Columbia Road Market 62
There was an even greater than usual bustle of activity at Columbia Rd early this morning, with big trucks backing up in the darkness, and traders running to and fro, to unload hundreds of Christmas trees that have arrived from Scandanavia to grace the parlours of the East End. It was an extraordinary spectacle to come round the corner and discover the street transformed into a pine forest, with so many trees lined up in such depth to create a magical landscape, as if – like Narnia – you could walk into a thicket and come out in another world.
At the Western end of Columbia Rd, I came across the tree-sellers A.E.Harnett & Sons of Stock in Ingatestone, Essex, who have imported an entire forest of lustrous sweet smelling pines of all sizes. Shane Harnett, a fourth generation nurseryman told me his family have been selling trees here on this spot in Columbia Rd for over a century each Christmas. While Shane and his colleagues busied themselves martialling their stock in preparation for a furious day’s trading, his wife Yvonne graciously spared me a few moments for a chat, clutching a cup of hot soup and a sandwich, as we stood together, surrounded by trees in a temporary forest grove.
Throughout the year, Harnett’s nursery maintain a double pitch and a casual pitch on Columbia Rd selling plants of all kinds, but for four weeks in December the entire family turns out to lend a hand with the mighty endeavour of the Christmas trees. “Shane and the family run the nursery and I stay at home,” confided Yvonne with a good-humoured smirk from beneath her fur-lined hat, but that did not stop her from getting up at twenty past two this morning to be here lending her husband a helping hand, as she has done each Christmas for the past seven years. A woman of spirit, she appeared quite unconcerned by the sub-zero temperatures. “It’s alright,” she reassured me, “We do it every year, we know what it’s going to be like.”
Photograph copyright © Jeremy Freedman