Holloway’s Nag’s Head Market still going... 25 years after last ditch bid to save it

Nag's Head Market.

Nag's Head Market. - Credit: Archant

It’s a much-loved market that has served Holloway for decades, and it’s 25 years since it went indoors. This week, the Gazette visited the Nag’s Head to talk shop with traders.

Brian Cummines has been at the Nag's Head Market since 1992.

Brian Cummines has been at the Nag's Head Market since 1992. - Credit: Archant

Islington may have completely transformed in the last 25 years, but some things have remained constant.

For example, in May 1992, Jeremy Corbyn was the MP for the north of the borough, Arsenal finished fourth and shoppers flocked to get their eggs from Brian at the Nag’s Head Market.

It had been a bit of a wait for those customers. The old stalls in what was the Marks and Spencer car park had been closed for almost a year while a roof was built.

Then, on May 2, hours before Arsenal waved goodbye to the old First Division with a 5-1 against Southampton at Highbury, EastEnders star Wendy Richard was one mile away cutting the ribbon on the new indoor market.

Nag's Head clippings.

Nag's Head clippings. - Credit: Archant

Developed by market manager Brian Sedley, the revamp was intended to breathe new life into Holloway and restore it to its former glory as one of the top shopping destinations in the region.

The late Mr Sedley had come up with the proposals eight years earlier, vowing to close the tatty old street market down if his project was knocked back.

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He had taken over the land vacated by Sainsbury’s back in 1974 but became fed up at having to re-apply for permission to stay there every six months. Instead he wanted permanent pitches – which to this day aren’t that popular with traders, who prefer the hustle and bustle of stalls.

Nowadays, the market looks more or less as it did then, though soon a 10,000 sq ft second floor workspace will be unveiled and food stalls have successfully been brought in to boost business.

Nag's Head clippings.

Nag's Head clippings. - Credit: Archant

“Twenty-six years I’ve been here,” says Harry Cummines, who runs greeting cards shop Harry’s Cards. “I used to work in car parks but got fed up with that so opened a greeting cards shop. I’ve always done greetings cards.

“We used to have proper stalls – different traders coming on different days, and we used to make more money.

“Now The Card Factory has opened up round the corner, which hasn’t done me any favours, and the area’s really changed, especially in the last 10 years.

“But this is a nice part of the community. I was born in the Cally Road and you get people who have come here every single day for 35 years – there could be three feet of snow.”

Wendy Richard opens the new Nag's Head Market in 1992.

Wendy Richard opens the new Nag's Head Market in 1992. - Credit: Archant

Most traders are local, and there are many like Harry who were here on that relaunch in 1992. Sheila Way has run her second-hand clothes shop for decades, and Mr and Mrs Ali have been repairing watches since 1974. The flea market is still going on Wednesdays and Sundays and the market is now open seven days a week.

But the market also collaborates with the London Meridian College and City and Islington College, giving youngsters the chance to carve out business careers.

Suemina has been coming to the Nag’s Head since she was in a pram. She’s now 28, and last month she and her sister launched their own business there selling candles and doing body art, while Suemina also looks after the market’s social media.

“It’s going great,” she said. “I grew up here when it was more of a bric-a-brac and second-hand market, and now it’s being modernised and young people are moving in.”

When Mr Sedley died the market was taken over by the Singh family, who had themselves been stallholders. The last few years have been tough but manager Mr Singh says the introduction of street food stalls and pop-ups has revitalised the market. There are even plans on the table for a new-look design, which will nod to its history.

“We came from the market, and we want to keep the market,” Mr Singh said. “It’s about the community. These new designs will smarten up the image, ready for the next 25 years of trading.”