Market tokens

Object: tokens

Origin: Somers Town Potato Market

Date: circa 1890

These tokens come from Somers Town Potato Market, which was part of the Somers Town Goods Yard, on the site where the British Library is today. The Goods Yard and market, owned by the London, Midland and Scottish Railway , was a highly technological development, for the time,  with a hydraulic pump to move things across levels. The development was surrounded by Gothic arches inset in a red brick wall with striking  iron gates. This had been built in the 1880s on the site of a tight maze of 4000 late eighteenth century and nineteenth century homes housing 10000 people.  These were cleared off, because the large goods yard and market was needed for the growing demands for food in London.

At the market, potatoes were supplied wholesale to buyers, who took them to other markets or shops, in wooden boxes and baskets.  The purchasers had to pay a deposit for the boxes and baskets and, in return, received a token. The deposit was given back on return of the container and the token. Market tokens were in use from around 1850 to 1960 and disappeared in the 1970s because of the introduction of Value Added Tax, which would have been payable on deposits. 

By Esther Leslie