Market overt

In a previous life, before becoming a London cabbie, I could get to Bermondsey Market before dawn and rummage around and see all that it had to offer.

At that time it was much larger than we see today, the development of ‘executive’ apartments and a trendy hotel built on the original site has seen to its demise.

An ancient market, it was once called New Caledonian Market relocating from north London in 1949 which had claim to an ancient law, until that is the amendment in 1994 of the Sale of Goods Act. It had the privilege of Market Overt or Marché Ouvert.

[T]he city of Leicester has King Richard III to thank for its reverse in fortunes after reinterring his remains in their cathedral. Likewise dodgy dealers could thank for last Plantagenet King for giving immunity from prosecution when selling ‘hooky’ goods.

Market overt, French for open market, is a throwback from medieval days which conferred the purchaser of stolen goods at designated markets during daylight hour’s right to title. Condemned as a thieves charter the 15th century law was conferred on 20 markets throughout England.

The principle was sound. In an age when travel by many was unheard of, a victim of theft was allowed to retrieve their goods by going to the market before dawn and searching through the stalls. As the local market was one of the few ways of selling goods (stolen or otherwise) there was a high chance of their wares ending up there.

All that changed during Victoria’s reign, when transport was available to the many and nicked goods could be whisked away from the scene of the crime.

King Richard might have come from a ruthless line of monarchs, but the ‘Del Boys’ over the years have earned a nice little earner from his largesse.


The actress Valerie Hobson, seen here, who was the wife of John Profumo (he of the Profumo Affair) opened the market in 1949 but because it’s in Bermondsey Square people changed the name.

Bermondsey collage: Ramblings of a Feisty Spirit

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