Here be Dragons: Merton – Abbey Mills Market

By NikitaNemygin, January 12, 2017

The band ends in an abrupt finale and awkwardly waits for cheers that never arrive.

They sing under a giant rectangular wooden canopy three steps up from the spectators, two dozen forty-somethings that share their time between a pint and hopelessly trying to handle their kiddies.

Speakers play some static for a change and they continue.

Abbey Mills Stage

Abbey Mills market is never busy, always animated. Most of the shops spaces are closed, it could potentially be much more vibrant. It seems like an island in its own right, detached from all the surroundings. One side is a river, the other is giant superstore, wide busy roads. High-voltage lines over it, river Wandle under it, it feels ungodly, suspiciously comfy. Sitting here is like being in a huge snug blanket, in a mother’s womb.

Trees hide the watermill

Strangely, there is no notoriety. It never picked up as a trendy place even though it has all the properties of one. Tube station nearby – check, historical context – check, market stalls and indoor areas – check, other attractions nearby – check.

Market Stalls

The medieval Merton Priory that baptised this place, became obliterated after the dissolution of monasteries and buried under a tombstone that is Merantun Way road. Currently there is a project to open the under-road site of Chapter House to general public in 2018 (funding permitting).

Merantun Way is where Merton Priory was once standing. Now the buildings ahead hide Colliers Wood Underground station

For now – a few shops, a few steps, a splash of water and of an applause, a few dining spaces, a small market for small things.

Market Stalls

Victorian industrial buildings have to them a sweet brick attire like a post-apocalyptic world, imagined in a stoned hipster dream. They used to be parts of Liberty of London factory, but since the economy has moved on, many of them stand orphaned. Still having a ton of character, but lacking an entrepreneurial vision to bank on the assets.

Shops in the ex industrial buildings

One of the building (colour House) withholds a small children’s Theatre but the cutest feature of this space is the Wheelhouse. It was also used by Liberty to harness power of the river. Inside of a small cosy building lies a world of whimsy taken to a good use. Cobwebs, rust, smell of still water and local history boards. You can take a pottery class. Its wheel is working producing a steady noise and gasps of the first-timers in awe to be actually able to do something with their own hands.

Pottery Class

Through the backdoor you get into a small viewing room directly above the wheel and the freshness of the river flow. Sometimes the wheel is operated, producing a steady dropping sound as it hits the water. It used to be the source of the power, but cosy as they are, watermills cannot compete with the nuclear fusion. The wheel only now fuels the potter’s circle.

The wheel in the backroom

Here, among the giggling from the pottery class, the gentle humming of the potters circle, hisses of the water, I give in give in to the soft rumble, to the simple honesty. I go around the pottery display, the small remnants of Victorian tiling.
Here I start to feel in tune with the wheel, still making a splash in the Wandle. The slow motion waterfall becomes a perfect metaphor for the Abbey Mills Market itself – quiet and reluctant. A few lazy hours to pass between pottery, kids theatre, market and drinking establishments.

Pottery and the waterwheel on the right

There is no superficiality about Abbey Mills, it is well grounded, absorbed by the very soil it stands on, by the hisses of water, by the soft rumble of the watermill.
Cutely low-key, it seems as if it is just waiting patiently to be discovered.
But who will?