Once upon a time, the area we know so fondly as Petticoat Lane (official name: Middlesex Street) started as Hogs Lane. Hogs Lane was a rural lane, lined with trees and hedgerows, and it remained that way until the 1500s. It was during the 16th century that this quaint rural lane began to change, and the imposing city walls of the rapidly growing capital met the country cottages.
By the start of the 17th century, the lane had become a commercial district known as ‘Peticote Lane’, and it was home to a selection of vendors selling a mixture of bric-a-brac and clothing. This district continued to thrive for decades, until it faced difficult times in the mid-1600s.
The lane suffered greatly during the Plague of 1665 and unfortunately, it did not recover until later that century when the Huguenots arrived and settled there, with the exception of those who settled in the nearby town of Spitalfields. By this time, the region had established itself as a textiles district, heavily associated with clothing and material dying – a reputation it has maintained ever since.
By the middle of the 18th century, Petticoat Lane was well-known as a centre for the manufacture and sale of clothing, with the market supplying many of London’s upper-class stores and individuals. Despite building its success and reputation with the name Petticoat Lane though, the lane’s name changed once again in 1830, back to Middlesex Street. Middlesex Street was then used to mark the boundary between the City of London and the would-be famous haunt of Jack the Ripper, Whitechapel. Despite the official name change, Petticoat Lane market became a famous institution in its own right – and remains so – thanks to the showmanship of its vendors and the uniquely infectious market atmosphere.
An influx of Jewish immigrants in 1882 saw Petticoat Lane’s population change once again. The new arrivals settled into the local textiles industry and helped the market prosper, despite the challenges the area itself faced in World War II. Come the 1970s though, the new Asian community on nearby Brick Lane injected life back into the area.
Today, Petticoat Lane is still one of London’s most iconic markets. It is a vibrant mix of industries and characters, with a rich history and cultural heritage. In fact, some of today’s most famous business personalities, like Lord Alan Sugar, found their start on the lane which just goes to show that its effect is more than capable of standing the test of time. As well as its continued commercial success, Petticoat Lane still draws in tourists and locals alike – no mean feat by any standards.
Of course, as wonderful as this charming little corner of London is, Petticoat Lane is by no means the only interesting destination in the city. If you want to experience the exciting and exotic atmosphere of London’s markets, you can wander around Camden, Portobello Road, Old Spitalfields and Brick Lane. Alternatively, you could enjoy one of the many London tours available through www.eastendtours.com which allow you to explore the history, culture and vibrancy of this stimulating city.