Columbia Road Market 74
The forest has come to Columbia Rd. Even before you arrive you can smell pine, drifting upon the breeze, and once you step onto the cobbles, there are needles underfoot. At either end of this narrow thoroughfare, a forest has grown overnight, filling the street with luxuriant green undergrowth and bringing the atmosphere of mystery and romance to the market which makes this Sunday before Christmas unique. You wonder – as you walk between the crowded, glistening trees – if you might emerge into a magical landscape, yet – even as this reverie takes you – sonorous voices are heard. “Is this the call of the woodland folk?” you ask.
In fact, it is the magnificent resounding tone of Denise Burridge, the diva blessed with the fullest voice amongst the hardy chorus of traders that compose the clamorous symphony of Columbia Rd Market. This is where your expectations, hopes, wishes and dreams of plants and flowers can be fulfilled, and it is all going for a song.
At the Eastern end of the street, Christmas trees are sold by the Burridges, the family who have been more involved with the history of this market than any other for generations – while, selling trees at the Western end, you will find the Hartnetts who have claim to be the longest standing traders here, for over a century. Yet, at the Western extremity, also keep an eye out for the cheery face of Albert Dean, the fourth Albert Dean in succession in his family to be selling flowers from this pitch – which means that for more than a hundred years you could have here and bought flowers from an Albert Dean on this corner.
As you make your way amongst the throng down the centre of the street, sensations crowd upon you – losing sense of yourself in the horde, the stalls appear to float by like tableaux populated with the extravagantly good-humoured spirits of flowers and herbs, offering their beneficence. (Today, Spitalfields Life Contributing Photographer Jeremy Freedman has captured these familiar market characters in their wintry guises.)
Advent is a season of ritual and tradition, and the Sunday before Christmas is my favourite time to come to Columbia Rd in anticipation of carrying off a tree, a bough of mistletoe, branches of holly, cut flowers, house plants and pots of bulbs – because, as we reach Midwinter, it tempers my sadness at the tender loss of Summer to fill the house with greenery and assure myself that life sustains itself yet, out there in the silence of the greenwood.
At A.E. Hartnett & Sons Ltd
Denise Burridge and admirer
George Burridge and Luke
Sue, Frankie and Georgia Burridge
Photographs copyright © Jeremy Freedman