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GREENWICH MARKET’S 21ST CENTURY MAKEOVER

After four years of restoration works, the new Greenwich Market has finally been unveiled – and has the royal seal of approval. The Resident meets the architect, the artist and the drivers who have collaborated to create a 21st century market while protecting the heritage this world famous site

Words: Victoria Purcell

Greenwich Market has been reborn. After four years of works and disruption, traders at one of the capital’s most popular arts and craft markets, with up to 150 stalls showcasing the work of local talented designer makers, are now settling into their much improved retail space, complete with a new food court and pavilion affording the hungry crowds somewhere to sit and enjoy the delicious street food on offer.

Greenwich Hospital, which has owned the market since 1694, embarked on the enhancement project in September 2012 after scrapping a none too popular proposal to rebuild the market around a boutique hotel.

Greenwich is London’s only historic market set within a World Heritage site, which made the project somewhat tricky. London architects Barr Gazetas, however, was able to draw from its expertise in high street regeneration and designing public spaces (the practice also created Peninsula Square by the O2 Arena – the first new public square in London for 150 years).

‘Like many London markets, Greenwich has a strong and unique character,’ said Jon Eaglesham, Barr Gazetas’ Project Director. ‘After years of wear-and-tear it certainly required attention to make it to fit for the 21st Century and beyond. However, we knew it was vital to retain the spirit of the place and to protect the site’s heritage.’

Greenwich Market's new roof and floor has created a more comfortable, modern shopping environment

A new roof and floor has created a more comfortable, modern shopping environment

The designs needed to enhance valuable historic assets, restore existing structures, improve facilities for traders, retailers and visitors, and create a new food court and public open space.

‘We’ve always been interested in the public realm,’ says Jon Eaglesham, Director of Barr Gazetas. ‘There are more people involved with a project like Greenwich Market.

The enhancements to Greenwich Market are part of a wider development programme being rolled out by Greenwich Hospital

So many people came to the public consultations – stakeholders, World Heritage Representatives, local councillors and about 250 traders, all telling us what they wanted out of their new market. So you balance that, and I think that’s the interesting part.’

The enhancements to Greenwich Market are part of a wider development programme being rolled out by Greenwich Hospital to uplift the island site and reinforce its position as a great urban village for residents and visitors alike. Ongoing improvements have already attracted top restaurateurs like Jamie’s Italian, Sticks ‘N’ Sushi and Champagne & Fromage.

Gillie Bexson, Head of Property at Greenwich Hospital (centre), led the project

Gillie Bexson, Head of Property at Greenwich Hospital (centre), led the project

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‘Greenwich is home to many wonderful buildings within the World Heritage Site and it is also, very importantly, a living and evolving part of London with a thriving local community,’ says Gillie Bexson, Head of Property at Greenwich Hospital, who led the project.

‘The wellbeing of the Greenwich locals, both now and in the future, is at the heart of these enhancement works. Now we have polished our family silver and it is looking fantastic!’

To create Fry’s Court, the new food court and public open space, Barr Gazetas reclaimed an idle service yard and transformed it to include much-needed seating and a contemporary stainless steel pavilion

To create Fry’s Court, the new food court and public open space, Barr Gazetas reclaimed an idle service yard and transformed it to include much-needed seating and a contemporary stainless steel pavilion. And because modern architecture has reached a point where sustainability and environmental considerations are a must, green roofs and soft landscaping were factored in.

Within Fry’s Court is a striking new piece of public artwork, a 230cm bronze sphere made up of 210 interwoven figures. Encompass, by local sculptor Michael Speller, was inspired by the support given to beneficiaries by the Greenwich Hospital. The figures conjure up images of sailors climbing the rigging of a tall ship, culminating in a domed roof that reference the famous twin domes of Sir Christopher Wren’s Royal Naval College.

The piece incorporates ‘found objects’ from the Thames, tools and objects used by craft workers in the market, the names of movies filmed in the area and lexicon donated by local school children that is associated with Greenwich.

The new sculpture, Encompass, reflected through the mirrored ceiling of the pavilion

The new sculpture, Encompass, reflected through the mirrored ceiling of the pavilion

The roof, installed in 1908, and the market’s original cobbles were a concern, as there was a lot of debate over whether or not they were listed. They were not, meaning the solid roofing panels could be replaced with tempered glass, allowing natural light to flood into the market and better ventilation. The original steel-frame has been stripped back and cleaned to remove old layers of paint, and new lighting and electrics have been installed. Sections of the cobbled flooring were restored and relaid in strips running through the buggy and wheelchair-friendly granite paving.

We thought about the past, we went back to previous designs that we found from the 19th century then we tried to use that. I think that was the key, trying to balance the contemporary design

‘We thought about the past, we went back to previous designs that we found from the 19th century then we tried to use that,’ says Jon. ‘I think that was the key, trying to balance the contemporary design. That’s why the pavilion is so different. Everything around Fry’s Court is Grade II listed – a real mix of Victorian and Edwardian architecture. It’s all very angular. So the pavilion has its own character and spirit. We wanted something that was very different and didn’t compete with that historical aesthetic.’

The restoration and extension of Durnford Street has also restablished it as the primary route into the market – gone are the delivery gates and bin bags. A locally listed Victorian banana warehouse has been extended and opened up to provide three new retail units along the street, much improving the market’s kerb appeal.

The new pavilion is a striking addition to Greenwich Market

The new pavilion is a striking addition to Greenwich Market

On the morning of Wednesday 21 April 2016, one of the sunniest of the year so far, HRH The Duke of York paid a formal visit to the market, unveiling a plaque marking the completion of the extensive restoration project. The Duke of York, Patron of the Greenwich Hospital, spoke of his naval career, which brought him to Greenwich many years ago as a student.

‘Unfortunately, while I was studying at the Royal Naval College I never had the opportunity to come and visit the market,’ he said. ‘I was shown what the market used to be like and the plans for the work. I am really, really impressed.’

The Duke took a tour of the market and met stallholders and well-wishers, saying he had been ‘truly inspired’. Guests on the day were entertained with music composed by trader Kate Jaconello, and traders John-Harry Jackson and Tom Cazalet (Sheepys), Jonathan Oldham (Eyellusion Adventure) and Tim Stanley (Movie Mats) dressed for the occasion in naval uniforms through the centuries.

The market remained open during the upgrade in order to cause minimal disruption, but that did make it somewhat tricky for the architect: ‘I’ve got friends who live in Greenwich,’ said Jon, ‘and they said, “How’s your Greenwich project going? You’re not doing much, are you?” I said, “We’ve completely rebuilt it!” It’s not often you get to transform a market without changing it. It was a very complex project, but massively enjoyable.’

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