Puppies for sale at Dog Market, Club Row
Puppies for sale at Dog Market, Club Row

Choosing a dog is no easy task. The cuteness of a terrier, or the leanness of a whippet? The stature of a labrador or the Englishness of a bulldog?  

In most cases the pet shop owner will run you through the pros and cons, the pedigree and the breed. But at the Club Row Animal Market – just north of Bethnal Green Road – you would have simply been fed what you wanted to hear.

Kaye Webb provides a vivid account of the trading techniques in her 1953 book Looking at London and People Worth Meeting.  

“ ‘Hi, mate, buy a dog to keep you warm!’ said the man with the Chows to a pair of shivering Lascar seamen. ‘E’s worth double, lady, but I want ‘im to ‘ave a good ‘ome’ or ‘Here’s a good dog, born between the sheets, got his pedigree in my pocket!’ ‘Who’d care for a German sausage? – stretch him to make up the rations,’ the salesman with the dachshund said.”

Club Row Market was London’s one and only live animal market. Dogs, cats, birds, chickens, snakes, gerbils, guinea pigs – even monkeys and lion cubs could be found there.  Imagine that – lion cubs for sale on the streets of Shoreditch.

From its humble beginnings as a place where farmers could trade outside the city walls, Club Row market spread down Sclater Street and initially developed into a bird market.  This was a legacy of the French Huguenots who immigrated to the area after the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685 and had the custom of keeping canaries and various singing birds.   

Writing in the early 20th Century, George R. Sims described the market as follows: “On Sunday nothing but bird-cages are to be seen from roofs to pavement in almost every house. At first you see nothing but the avenue of bird-cages. The crowd in the narrow street is so dense that you can gather no idea of what is in the shop-windows or what the mob of men crowding together in black patches of humanity are dealing in.”

And the market wasn’t restricted to the street either. “It was an extraordinary sight, this marvellous old pub full of stacked up cages of exotic screeching birds” comments Derek Brown on the Spitalfields Life blog. The pub in question was the Knave of Clubs – now an upmarket restaurant called Les Trois Garçons where the “wildlife is taxidermy”. 

As time progressed dogs and other animals were eventually sold alongside the caged birds. By the 1960s “a cacophony of whimpers, yaps, yelps, and just plain barking guides you to the spot where Bethnal Green Road branches off to Sclater Street,” Webb writes.

The RSPCA and other animal rights groups eventually succeeded in shutting the market down, and judging by most accounts this was fully justified.  There is no shortage of stories about boot polish being used to mask sores and entire litters of puppies sold for medical research.  

Far from defending the traders or seeking to rationalise animal cruelty, there is – however –  no denying that the market must have been quite a sight: a street theatre for East End traders which knew no limits.

Street trading is still alive and well in the streets of Spitalfields with Club Row’s animals making way for Brick Lane’s antiques and toiletries, bikes and records. Virtually everything imaginable is on offer now – except animals that is. 

When the government introduced a law in 1983 outlawing the street sale of live animals, centuries of East End tradition were brought to a close. London lost its only live animal market, and is unlikely to ever see another one. 

A stroll down Club Row and Sclater Street today is a very different experience to what it was just twenty years ago. Former bomb sites where the market used to spread have now been developed and Shoreditch’s first skyscraper now reigns supreme. As for dogs – well, why keep a dog in Shoreditch anyway?

@raisimpson

Join the Conversation

42 Comments

  1. The memories came flooding back watching this,as my dad was one of those who bred and sold dogs on club row for many years .He had a licensed stall by the water trough and sold chickens ,rabbits, parrots monkey’s. My uncle sold birds he had bred ,they were great times and remember the knave of clubs well .

    1. Hi Karen. I’m working on a paper on Club Row Market for a post-graduate course, and would love to take an oral history of your memories of the market. Any chance you’d be willing to sit for one? (If yes, please get my email from Richard). Thank you!

      1. Hi Mary – I’m trying to find out a little more about the market. I’d be really grateful if you could get in touch please.

  2. I remember the market well. Taking a bus from Penge to the lane and club row.
    Looking on in amazement at all kinds of clothes piled up against bombsite walls. People sorting these out and just discarding those that were not suitable. The noise of the maket people trying to sell you cats, dogs,Ferrets and goats. It seemed that everyone there was a character out of Great
    expectations! Even travelling this short bus ride I thought I had stepped back in time. From there us boys would travel on to Camberwell Green to a cinema called the “Grand” where they showed ,French films! The following weekend we would catch the 725 green line from Elmers End to Hamton Court or Teddinton Lock and camp by the river fishing all day. I am now 71 and yet it feels that all this happened just a short time ago.

