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Jimmy Pollock, Fruit & Vegetable Wholesaler

January 21, 2012
by the gentle author

In the garden shed of his peaceful house beside Epping Forest, Jimmy Pollock keeps just wooden one box as a souvenir of his thirty-seven years in the Spitalfields Fruit & Vegetable Market. A native of Hemming St in Bethnal Green, Jimmy is a rare example of a porter who rose to become a trader and then a guvnor, owning his business. But ever-conscious of the formal hierarchy of the market, Jimmy has always retained an emotional loyalty with the porters rather than the traders, a lifelong allegiance confirmed now in his retirement by the presence at our interview of his friend and contemporary in the market, the porter Jimmy Huddart.

Jimmy Pollock is a man of stature – a former athlete – who demands respect on the basis of his physical presence alone, yet assumes a sweetness of manner when talks of the Spitalfields Market, recalling an array of savoury characters and incidents as if he were describing a former life upon a pirate ship. His emotional honesty and generosity of spirit are qualities that won him popularity and respect in the market where the long-term reputation of any individual is the most valuable commodity.

“I left school at fifteen and wanted to be an electrical engineer, but I while I was waiting to start my training there was a vacancy for an empty boy at Pash, Cornish & Smart at the Spitalfields Market in an old synagogue made into a warehouse. I remember as clear as anything the first day I started, the smell of the produce was just unbelievable – I thought it was going to be like that everyday, but I got used to it. I started at two pounds ten shillings a week. Outside the warehouse was where the greengrocers delivered their produce, and the cart marker who stood there, Mick Cotton, he told me which porters needed empties collecting. As an empty boy you were only allowed to touch empty boxes. I liked market life, I was sixteen. I was just starting getting interested in women and there were always office girls from the City strolling by. You worked by night but your days were your own, and there was football and cricket of a good standard. We competed against all the teams from the other markets.

At twenty-one, the union informed me that I could become an employee at the market and gave me a licence. Your badge had be on show at all times or you got pulled up by a superintendent. I started work at Lechsteins on the corner of Lamb St and Commercial St. I collected my barrow from Bobby Hatt in one of the arches Wheler St, he had the monopoly. It cost me five shillings a week in maintenance and hire, but every Monday, I had to take the wheels off and grease the axles myself. When I started I couldn’t take too heavy loads at first. You weren’t really a porter until you had shot your first load. You hit a bump and over you went. The plus was that everyone would stop and come help you pick it all up. Once you had got the cart running you just kept going. You pulled it behind you and it was all a question of balance. There were more than twenty cart stands around the market perimeter supervised by cart markers and I delivered the greengrocers’ orders to these locations where they collected them. Each one had a name, such as Top o’ the court  (by Puma Court) or Crutchey Day (named after a famous one-legged porter) or The Dormitory (after the Sisters of Mercy Night Shelter) – and when they moved the market to the new building some of these cart stand names travelled too.

I remember, one year after Boxing Day, two homeless guys got killed in front of the car park gates. They had made a camp under cardboard boxes to keep warm. On the first morning back a forty ton trucks pulled out from the gates, they just thought it was a pile of waste boxes and crushed them. After eighteen months at Lechsteins I was made unemployed and I had to stand under the clock in the centre of the market to get seasonal work. There might be twenty-five of us standing there. Next, I worked for Vellacot for three years. I was approached by Dick Barrett an elderly porter who had become a trader – it was something everybody wanted to do – he told me it was now too much for him and would I be interested in working with him part-time at E.Dennis owned by Bob Reynolds. So I spoke with my boss at Vellacots and he had no problem  with it.

Then Dick Barrett said he’d had enough and asked if I could become full-time. Bob Reynolds, the guvnor was from North Stifford in Essex where he had farms and he used to come in to Spitalfields four days a week. I took the job and worked there for ten years selling produce for him. Familiarity taught me the trade, I already knew all the greengrocers. One day, Dick Barrett told me had cancer and he had another five years and  his family were secure, and would I be interested in taking over the business. It was opposite The Gun on Brushfield St. He said he’d been offered ten thousand pounds for the business but as I’d served him well he would give it to me for three thousand. It was a good deal and we made a verbal agreement. He was dead within nine weeks and then I had to wait a year for probate before I could trade. I had seventeen years trading as E.Dennis, from 1976 until 1992. My first five years were unbelievable, from the first day it kicked off. I only stayed two years after they shifted to the new market, I took my old signboard with me and I was told I could not put it up for health and safety reasons. I sold the business to John Thomerson of JT Produce Ltd in 1994.

There was quite a few porters that became traders but few that became a guvnor. You live your life and no regrets.”

Jimmy Pollock at the Spitalfields Market, with the returned crates he once collected as empty boy.

Jimmy with Lennie Jones -” He was more than a father to me, and recognised as one of the best judges of quality and pricing of produce to walk the market.”

Old friends from the Spitalfields Market – Jimmy Huddart, Porter, and Jimmy Pollock, Porter turned Trader.

Pictures 2, 4 & 6 copyright © Mark Jackson & Huw Davies

You may also like to read about

Jimmy Huddart, Spitalfields Market Porter

David Kira Ltd, Banana Merchants

Peter Thomas, Fruit & Vegetable Supplier

Ivor Robins, Fruit & Vegetable Purveyor

John Olney, Donovan Brothers Ltd

Jim Heppel, New Spitalfields Market

Blackie, the Last Spitalfields Market Cat

A Farewell to Spitalfields

7 Responses leave one →
  1. pete biernis permalink
    January 21, 2012

    I rekon I used to deliver to E Dennis from 1981 to 1989 most nights of the week. I used to love the smells and sounds and the people at the market.

  2. Annie permalink
    January 21, 2012

    Fascination, again. Health and Safety. What a waste of time.

  3. January 21, 2012

    Fascinating story! My Grandad used to tell lots of stories about his time collecting produce from Spitalfields for his green grocery Menage in Rustington. In fact, when I was born, the story goes that he was summoned from his early morning market jaunt to help look after my brother… and all the lads at the market joined in to help him load up his lorry quickly so he could get back!

  4. joan permalink
    January 21, 2012

    More lovely stuff. And lovely to see your feature in the Guardian Travel today. Have to admit to being slightly miffed though that the section of things to do in the proximity of the Olympic Village failed to mention any of the attractions of Stratford which is, after all, much closer to the action than many of the other spots mentioned. No room for the Theatre Royal or Stratford Circus or Cafe Mondo!

    Best wishes,

    Joan

  5. the gentle author permalink*
    January 21, 2012

    Glad you liked it, Joan. The section about attractions close to the site was not my work, so I cannot take responsibility for that…. Your loyal servant TGA

  6. Stuart Kira permalink
    January 26, 2012

    Hi Jimmy

    Wonderful memories of a sadly bygone era. By the way I think I’ve still got a credit note from you. Is it too late?

    p.s what happened to the barnet ??!!

    Kind regards

    Stuart Kira

  7. April 1, 2013

    back in the early 80s we used unload 10 ton loads of potatoes at this stand over night if we were lucky the porter on cornwalls stand would tip us with his forklift bless him sheets and ropes folded up we,re be on for a early night ‘ if not it be pitching 400sacks in a corner of the stand on your jack jones building up a stack about 10 high others we tipped at where h+d heading/wacketts/ a mays/cohens/tunnards/ happy days with a old bedford km flatbed lorry before the world went made on supermakets and the like.

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