Join The Happy Hunters: Hackney Flea Market
A marché aux puces (puces meaning fleas) was the name originally given to the Parisian outdoor bazaar that sold an eclectic mix of shabby second-hand goods. It was so christened because the items were likely to contain fleas. Delicious.
But time changes all things. Hackney Flea Market boasts an impeccable range of vintage and antique goods that are a million miles away from the grungy 19th century origin.
Founded by Mark Farhall, a ‘self-confessed seeker, hoarder, and trader of vintage and collectables’, it has developed a reputation for their one-of-a-kind, salvaged goods and affordable pre-loved treasures.
In Europe and North America there has been an unprecedented growth of flea markets over the last decades, particularly the ones dedicated to vintage clothing and antiques; and obtaining unique pieces has become a major part of modern consumer practices. This is in part due to increasing environmental concerns surrounding consumerism, in part due to our continuing and innate pleasure of the hunt. We won’t go after animals anymore but tracking down a bargain… now you’re talking. The mystery of the chase, the heady chance to fall head-over-heels for some arcane object you never knew you wanted! It’s very unpredictable. It’s very addictive.
Squeezing our way through the bustling crowds on a Saturday morning, a table filled with large antique tiles catches my eye. There’s deep glossy greens that seem to have been lifted straight from the Paris metro and quicken my pulse with the pleasure of memory. I see jazzy art-deco browns and Delft patterned blues. There used to be a huge industry for decorative tiles, the owner of the stall, Jerome Monaghan, tells me, but now many of the producers no longer exist. Tile-makers such as the renowned Wedgewood, who supplied tiles to the gentry in the Victorian era, ceased to exist. Yet tiles still trickle through auction houses and flea markets like this one. Jerome’s tile treasure trove comes from fireplaces and entrance ways of grand villas, some of which date back as far as the 19th century. Nowadays, at £20-£30 a piece, they’re more likely to be sold as coasters.
Behind the tiles are a series of intriguing circular paintings, depicting calamitous scenes of tragic events, called narrative ex-votos. A tradition originating in Mexico, the paintings would be commissioned from a local artist as an expression of gratitude to a higher power, thanking them for a miraculous intervention from death or extreme suffering. They are a crossover between Christianity and Black magic, Jerome tells us, first cropping up in the 16th century during the colonial era, as Catholicism rapidly spread across Latin America. Although most feature visible anguish, some are more parodic, like the one depicting an alien invasion.
Next to Jerome’s stall, a beautiful hand painted sign is hung above a sea of cream paper, printed with images. Paul and his wife Claire run their charming business, Molly and Harlequin, selling their prints at 2-3 markets a week. Paul was once a geography teacher and Claire was already in art, so their prints fittingly depict local, national and global maps, although there’s also a range of more general topics including fashion, animal, and the most popular, botanical. Paul tells us how they’re always on the lookout for new maps and prints; a recent road trip involved lots of stops at stores and sales along the way to seek out new pieces. ‘If you make a living from what you love, it doesn’t feel like working at all,’ Paul tells me.
The final stall we visit is the high-in-demand My Moka Home. Moka pots make highly concentrated espresso-like coffee – different from a percolator which produces the regular drip kind. Zoe Cirrone travels all around Northern Italy where her grandmother is from, collecting little vintage Moka pots, some of which are 70 years old. There’s one that particularly stands out: a shining silver La Conica Pot from acclaimed Italian designer Giovanni Allessi, which has a unique pointed top that resembles a silver rocket. Another porcelain limited edition double Moka pot seems too elegant for actual use; with a royal azure spout and amber espresso cups adorned with mermaid-like scales.
Flea markets remain a firm favourite across the world; an anachronism that has survived waves upon waves of modern hyper-consumerism. They are a curiosity, and a form of interactive material culture, different to objects in a museum. They give the peruser an insight into the past without being deified, without being banished behind glass in a sterile setting. The objects do not exist simply as relics, rather, they are involved in the perpetual circulation of auction houses, marketeers, collectors and buyers, each stage giving them a new meaning, a new lease of life, and a new opportunity to gladden more happy owners.
To find out more about the Hackney Flea Market, their dates and sister events, please visit the website