We found out what it’s like to be an artist in Hackney’s changing creative scene.
William used to work in jewellery centre Hatton Garden, but decided to open his bespoke jewellery shop on Broadway Market four years ago.
William Cheshire offer both custom and ready-to-buy pieces, and is staffed by a small team of three. The man himself is positive about the shop’s growth: “Business is going up and up and up. We had our busiest quarter last year.”
The jeweller explains his success is down to giving customers a different experience: “I am the owner, designer and maker with a small team of people. So I can express to people what we do very clearly, why we do it and why we’re here.
“It’s a luxury product, so everyone has different ideas of what they can afford to buy, so I will talk to people about what we make and I’m very clear about the materials, the metals and how we make everything. Information is vital to all my customers because they’re not quite sure what they’re looking at or what they’re doing when they’re coming in.”
“They then go away and think about what they’ve just learned, and when the time is right they’ll remember that there’s this guy making jewellery in Broadway Market when they want something special. Then they’ll say, ‘we don’t want to go to Bond Street, we don’t want to go to Hatton Garden.’”
Word of mouth is key to William’s business, and he explains that if they sell 100 pieces of jewellery in a month, that’s 100 people in Hackney spreading the news of his business.
“They tell their friends, and if their friends think they want a necklace or something they will come and see us. I would say that we are on the map.”
William explains that the belief of the area being rough is simply not true, and the area has changed drastically over the past few decades. “I think people have seen Hackney for far too long as somewhere cheap, dodgy and a bit dangerous, which I think is a myth.
“I think people in East London deserve a bloody great little jewellery shop that they can come to. We see 70 year-old grandmas who used to run up and down here as 6-year-olds, and they come in here and they say ‘this is fantastic, we can’t believe it – you should have seen it years ago, it was a dump.’’”
The work from the boutique has found fame in movies – William designed the ‘cocaine crucifix’ in T2: Trainspotting, the signet ring worn by Prince Philip in The Crown, and multiple pieces worn by characters in Bridget Jones’s Baby.
Despite the long hours he has put into his business, William explains that he wouldn’t change it for the world: “I exhaust myself every week talking to people about jewellery, communicating with them – but it’s worth it. It’s worth every penny, and that’s why it’s worked as a business.
Sarah has run her furnishing business since 1987. The contents of her shop are all second-hand and she collaborates with three other people to restore and buy pre-loved decor.
But business is getting trickier – scrap shops are closing down, and there are more regulations over what can and can’t be resold, such as items without a fire label.
She tells of the difference in Broadway Market: “It’s not derelict any more. Of 80 properties, 20 were occupied at one point. It’s full occupation now, besides the one that was blighted.”
“In workshop space it is becoming less accessible, because of the land. The time has moved on for artists.”
Sarah explains that while Hackney is an artistic hub, it might make more sense to have a workspace further out of London. “Hackney is a good place to show your work, but probably somewhere in Barking is a good place to have as a studio.”
Does she think it’s more environmentally friendly to refurbish and sell these items? “I do yes. Also these things are beautifully made, and we’ve already got them.”
Fabrications is a haberdashery on Broadway Market has been open for 17 years. They sell fabrics, sewing materials and other tools, as well as offering creative workshops.
Mark, who works with the artists there, has lived in Hackney all of his life and has seen it go through all its changes.
He thinks the art in the area has become pretentious. “Before it was gentrified I was here, since it was gentrified I’ve been here. Everybody is an artist or an entrepreneur – and it’s so shallow.”
Mark says that true artists don’t need to pander to pomposity, and this is why Fabrications has remained successful: “If you said ‘you’re an artist’ to the artists here, they would say ‘I wouldn’t go that far!’ They’re very humble people.”
The gentrification of Hackney has divided opinion, and Mark is unsure whether it is good or bad. “The thing that made Broadway market so attractive is that it used to be a working class area. And then if you walked along the market you had toy shops, butchers, bakers, florists, pet shops, newsagents, dry cleaners, electrical shops…
“Has it changed much? It’s just estate agents and somewhere to get something to eat now, which doesn’t serve the local community.
“It’s nice because it’s a safer place to be. It’s swings and roundabouts.”
Urban Makers Pop-up shop has been around since 2013. They started in Bow, as a Christmas market.
They essentially rent space to traders who want to present work such as jewellery and ceramics.
They showcase the creations of more than 30 artists a month, and Ilka Dickens says variety is key to their ethos: “We always, always try to have new people that we haven’t had before. And generally for every market that we do, we have a free stall for a new emerging business.
“There are so many different designers out there that are looking for a venue for their work.”
She says that the increasing rents in the area are a problem for artists, but a more recent issue is the price of pop-up shops. Bigger brands have started to use them for their collections, and they can afford to pay more to rent a spaces – so prices have increased.