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The Return of Crescent Trading

August 18, 2013
by the gentle author

The boys are back!

No doubt you remember my pals Philip Pittack & Martin White - the Mike & Bernie Winters of the textile business – famous for their ceaseless repartee and classy taste in fabrics? They run Crescent Trading, Spitalfields’ last cloth warehouse, and possess more than one hundred and twenty years of experience in the trade between them.

Last winter, they suffered a fire that nearly put them out of business but, displaying singular tenacity and strength of purpose, they are now open again with their premises restored and an entirely new stock of cloth.

During the interim, I visited regularly to offer moral support while they carried on trading with a hole in the roof, arriving to discover Martin lugubrious in Wellington boots as he spent four hours each day sweeping out rain water and Philip shedding sentimental tears over fire-damaged rolls of rare cashmere. Every single piece of fabric had to go, the roof had to be replaced, and the interior restored and repainted. Yet through all the grim winter months, Philip & Martin came into work each day, greeting customers brightly in spite of their pitiful circumstance.

“It cost us everything,” admitted Philip last week, sitting with Martin in their newly-painted office and looking out in wonder upon the shelves of brand new stock in the refurbished warehouse. It was a rare moment of contemplation, afforded now that they have reached the other side of their ordeal. Having witnessed the extended struggle, I enquired why they did not simply close the business and retire after the fire – a question that Martin seized upon with a passion. “This is our life and our livelihood,” he declared, his eyes shining and his voice raised, ” We love doing it and, as long as there’s breath in us, we will continue – we are not interested in retiring.”

“Jews don’t give up,” was Philip’s simple summation, crossing his arms demonstratively with a broad smile as, from the other side of the room, Martin nodded in agreement.

“It’s a way of life, and it’s been my way of life for sixty years,” Martin assured me, turning to catch Philip’s eye as he proceeded to speak for them both, “We’ve been wrapped up in fabrics all our lives. We love touching fabrics. In Yiddish, it’s called ‘tupping.’ To understand fabrics, you’ve got to touch them and know the feel in your hand.”

“We are passing on our knowledge about fabric to fashion students and young designers that even their teachers don’t know,” continued Philip, picking up Martin’s drift, We like the youngsters coming in and having a laugh, it keeps us young.”

“I couldn’t afford to retire,” barked Martin in comic affront, as an afterthought, recalling my initial question.

“We’ve worked bloody hard,” declared Philip, folding his hands with incontrovertible authority and pride, and casting his eyes around the refurbished warehouse to meet Martin’s gaze in an exchange of unspoken understanding.

I was delighted by such a lively display of emotion which demonstrated that Philip & Martin are undaunted by the fire and undiminished in enthusiasm for business, even after all these years. Their warehouse in Quaker St is the last remnant of the textile trade that occupied Spitalfields for centuries, and Philip & Martin embody the culture with aplomb. At Crescent Trading, you will discover an infinite variety of ends of runs and surplus stock of high-end fabrics, mostly from British mills. The place is a magnet for students and fashion designers, and – once again- during business hours you may walk in and reliably encounter a lively social scene, centred around the selection and purchase of luxury textiles at bargain prices.

Martin organises his new stock in the refurbished warehouse.

Photographs copyright © Jeremy Freedman

Crescent Trading, Quaker Court/Pindoria Mews, Quaker St, E1 6SN. Open Sunday-Friday.

You may like to read my earlier stories about Crescent Trading.

Fire at Crescent Trading

Philip Pittack & Martin White, Cloth Merchants

All change at Crescent Trading

27 Responses leave one →
  1. August 18, 2013

    Got to go, sounds great. I’ll have to take up dressmaking again :)

  2. August 18, 2013

    By the way, I took my sewing machine to this lovely shop recently. It’s very ‘Gentle Author’ (lovely and very old man in charge, his granddaughter does the heavy lifting). But it’s out of your manor, in Camden. Chapman Sewing Machines, in business since 1937, 80 Parkway.

    ps Completely understand if you don’t approve this post.

