Written by Andrew Mueller
THE first thing that any prospective visitor to Camden Passage needs to know is this: it isn't in Camden. One can only wonder how many people have heard about Camden Passage, assumed that it must be something to do with the famous North London market with which it shares a name, and spent the day wondering how and when the quaint, genteel antiques emporium they’d heard about had metastasised into a vast, ghastly dystopia of bad clothes, worse food, atrocious prices and snarling drug dealers.
Indeed, pretty much the greatest tribute that can be paid Camden Passage is that it is almost precisely unlike Camden Market. You wouldn’t find Camden Passage unless you were looking for it - it’s a pedestrian arcade tucked parallel to Islington’s main road Upper Street, a short walk from Angel tube station. You also need to be looking on the right days. The market is really properly open only on Wednesdays and Saturdays, and more so in the morning than afternoon - a somewhat haphazard schedule that contributes to a general air of amiable eccentricity.
There are genuine treasures for sale here, with prices to match - rare watches, venerable pottery, vintage clothes, elderly furniture (though some of the more established shops, in the forbidding brick edifice on one side of the market, known as The Mall, recently closed). The real joy of Camden Passage, however, is to be had fossicking among the smaller-ticket items, which collectively give the sense of a stately home’s garage sale: tables and shelves heave with old military medals, chintzy jewellery, pensionable teddy bears, bundled cutlery, dog-eared postcards, mouldering board games and yellowing pre-World War II periodicals.
A marketplace entirely devoid of hustle seems a counter-intuitive proposition, but that’s precisely what Camden Passage offers. The stallholders and shopkeepers don’t push, don’t hassle, and - while never being less than friendly - Agive the impression that the gauche drudgery of actually turning a profit is rather beneath them. The apparent creed of trading in curiosities for the sake of it is summed up in an overheard conversation in one typically, randomly cluttered store. A browsing punter remarks that surely the sensible, profitable way forward is selling these trinkets and bric-a-brac online. “Yes”, agrees the shopkeeper, “but where’s the fun in that?”
Andrew Mueller is a London-based foreign correspondent, travel writer, rock critic, author and general all-purpose hack. His latest book, 'I Wouldn’t Start From Here: the 21st Century and Where It All Went Wrong', is available now. Follow Andrew on his blog.