Ridley Road Market, Tamara Stoll, book review: ‘Eight-year labour of love that captures the soul of a Hackney institution’

Tamara Stoll (right) traded postcards for stories from her stall at Ridley Road.
Photograph: courtesy of Tamara Stoll

Apples, plantains, eggs, sprats, breadfruit, paw paw, cabbages, chapatis, okra, snails, aloe leaves, bagels, chickens, cherries. Get them fresh! Get them here! Of all the places that personify Hackney, Ridley Road Market perhaps comes closest to capturing the flavour and spirit of the borough.

Famous as the place where blackshirts congregated in the 1930s and Alan Sugar started out selling audio equipment in the 1970s, the market has over the years morphed to reflect the communities around it.

Town Hall planners now have Ridley Road in their sights.

In theory the proposed ‘regeneration’ will be of benefit, but many also fear that the classic street market will go the way of so many other redevelopment schemes and have its unique character drowned in acres of plate glass that will make Dalston indistinguishable from Croydon, Barking or Slough.

For now, at least, the place is still ours.

The book ‘gives pride of place to stall-holders’, as well as customers like Angelique.
Photograph: Tamara Stoll

Ridley Road Market by Tamara Stoll is a book-in-the-making that tells the story of the road and its trade.

The handsome large-format (205x270mm), 256-page volume contains over seven dozen photos shot between 2011 and 2017 together with a wide range of archival images, stories and quotes from stall-holders and their clientele.

Together this mish-mash of words and pictures captures the pullulating churn and braying cacophony that gives the market life.

Pride of place is given to photos of the stall-holders for whom the market is a livelihood, as well as the customers that sustain it.

Hailing from all corners of the globe, they have come together in Dalston to create an institution that is the soul of its neighbourhood.

Traders like Abdul have ‘created an institution’ in Ridley Road Market.
Photograph: Tamara Stoll

The book emerged over a period of eight years as Stoll alternated between the roles of photographer, market trader and oral historian, imbibing and documenting a place where, according to one of the people she spoke to, “those who were excluded could feel welcomed”.

She explains how the project developed: “Two summers ago, I produced a set of Ridley Road postcards and run a market stall — trading postcards for stories on Ridley Road.

“Over 150 personal narratives of traders and customers are included in this book. I see it as a collective writing of the many histories — large and small — that have unfolded on this street.

“Looking back at the past, to the present and into the future, the multitude of voices echo Ridley Road as a precious cultural and social space but also address the consequences of gentrification.”

Stoll’s upcoming crowdfunder will pay for print run of 500 copies, to be sold at the market.
Photograph: Tamara Stoll

Stoll is planning a crowdfunding campaign between 10 September and 11 October to bring the book into print – more details below.

The volume will mainly be sold through the campaign, and profits will go toward the Save Ridley Road campaign.

Larger donations than the £25 cost of one book will fund a book sale at the market and free copies for schools, and those donors will receive a limited edition print in return.

In her preface, Stoll sums up what many locals doubtless feel about the place: “This book will always be incomplete. The market is so much more. It is impossible to capture all of its richness, atmosphere and numerous stories.

“The hospitality, kindness and good humour I experienced here compare with no other place I have been to.”

Ridley Road Market by Tamara Stoll is to be self-published. RRP: £25.

The crowdfunding page will go live on 10 September and will be available at crowdfunder.co.uk/ridley-road-market-book. All profits will go to the Save Ridley Road campaign.

A video of a dummy copy of the book can be found here

For further details, head to tamarastoll.com

EDIT: This article was updated at 10:46 on 11 September 2019. The caption in the main photograph previously identified Tamara Stoll as being pictured on the left of the image – Stoll is in fact to be seen on the right.