Columbia Road Market 68
Lou & Billy Burridge
Alongside George Gladwell, the other trader who has been in Columbia Rd the longest is Louis Burridge – widely known as Lou – pictured here with his son William – widely known as Billy. He is celebrated as the preeminent supplier of climbers and creepers, clematis, honeysuckle, passionflowers and vines, that adorn the gardens of the East End. Yet, although Lou started trading in the late forties, I discovered that the story of the Burridges, the family who are regarded as Columbia Rd nobility, begins even further back in the last century.
“My father was here in 1922, he was plantseller with a horse and cart,” explained Lou, glancing over to the site where his father’s pitch was, when I drew him away from the market for a chat on the wall beside Ravencroft Park. “He had a lot of land at Cuckoo Lane, Edmonton. Before that, the family had fish shops in Portsmouth and in the Hackney Rd – a big family of fish dealers. My father was pretty well educated in botany, because my grandfather paid for him to learn, and quite a lot of his family moved into the plant business, but they’re nearly all dead now except me.”
Still limber and lean – clad in ski clothing as protection against the cold on a January morning – Lou is enthusiastic to talk of the market which has been his lifelong delight, as well as the source of livelihood for his family over four generations. “I’m retired really but I come down here every Sunday to see my boys, Billy who’s taken over my stall and Louis who sells cut flowers.” he revealed with quiet satisfaction, “I am one of the oldest now and it makes a day out for me. There’s very few of the originals left who were down here after the war. Just me, George, the Harnetts and Albert Dean on the corner (they were all Alberts, it was his grandfather who was here when I first arrived). I was the only one who sold plants, shrubs and that during the fifties and sixties, but in the eighties I specialised in climbers because you can’t do everything. It’s not an easy business to make a living at, the prices haven’t gone up in years.”
Today, Lou is the head of the extended Burridge clan, whose members you find trading along the length of Columbia Rd.“My five brothers gradually got into it and they all had stalls, and then you’ve got their sons, and their sons – so you’ve got all the family.” he declared in joyful tones, “We all get together for birthdays and that. I’m seventy, and I suppose there must have been a hundred people at my birthday party. We all get on pretty well. Some live in Hertfordshire, some in live in Rayleigh, some live in Southend.
We all come from Edmonton originally. There were eight of us children, five boys and three girls. There was not a lot of money, because my father lost it when he sold all his land before the war and then he became sick. He had bad arthritis, he was born in 1895 and only traded till 1955, but my mother worked here till she was eighty-nine. For years we had it hard but we were very close, and trade picked up in the nineteen sixties. To a certain extent, we have built up this market, the Burridges, the Harnetts and the Deans.”
“I’ve always loved market work. It’s a funny thing growing plants and selling them, because you get very interested in them, people who sell wholesale plants in supermarkets have no idea. - This is life.” he said, with a sprightly smile of pride, before springing up from the wall, eager to return to his pitch, because he could no longer resist the magnetism drawing him back to the site where his father started in 1922.
Approaching Columbia Rd from the West today, or at any time in the last sixty years, you would see the Harnett’s plant stall to your left and Albert Dean’s flower stall on your right, and then Lou Burridge’s stall, another pitch down from the Harnetts, also on the left. There you find Lou – slight of stature yet bright of spirit – presiding every week among a forest of cherished specimens of climbers that are as tall as he is, with the rare experience of a plantsman born and bred.
George Gladwell’s picture of Louis Burridge trading in the same spot in the early nineteen seventies.
Colour photograph copyright © Jeremy Freedman
Black & white photograph copyright © George Gladwell