  3. Remember it well,as the men who sold tin plate wind up toys,was amongst the animals….
    Remember Arnold who sold clocks and housewares and. “lordie lordie” with toys and electrical stuff ,Apple fritters,Blackman school shoes,the razorblade seller who stuttered,every Sunday through the 70s

    1. Hi Dave, just found this, not sure if you’ll see it ever, but I believe the ‘lordie Lordie ‘ toys and electrics man was my dad! Selling everything from the Argos catalouge and more!

    2. My Father brought a Corgi around 1966 pedigree paperwork stating a male dog took it to the vets a few months later for a checkup to discover what the paperwork said he had was not correct he had a female why my Father did not check I have no idea .

  4. Hi Karen, It`s a real shame that the old Club Row market had to go, My mum bought me a dog from the market 1969 I when to school over there.

  5. I went to club row with my father on the78bus from peckham to shoreditch to buy homing pigeons to breed from and race the offspring.this was around 1955. I remember prince monolulu a black man who dressed in a long feathered headress walking through the crowd selling envelopes with race horse tips in them. He was a regular at all the race courses selling tips and saw him on derby day at Epsom. Dogs were the big seller in club row.

  6. I remember going to Club Row on Sundays with my father about 1947-1950. We lived in Bermondsey & kept racing pigeons, rabbits & hens in the back garden. He once brought back a couple of kids – I remember them leaping about on top of the Anderson Shelter, but we didn’t keep them for long. He told me that when he was a teenager he used to sell racing pigeons in Club Row, telling the buyers to keep them caged for about a week before letting them out, but they usually came home & he could sell them again! I remember Prince Monolulu too & also saw him at East Lane Market on Saturdays.

  7. I remember my Dad taken me up to Club Row on Sunday mornings. I was always interested in pets and the market was a real eye opener. Although I was only about 5, he took me into the pub which was open early to serve the Market Traders. I can remember cages stacked up around the wall of the pub and one man had a lion cub on a lead. I asked Dad to buy it for me saying that I’d pay him back out of my pocket money. Luckily he refused and I came home with some grass snakes. Although I’m glad that the market no longer exists – the cruelty that went on must have been appalling, I’m glad that I saw it before it went.

  8. My Dad took me to Club Row around 1953 or 1954. We bought a tabby kitten for 6d and we took it back to my Grandmother’s house on Clarkson St. I remember the market vividly and recall both monkeys and big cat cubs for sale as well as chickens and rabbits and , most of all, puppies. I remember my Dad saying how terriers were prized for their ratting ability. On occasion the inhabitants of Clarkson St. would assemble all the dogs on the street, open all the house doors and let the dogs go to see which could catch a rat.

  9. My uncle had a stall in the market 1970’s drove all the way from Leicester. I worked on the stall between 74-76 earnt £2 our stall was between the darts stall and pedigree Yorkshire terriers!!!!. Stall. Our stall sold chunky jumpers and rejected M&S shirts etc. we were right opposite where the dogs etc were sold on the island between the 2 roads. Happy days

  10. Hi I have a picture of myself and my sister holding monkeys at club row in the mid 60’s. Would you like to see this pic ?

    1. Hi Kevin, I would like to see the picture. I believe my Grandfathers family had a bird shop. My grandfather opened his Pet shop in Camden Towm. I can remember going to Club Row with my father on Sunday mornings.

  11. Hi all

    As many are saying Happy Days

    I remember going to Club Row around 1974 for many years and watching in amazement as one of the holes in the wall had boxes of imported fancy or ornamental live fish, they had airstones in the water the boxes were opened and the fish poured into the water looking a bit drunk until they got some oxygen in them and then they would sell them like 5 for a £1 or something and they sold very quickly and then moved on to the next lot

    The old pet shop in the middle that sold all kinds of animals especially birds, this shop featured in Bob Hoskins film Mona Lisa I think it was

    Happy days indeed,

    Big Steve

  12. In the 1940’s/50’s My Grandfather and Uncle had a pet shop on the corner of Brick Lane and a stall outside too on Sundays. My father had a bird stall at the other end of
    Brick Lane and a Pet shop in Herne Hill and later in Thornton Heath. As kids growing up each of us had take our turn to accompany my father when we became old enough. I hated it especially in the winter as my feet became numb with the cold.

  13. When I was a child in Middlesbrough I often re read my mothers copy of A Kid for two farthings by Wolf Mankiewicz- now I cycle down club row at least once a week

  14. I worked at club row from 1966 to about 1980, my dad used to sell any old stuff, my highlight every week was seeing the animals

  15. I remember going by Underground train to Liverpool St Station on a Sunday morning to Club Row in 1947. Babies cot with puppies for sale, birds in little box cages on the walls of the flattened building, caused by the heavy bombing. With a few bantam hens I needed a cockerel. Finding one for sale 5/- he was popped into my sack and back home on the Underground he came to join the girls.
    I think the “Unicorn” in the film “A kid for Two Farthings ” was partly made there.

