Wednesday 9 March 2011

Moorish Market, Fashion Street

Between Brick Lane and Commercial Street, Fashion Street offers a typical mix for the area: a minicab office, Bangladeshi food stores, creative agencies. The 1891 Census shows that most inhabitants of the north side of the street worked in tailoring and associated trades. That offers a tempting explanation for the street name, but in fact 'Fashion' is a corruption of the original 'Fossan Street'. Its south side is dominated, though, by an extraordinary building.

The Moorish Market was a Victorian shopping centre, planned as the Westfield of its day with 250 shops, a reading room and bathrooms. Abraham Davis had scaled down the plans by the time he opened his elaborate building in 1905: there were only 63 shops. The choice of a run-down, rather slummy street may seem surprising, but it seems that Davis counted on attracting traders from the nearby markets into the relative comfort and glamour of his indoor premises.

However, four years later the Moorish Market closed and Davis was evicted for non-payment of rent: he had failed to persuade local market traders to pay extra in order to escape the elements. Thankfully for Abraham, support from his brothers meant that this failure didn't end his construction career - although he concentrated upon housing projects, and shifted his efforts from the east end to north-west London. As well as building flats in Maida Vale and St John's Wood, he would both build in and become a councillor for St Pancras.

The next occupant of the Moorish Market was a factory, and it is presumably from this period that a painted 'works office' sign with manicule survives. Today, the structure has been extended and updated in order to house a range of educational and business tenants.

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