The evolution of Exmouth Market 1 - Exmouth Market in 1968. © Islington Local History Centre Full view

The evolution of Exmouth Market

Visiting Exmouth Market today, it’s easy to see how it won the Great Street Award in the UK and Ireland in 2011 but it looked very different 25 years ago…

Exmouth Market in 1968. © Islington Local History Centre
Exmouth Market in 1968. © Islington Local History Centre

In the 19th century, Clerkenwell was particularly known for clocks and prostitutes. The area has gone through several transformations since then, with the revitalisation of Exmouth Market a part of it.

It has been a market place since the old Victorian times but in the 1970s it was in decline. In 1984, only six pitches were active – out of 100 available ones. To bring the street back to life, Islington Council decided to take action at the beginning of the nineties and reinstalled the street market in 2006.

The aim was to relaunch Exmouth Market through a regeneration project, looking at the street’s practical aspects as well as its atmosphere. Exmouth Market was repaved at the beginning of the nineties, new lighting and street furniture were installed and increased pedestrianisation. Most importantly, the council’s actions were designed to shape a community spirit.

IMG_3789In 1992, the street was added to the Rosebery Avenue Conservation Area which is “a conservation area of special architectural or historic interest, the character or appearance of which it is desirable to preserve or enhance” and which kept new buildings from being built in the street. The cultural regeneration was also improved by building a planning policy, in 1996, which promotes the buildings’ mixed use with shops on the ground floor and residential parts and offices above.

Exmouth Market’s freeholders are working closely with the council in producing a Street Trading Strategy for managing the street in order to, as they say, “create a dynamic street trading and market experience that is diverse and vibrant adding value to the economic, social and cultural fabric of Islington”.

So far this challenge of revitalising the street appears to have been largely successful, judging from the many enthusiastic contributions on social media, mostly about the street’s food reputation.

Slowly, Exmouth Market turned from a working class street with ordinary restaurants into a hipster’s paradise. The street has become a great example of Hotelling’s Law, which stipulates that it is advantageous for competitors to congregate in the same area. Charles, an Islington resident who has been living in the area for about eight years, says:

“Sam and Sam Clark’s Moro restaurant gave Exmouth Market the halo effect. The Exmouth Arms pub was transformed from a rather dismal Post Office workers’ refuge to a craft beer haven. Japanese restaurants opened. Now Exmouth Market is renowned for food. It is a destination for Londoners as far afield as Zone 6.”

The street is also a symptomatic example of a new trend, the steady return of local shops such as bookshops, cafés and design boutiques. Exmouth Market is also part of the 21st Century Village network, which promotes independent shops in London and Amsterdam. This trend has been confirmed with the actual closing down of chain shops based in Exmouth Market such as Starbucks and Subway.

“[Independent shops] are the future of retail. Nobody will shop for things. They will shop for experiences they can’t get on the internet,” says Charles.

However, business rates and taxes in the area are at sky-high levels, making it hard for niche outfits to survive. Charles fears that “if they don’t come down then all we’ll have is betting shops and Poundland outlets, which will be a disaster for the area”. Nami, who works at Japanese restaurant Necco, says: “Others shops are always coming and going. I love Exmouth Market for all its individual shops, not just a big company’s branch, but it’s changing now.”

In 2011, Councillor Paul Convery, Islington Council executive member for leisure and regeneration, declared that “the change has been astounding and is a great tribute to both an initial brave investment decision by the council and continued long-term commitment over several administrations.”

And indeed, the support of the council has been a determining factor in Exmouth’s transformation into a lively and trendy part of Clerkenwell area.

However, like other areais, it now faces the challenge of gentrification as white collar city workers move into dilapidated districts.


Written by Clemence Simard

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