, who had a hand in the dolls, was watching the shoppers gather round. “I really like helping make them,” she said.

Historic market 'brilliant' again

Kevin Smith, 58, working on Ray Truss’s fruit stall, is a good man to give some perspective to Saturday’s Christmas market.

“I first worked this market when I was eight years old”, he said. “I was down here in the 60s when families like the Gadds and the Frosts worked here. I lived up near the church in Chesson Road; I was the first paper boy to do the West Kensington estate.”

He was delighted that the council had organised two traffic-free Christmas markets and felt it worth repeating.

“It’s brilliant, it makes a huge difference to business,” he said, indicating the spread of fruit and veg, which included four avocados for £1. “What I’d like to see is the cancellation of all parking restrictions in the roads here when the market’s on. People ask themselves if a trip here is worth it when they have to pay £2.80 an hour.”

Selfies with the Mayor

Hammersmith & Fulham’s mayor, Cllr Mercy Umeh, accompanied by her husband and official consort Maxwell, stopped for chats and endless selfies with shoppers and stallholders.

“I’ve been meeting lots of people who say they like being able to shop without the traffic,” she said.

“People are so enjoying themselves. Instead of shifting about and dodging the cars, you can walk down the street; it’s great.”

Hammersmith & Fulham councillors also supported the market in large numbers... wearing Santa hats to join in the fun.

Charlotte Mayhew-Parker and Nicola Barnard – familiar faces at Dazy Kitchen, the gourmet cafe in Thorpebank Road, Shepherds Bush – were selling flapjacks and more from their busy stall. “This is just amazing,” said Charlotte. “I’ve lived in Fulham all my life – I’m originally from Sands End – and I just love the fact that everyone can walk straight down the street. I love it.”

Other food included the Melt van’s Ebe-cheeser Scrooge filled bloomer rolls, Vietnamese savoury dishes and £4 souvlaki wraps at Deli Apoetoloe. Rick Gupta, who was selling Bombay street food, said, “The chicken wraps are the most popular here – and at Lyric Square in Hammersmith, where we’re regulars”.

You could even wash it all down with mulled wine at the Vagabond Wines stall.

Mohammed Idris’s fish stall boasted snapper, live crabs, oysters, whole salmon for under £10, bream and bass- and a giant conger eel, which proved a big talking point. In the end it took Mohammed, Mujaid, Ali Ahmen and Naiz Yasin standing in a line to lift it.

“Closing the road to traffic is good for the market; a lot more people can come,” said Mohammed, who sources his fish from Billingsgate market and gets amazing bulk bargains as he’s also supplying his three shops. Seven whole sea bass for a tenner, anyone?

Market creates 'togetherness'

Gursel Gurgur, who owns three Best Mangal kebab shops in North End Road and Fulham Broadway, also ran a stall and found his grilled Mediterranean and Turkish meat in great demand.

Gursel, who recently launched home-delivery service Mangal Express, said: “North End Road market is like the traditional Turkish street markets I’ve always known; it’s in touch with its past – and everyone knows how important this market used to be.

“In Turkey, the road would be closed every two weeks and filled with stalls; it’s not such a big deal. It became the day everyone bought their clothes, their food, their fish... everything.

“We would even close busier and more major roads than North End Road back home. It’s a social thing, unlike the hypermarkets. There’s a real sense of togetherness.

The market also provided a chance for charities and interest groups based in the borough to publicise their good works. The steaming soup from Soup4Lunch, which grows vegetables and cooks with sheltered housing residents, was especially popular on the cold day.

'So many bargains'

John Griffiths, of HFCyclists, which took a stall , said: “We’ve been fortunate it’s a beautiful day. The stalls look really interesting and there are so many bargains in fruit and veg. Everything looks so appetising – the variety’s stunning and the pedestrians are reclaiming the streets.”

