Tom Burns is an easy figure to find in the hubbub of Greenwich Market. Tall, bearded and talkative, he doesn’t hide behind his stall, but stands in front of it, greeting locals, old friends and newcomers alike. Behind him is arrayed some fantastic London memorabilia – mainly bus blinds and antique tube maps.
According to Tom, who knows where to look for slices of everyday London history that might otherwise be bound for landfill, much of his display attracts nostalgic locals. While a bus blind advertising an obscure local route might not mean much to a tourist, it can bring back floods of childhood memories to those who grew up in the city.
Drawing on his networks of retired transport workers, clearing houses and fellow collectors, his range of blinds and antique tube maps is vast. Almost all are originals, which naturally fetch the highest prices, and the few replicas he sells are made locally and accurately. Using local traders and suppliers for framing and manufacture is something he insists on.
When asked to name his favourite piece on display, he eventually picks a framed 1919 tube map. It’s a beautiful thing, geographically accurate rather than stylised like the maps we know today. And, of course, it has far fewer lines connecting the London boroughs it neatly reproduces.
Tom keeps coming back to Greenwich Market, like most of its traders, for the people. Whether it’s the bonhomie amongst his fellow traders, the browsing punters happy to stop for a meandering chat and draw from Tom’s long memory and fund of stories, or first-timers from overseas, he greets them all with equal enthusiasm and good humour.