Deep underneath Charing Cross station is a small car park, and on Saturdays it’s filled with men buying and selling coins, medals, stamps, and ephemera.
The market has been running since the 1970s, and to walk inside is to return to the pre-ebay times when people used to trade second-hand goods face to face over trestle tables set up in halls and out of the backs of cars.
There’s a smallish — and on Saturdays well-signposted entrance, but that’s the exit, and the entrance is a far less obvious crack in the wall on the other side of the station in a small door next to Starbucks (opposite Embankment tube station), and after a temperature check, off you go down several flights of municipal stairs into… a car park.
I had no idea what to expect, but if I had made a list of possible options, I doubt it would have included an underground car park two floors beneath Charing Cross station – a reminder there’s hidden depths to our city.
So down here, a low ceiling space is filled with tables carefully laid out with medals, banknotes, coins, photographs, some books, lots of random stuff likely to appeal to a collector of medals and coins, and rather less so, stamp collectors. Men, and it is mostly men, are busy rifling through boxes of papers and boxes of coins looking for that elusive last item to complete a collection, while the traders chat amongst themselves as old friends are wont to do.
While maybe little known to the average person, it’s very well known in the ephemera and collectables market – with some traders travelling for several hours each Saturday to get here. And as it opens at 7am, that’s an early start to the day.
In these covid times, the market is quieter than usual, as they usually see around 25-25 traders, but at the weekend past, probably just half that number. They used to pull in as many as 120 stalls, but the modern world of online selling has affected the market. But anyone who watches Antiques Roadshow will recall seeing the expert eye roll when someone says they bought this “turns out to be fake” item on an online auction.
Physical markets, especially for antiquities will long persist in an online world of fakes and dodgy dealers.
The market nearly vanished in the late 1980s though, when the modern office block was erected above the station, but planning permission was only granted if the market was allowed to remain. And so deep under London, is this curious other world – in one of the busiest places in London (normally), and yet hidden away behind a small nondescript door and utterly mysterious.
Even if the items on sale are of no interest to you personally, it’s the sort of place everyone should visit at least once — just to see this curious hidden world of coins and medals several floors underneath a major railway station.
And let’s be honest, if you’re in the area with friends on a Saturday morning, what better than to impress everyone by pointing out a tiny little door and take them through into this strange world they would never have expected to exist.