Columbia Road Market 51
This cheerful fellow is Carl Grover, flowerseller – son of herbsellers Mick & Sylvia Grover whom I featured last week as the first in my series introducing you to all the street traders of Columbia Road Market. Occupying the pitch next to his parents, Carl started over thirty years ago in the market, working with his uncle Bob, his dad and his uncle Lee. “I used to go to the old Covent Garden Market with my father to buy flowers, and I can still smell the scent of freesias upon the cobbles today,” he recalled fondly.
“East London markets have always been such vibrant places, and Columbia Road Market at full pitch is one of the most vibrant places in London.” said Carl, turning evangelical in his declaration of affection for this beloved Sunday institution.”My customers are from all over London, from all backgrounds and walks of life. We may be English and not speak in the railway carriage, but in markets people engage with one another. Markets are proof that we’ve still got the art of conversation. We’ve still got the banter!”
Carl gets up at one in the morning each Sunday to make an early start setting up his stall, ready for the first customers arriving from seven o’clock onwards. Few realise that he also works from early Saturday, preparing the flowers ready to load up his van last thing on Saturday night before he goes to bed. Yet in spite of the early starts and relentless pace, working in all winds and weathers at unsocial hours, Carl delights in his chosen trade.“What a wonderful thing it is, to grow your own plants and flowers and bring them up to sell. We are the original farmer’s market.”, he said, reminding me that these stalls in the market each Sunday are the outcome of a whole world of horticultural endeavour which goes on every day through all seasons of the year.
Having seen the demise of Covent Garden market, Carl is understandably protective of Columbia Rd and the culture that attends it, built up over generations.“We’ve seen other places with great atmosphere lost,” he confided ominously, admitting a heartfelt concern for the future of the market.“We have no need of think tanks and consultants brought in by the Council, we just need places for the traders to leave their vans and for customers to be able to park without fear of fines. The Local Authority have a duty to provide for the needs of the traders.” This is Carl’s modest request, for this celebrated market drawing thousands of people from all over London each week, simply to be able to continue without interference.
As a fourth generation flowerseller, Carl Grover incarnates his role wholeheartedly, full of exuberant energy and easy charm which transforms his business into charismatic street theatre. Carl is proud to be part of the venerable tradition of London flowersellers, as he explained to me, “Over the years since I began in the market, I have been very fortunate to work with some great characters, some no longer with us unfortunately, and what I learnt from those people has enriched my life.”
Photograph copyright © Jeremy Freedman