Cockney accent: Freddie talks about the origins of Ridley Road market and explains how it continues to flourish despite changes in shopping patterns



This recording is an example of a Cockney accent.

One of the most noticeable features of pronunciation in England is the distinction between speakers in the north who generally pronounce the vowel in words such as bathgrass and dance with a short vowel – rather like the vowel in the word cat – and those in the south, who use a long vowel for these words – rather like the sound a doctor might ask someone to produce when examining their throat. Thus you can immediately deduce something about a person who pronounces laugh to rhyme with calf or pass to rhyme with farce. Listen closely to the vowel sound Freddie uses here for the words past, pass, vast, demanding, asking, last, passed and basket.

Listen also to the way Freddie pronounces the following two consonant sounds:

  1. ninety-something, third world, father, everything, other, thing, forth, anything, clothing, through and with
  2. Lil, third world, vegetables, people, all, council, stall, Royal Family, little, always, cultures, grateful, wonderful, whole world, towels, as well, reasonable and wholesale


The pronunciation of <th> as a <f> sound in words like thing or as a <v> sound in words like brother is a characteristic feature of London speech spreading across much of South East England and beyond. Notice, however, that Freddie occasionally produces a more ‘standard’ pronunciation of <th> and that, like other speakers prone to TH-fronting, he uses a <d> sound here for ‘grammatical’ words, such as the, this, that, they, them, those and there. In the second set, Freddie substitutes a sound that is more like a vowel or a <w> sound for a syllable final <l>. This process – known as L-vocalisation – is a long-established feature of speech across much of the southern half of England and, to a lesser extent, occurs in the speech of East Anglia and parts of the East Midlands.

About the speaker

Freddie Sherrif (b.1951/06/22; male, street trader)



Matthew: How long's there been a market on this site?

Freddie: About hundred years, roughly. They didn't put any value on it in the past, so there, there's not any pr, real proper records before nineteen-twenty-six. But, uhm, my eldest relative, my aunt Lil', who's still alive - she's ninety-something - uhm, says that the market started in the High Street, uhm, much in the same way as a Third World market would start: people brought their spare vegetables and whatever they had to spare to the market and traded them and sold that. Uh, but when the trams started, it was too dangerous to have the market in the High Street and they brought it round here into Ridley Road.

Matthew: And was it again, I suppose, just, kind of disorganised? People just set up and

Freddie: It was, yeah. W, we, it was, like, the toughest people got the best pitches in those days and, uh, to stop all the fighting and arguing, we asked the council to regulate us in nineteen-twenty-six. And they did that, uh, that's when records start. There was definitely a market here long before that.

Matthew: Shall we go for a wander?

Freddie: Yeah.

Matthew: When did you first, uh, start coming here? Just as a shopper, you know?

Freddie: No, uh, it's, uhm, I'm a governor. That means, uhm, uh, the way markets are regulated, you can only pass your, uh, licence to your next of kin. So being a governor on a stall is very much like being one of the Royal Family. So my br, my father was a governor and his father was a governor and his father was a governor. So obviously I started coming here when I was a little boy.

Matthew: What sort of stall did he have?

Freddie: Always vegetables, yeah.

Matthew: Has it changed much over the years?

Freddie: Yeah, it has, yeah. Particularly, uhm, this time of year: it's January now, uhm, the commodities are what's different. Uhm, we, uh, in, when I was a boy, uhm, on the salad stall we only had, uhm, indoor round lettuce, celery, which was dirty and we had to wash that on Sunday, and, uh, mustard and cress. Basically that was it. But now, of course, we've got everything imported and there's a vast, loads of stuff to sell all ti, at all times of the year.

Matthew: Does that mean people's tastes have changed as well?

Freddie: Oh yeah, yeah, people are demanding, you know, things, stuff that, they're coming up all the time asking for stuff that even I've never heard of. But, uh, of course, if you want to stay solvent, you have to hear about it pretty quick, don't you, if they want it?

Matthew: What about, it's a very cosmopolitan area, Dalston?

Freddie: Oh totally, yeah. And that's, that's why this market's survived. Uhm, basically we got a catchment of customers that come from cultures that are market-based. And they will come to a street market and shop, you know, and we realise that and we're very grateful. Where other markets, uh, great markets within London have, have, uh, failed and, and are no good any more, Ridley Road's still thriving because of that one reason. That is the major reason for it.

Matthew: Which kinds of cultures do people come from?

Freddie: Oh, you name it. In Ridley Road, they all meet here. That's, that's the wonderful thing about the place. All the, the whole world meets here and, do you know, there's never any trouble. You know, I can't remember the last time I saw a fight. You get the odd argument, but, uhm, no, you know, no more than you would, say in Harrods[1] or somewhere. That's really encouraging, isn't it?

Matthew: When you say fights, what, they, it used to be fights between the stallholders?

Freddie: Uhm, well, f, when the market started, you had to fight for your pitch, I suppose. And then, then, uh, this Ridley Road was the infamous, uh, place where Sir Oswald Mosley[2] used to hold forth. So there were some definite fights there. My grandfather fought against him and, and, uh, he told me all about it. So the place has definitely seen its, had its violent days, but they seem to have passed now, hopefully.

Matthew: What kind of other commodities are on sale apart from just vegetables?

Freddie: Uh, well, and, and, you, look round you, look, you got towels, you got, uhm, anything you could possibly want, you can get it in Ridley Road - put it that way. Long as it's legal and sometimes things that are not even legal, I daresay. It's just everything's here, isn't it, it's just

Matthew: Clothings always been a market staple, hasn't it?

Freddie: It has, yeah, uhm.

Matthew: Clothing items.

Freddie: We did, we did actually at one stage stop taking any more, uh, clothing stalls, because the market was, sort of, getting swamped by them, you know. But, uhm, we have actually opened it up again to, to clothing now, you know. But, uh, having said that, uhm, we never want the f, the market to lose its food-based nature, you know. Cause that's what makes it different, you know. Any, almost any other street market in London you go to now, it's just completely full of clothes. Whereas this market is, uhm, eighty percent food. You know, that's obviously very important to us and to our customers as well. Actually keeps people alive, this place, you know. From, I mean it, you see, the whole spectrum's here: from people that live off the floor at the end of the day, right the way through to people, from, through people that're looking for a, something a bit reasonable and to, to people who're quite rich and come here for a, for a market experience, you know. The whole spectrum comes to Ridley Road.

Matthew: Are market prices competitive, though, compared to shop prices?

Freddie: Uh, well, I can only speak with any authority about vegetables and, uhm, yes, we're, we're, uhm, much cheaper on the whole than supermarkets, which is our main competitor, but what they'll do, now and again they'll have a loss leader and they'll, the cauliflowers'll be, like, less than we can buy them for wholesale, you know. And they'll make a big fuss about that, but if you look at your whole shopping basket, you've paid for that, that cauliflower that you got cheap, you've paid for it ten times over, you know.

Matthew: Do you go into the supermarkets and compare prices?

Freddie: Uhm, very rarely, but my dad's retired now and he's always telling me about it, you know. It's, uhm, tells me I'm too cheap with this or too dear with that. He's comparing it with a supermarket in Essex, so it's not really a valid, uhm, comparison.


[1] Harrods refers to London’s exclusive department store in Knightsbridge.

[2] Sir Oswald Mosley (1896-1980) was the leader of the British Union of Fascists. From 1935 onwards Mosley's overtly anti-Semitic propaganda was targeted in working class areas and a number of marches and rallies were held especially in the East End of London.

Cockney accent: Freddie talks about the origins of Ridley Road market and explains how it continues to flourish despite changes in shopping patterns
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