  16. I used to get the 149 bus from Ponders End on a Sunday morning with my dad in the mid1960’s to buy tropical fish. I well remember the old guys with puppies in their coats. In the colder weather the tanks kept outside used to steam gently because the water was heated. We took the fish home wrapped in bundles of newspaper hoping the bus didn’t get held up. I remember my dad buying four fish for a ‘dollar’. I asked him what a dollar was, and he said ‘five bob’. Those were the days!

    When I was older, I remember watching Police Five on a Friday night and seeing that a lot of Black Sabbath albums had been stolen from a lorry. One of the albums was Volume IV and the other Master of Reality, I think. Shaw Taylor said that it would be easy to identify copies of Volume IV because the insert pages had not yet been stapled to the sleeve. ‘That’ll do for me, I thought, and sure enough, when I went to the Lane on the Sunday, I picked both albums up for a song, and Volume IV had unstapled pages!

  17. i remember going to Club Row with my dad in the mid sixties on a Sunday morning, we lived in kentish town, i loved that special time, seeing the monkeys and having a hot juice drink, the place was a mess because of the old bomb debris, happy memories,we got 2 kittens there, my dad knew the place like the back of his hand, my grown up family will never be able to enjoy anywhere like that, life was so different then.

    1. When I was 5 years old, I lived with my family on the 5th floor of Huntingdon Buildings which was opposite Club Row. Every Sunday morning we woke to the sounds of all sorts of animals. I remember hearing puppies and kittens crying. I used to look over the balcony, desperately wanting my Mum to buy me a puppy! “No, we haven’t got room for a pet”, was the reply from my Mum! .

  18. Took the train from Ilford to Liverpool street on Sunday mornings with my Dad. Walked to Club Row, bought a puppy once, records etc. Walked through past “itchy park” into Wentworth Street, where dad bought bags of fruit, and into Petticoat Lane and back to the station. The traders were amazing, calling out, “not £5, not £2, not even a quid….lady just give me 50 bob”. Happy memories! Prince Honolulu giving betting tips I believe.

    1. Fifty Bob was £2.10 shillings back then . Two pounds were 40 shillings (a “bob” was one shilling ) plus ten shillings ( ten Bob) 50 Bob.

    2. He called himself Prince Monolulu, actually, but he got everywhere – East Lane market as well!

  19. Fifty Bob was £2.10 shillings back then . Two pounds were 40 shillings (a “bob” was one shilling ) plus ten shillings ( ten Bob) 50 Bob.

  20. Sunday mornings in the 60s Dad would take me to Club Row. I was fascinated by the water filled bags filled with fish which were hung up by nails on the wall. Easter time there was a stall where baby chicks were sold for a Tanner (6d or 2.5p in today’s money). I fell in love with some beautiful Cocker Spaniel puppies but Dad was adiment we were not going to get one. We would go to the far end of the market to one of the shops and buy cough candy, honey Combe, pontifractcake and sasperrela to take home. Loved those outings.

  21. Thank you so much for all these memories! In the 1950s we bought both of our dogs from Club Row: our collie dog (which we called ‘Mush’ – what else?) was ‘straight up from the farm today, lady, if you want his pedigree you’ll ”ave to pay me a tenner to go back for it’. I am sure that my mum bought day old chickens as well, as we kept half a dozen chickens in our tiny back yard. We kept them for their eggs and killed one for Easter and one for Christmas. When I had my tonsils out at the Evelina hospital, my mum bought a fresh egg for me to have for breakfast every day for the whole week I was in!

  22. Me dad used to take me there on Sundays late 1950s used to get the Christmas toys from there always crowd’s of people buying anything

  23. I bought an Alexandrine parakeet there in early 70s ,paid £7 I think
    Named her Betty to go with a cock bird I had bought in Bristol at a petshop for £11. We called him Howard!
    Sadly they never bred.
    Wild birds were imported by the thousand in those days and many died along the way. I had worked as a schoolboy for Johnny Stevens looking after his private bird collection. He told tales of owning Wellingborough Zoo in the 50s and buying birds by the yard of perch.
    Thankfully those days have gone.

  24. I remember being taken here as a young child. My most vivid memory is of trays of little yellow fluffy chicks.
    Pure delight to a young 1959’schild.
    Pure revulsion now to a 2020 adult .
    I loved going there then. Different times. Thank God we are more aware in this country now. How cruel we were ..

  25. My dad used to travel from Essex in his old hillman minx he used to buy unusual birds for our aviaries usually he’d by different types of canaries or foreign finches, but in one aviary he built especially for a pair of bullfinches he bought of a bloke up club row

  26. Dad used to go to club row from Essex to buy British finches and canaries which he used to keep in massive aviaries breed them and then sell them on he also used to breed mules(canary finch crosses

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.