Layla Roche and Marie Kelly, who live near Brook Green, were running their Lovely Little Gifts stall, including personalised framed paper art – some incorporating old Scrabble letters – and carved books turned into novel sculptures.

They are also regulars at Portobello Road market, so are used to roads being closed for trading. “People find it easier to stroll and stop and shop, and it gives the market much more of a community feel,” said Layla.

You could buy everything from glassware to bicycles and Christmas trees to OksyCraft’s carved candles. Harald Blegvad’s bric-a-brac stall, which he nicknamed Bledvad’s Boutique, boasted one of the market’s best selection of vintage goodies, including an original Elvis Presley Christmas LP for 50p, and a selection of old Dinky and Matchbox cars and vans from the 1960s for under £1 apiece. Harald had the shortest journey of any market stallholder, as he lives above the Jaffa Bake House, 20 metres from his stall.

The Johnson family

The Johnson family have been running North End Road fruit and veg stalls since the year dot. Peter Sr, Peter Jr and son Alfie were hollering out the bargains, helped by trader Brian McCann – all wearing Santa’s elves hats.

“Stopping the traffic for the day does give us a bit more space,” said Peter Johnson Jr. “People mix better, there’s a fantastic camaraderie in North End Road. We all have a laugh and a joke, and everyone’s a bit more jovial.”

That feeling applied to the road’s shops as well. Dickenson’s the butcher was not only serving customers inside, but outside too. “Freeze it and cook it on Christmas Day,” one of the butchers told a customer admiring a turkey breast roll for under a tenner. You could also buy five juicy sirloin steaks for under £10.

Start-ups galore

What made Saturday’s festive market especially distinctive was the fact that so many of the stalls were run by local start-ups, community interest companies and individual ‘back-bedroom’ enterprises which often struggle to find an affordable shop window.

Annette Knight of Dawes Road, who runs the Bits & Bobs half-price stall was doing great business with her fairy light chains. “They’re only £1, but they’re better quality than Poundland’s,” she told shoppers. She was also selling four mugs for a tenner.

She thinks the council has come up with a winning formula by pedestrianising North End Road for special-event markets and believes it could be done more regularly.

“I think it would be great to do it more often,” she said. “All the customers love it.”

At the Amara stall, named after her daughter, Letizia Terni’s colourful collection of hand-made artificial flower decorations were selling well.

Letizia, who lives just off Lillie Road, is a North End Road market regular. “I use every kind of fabric and mainly make rose designs,” she said. She likes the balance of occasional pedestrianised markets and the usual daily traffic days.

“Since coming here from Italy, I know that Fulham is my area,” she said. “Some people can be snobby about the market, but for me it’s the place!”

North End Road Action Group

See more pictures of the North End Road Christmas lights switch-on

Shopper Mark Richardson from Fulham Palace Road had completely filled his wheeled trolley with food and presents by 10.30am.

The 58-year-old, a leading light in the North End Road Action Group, who runs a colourful Facebook page promoting the road, said he had first been wheeled to the market in his pram at the age of one.

e was delighted with the way the market had been organised by the council in partnership with the community action group as part of a pledge to regenerate and rejuvenate the road.

“There’s a really good selection of things, including some great street fashion,” he said. “It’s very good for families, and this time round it’s more festive; some people thought that the last one wasn’t Christmassy enough.

“I hope there’s a carry-over from this market to the weekly North End Road market. Last time there was one cheese stall, this time there are two, so I’m really optimistic about the way it’s going.”

Following a rousing rendition by the West End Musical Choir of ‘Do You Hear the People Sing?’ from Les Miserables, Made in Chelsea star Louise Thompson added extra shine to the day by switching on the Christmas lights.

She said, “I love the fruit and veg market and lots of my friends live near North End Road. It’s great to see it like this today.” Louise even took a stall at the Christmas market to sell her Pocket London, print-inspired designed clothing.

To check late availability of stalls for the Christmas Market on 12 December, please email or call 020 8753 5695.

Visit the North End Road Facebook page.