Merton Abbey Mills has always been one of my favorite local haunts. For anyone who does not know, Abbey Mills is an art and crafts market in South London (7 mins from Colliers Wood tube station on the Northern Line). It is a network of old buildings on the site of Merton Priory an Augustinian priory founded in 1117. It was dissolved in 1538 but the site has remained rich in history with a well preserved chamber under Merantun Way. Each building has a story.
Abbey Mills holds a lot of fond memories for me. As a child it was a big place bursting with stalls, crafts and good smells. During the summer months it's a great place to enjoy a drink by the river while listening to live jazz. Despite it being a short distance from where I live, I regrettably don't visit as much as I should. Every time I visit there are new stalls selling new homemade wares. Since joining the 'Twittersphere' I have been receiving updates about the 'farmers' market' that happens every weekend and I decided to have a look.
The market was fairly quiet with a fair few empty stalls and spaces. A large central building - The Long Shop (that used to be the market hub) is now divided into small cafes and restaurants. There are several restaurants and shops open seven days a week including a lovely Thai restaurant that is very reasonable, a Belgium brasserie selling an array of crepes and beers, a Brazilian cafe and a Mauritian weekend stand. Other stalls include a hat stand, homemade children's toys, jewellery, hand carved wood work, and pottery made on site at The Wheelhouse.
The stall selling farmers' produce was run by a lovely man called Keith Cook. The spread was selective and he was incredibly knowledgeable about where his stock had come from. There was a real mixture of choice from The Cherry Tree Chutney from Devonshire, to Owlet Pressed juices from Lamberhurst (Kent) Apple Juices, and Lincolnshire potatoes. However, I was most drawn by the stock from places even closer to SW19.
The bread and eggs caught my eye immediately. The bread is made at Palmieri bakery in Tooting and the eggs are from Godmanchester (Cambridgeshire), both duck and hen, £2 for half a dozen. They were also offering honey from New Malden, vegetables, and ale - not to mention cheeses! We were offered some delicious Cheddar, blue cheese and also soft cheese made with Guernsey milk. I had to nip across the road to take out some cash and bought some delicious treats.
I also bought some butter from Shepton Mallet made with cheese whey and tried some later with the bread. It was rich and the bread soft and flavoursome.
Produce aside, it was the character selling them who fascinated me - Keith Cook. He has been selling at Merton Abbey for 15 years ever since he took retirement. As others have come and gone from Abbey Mills (often having to move from from too small a profit) he offered to sell some of their wares in their absence. He spoke of the lack of footfall at the market and his hope that my generation has a refreshed interest in local organic produce.
On leaving the market I began to head home. The juxtaposition of the quaint independent market and the surrounding architecture and trade is quite striking. There are a lot of people who go to the local shops such as the Tandem Centre, Sainsbury's M&S, Pizza Hut and KFC. Myself included.
If only everyone could venture another 200 yards into the wonders of Merton Abbey when they are in the area. It is a great place that could be even greater. All it needs is more footfall to support the local people who are putting so much time and effort into maintaining such quality produce and craft in South London.