  3. Ms Gherkin permalink
    August 18, 2013

    Congratulations to Philip and Martin! How nice to hear that they are back in business

  4. August 18, 2013

    Beautiful photos, and beautiful words… Thank you for more enlightening Spittlefields lives captured.

  5. August 18, 2013

    Visiting Crescent Trading and experiencing the essence of everything you have made it continues beyond the relocation and fire. Well done, you are real inspiration.

  6. 'liza Hardy permalink
    August 18, 2013

    So pleased to read this. Wish I was able to visit. All good wishes to Crescent Trading for the future

  7. Swift Nick permalink
    August 18, 2013

    Wonderful news to know they are back (although they never really went away!). Gentlemen of the highest order, providing a window to a bygone era of respect and professionalism and setting the standard for the future. By quoting a line in “Chariots of Fire” I can best describe them – ” The Flower of a Generation….The Glory Of England ”

    Their expertise is second to none!

    Be Lucky!

  8. Janice permalink
    August 18, 2013

    I had no idea that this had happened to them. So enjoyed hearing their story at the talk at Pages of Hackney last year. Very best of luck to Martin and Philip!

  9. Marla permalink
    August 18, 2013

    Inspirational.

  10. August 18, 2013

    What a real gem of a place.

    Their website looks great too – do you know if an online shop is in the pipeline?

    I think they would do so well with even just ten or twenty of their favourite fabrics sold online – support from all over the world! They could sell a little sample pack of their 20 top fabrics to order from – just a thought gentlemen…

  11. Barbara permalink
    August 18, 2013

    Their smiles say it all !

  12. Barry Seifert permalink
    August 18, 2013

    Wish you both a successful & prosperous venture.

    All the very best for your future.

    Barry Seifert.

  13. jeannette permalink
    August 20, 2013

    hurray.

  14. August 20, 2013

    I wish the best of luck to a prosperous venture. Great that I live in Europe. I also suggest it to everyone who wants to take forex to a serious level.

  15. Bunny permalink
    August 20, 2013

    Fantastic news on the re opening of Crescent
    Trading. You guys are amazing and you
    deserve all the success. Your fabrics are
    wonderful & diverse.
    All the best to you both for a prosperous
    and exciting relaunch
    Bunny

  16. Lester Kalms permalink
    August 20, 2013

    Philip, I wish you and Martin all of the luck you so richly deserve. You are an example and an inspiration to us all. May you go from strength to strength.

  17. julia wright permalink
    August 20, 2013

    What an inspiring story and I am so pleased for you both that you are back in business.I will come and see you when I am in London next trip and let everyone know in the trade in London that you are open.
    xxJulia

  18. August 20, 2013

    Hello gentlemens, It’s so good to hear your back to business as usual. I will be coming to see you very soon, as your quality and choice of fabrics is the best i have seen yet. Looking forward to have a cup of expresso and a good browse around the wearhouse and pudchase something different as usual. See you soon. Gabriela -:)

  19. Geoffrey Dymond permalink
    August 20, 2013

    Terribly good story, very well put together with fascinating pictures which have come out beautifully.
    Wishing you the very best of a well-deserved good future and the best of all luck to a happy couple that obviously extremely enjoy their work and are good at it

  20. Jim permalink
    August 20, 2013

    Congratulation on relaunch your business!  All the best to you two, Philip and Martin.

  21. Gary Rose permalink
    August 21, 2013

    Well done Philip & Martin !
    Business will flourish again……..
    My very best wishes for your success.

  22. August 21, 2013

    Hi Philip and Martin,
    Your new space looks great, wish I was in London to pop in and say Hi!
    You sure do work hard and deserve your success.
    Jules x

  23. August 26, 2013

    I will forever be grateful to Phillip and Martin as they helped sponsor my label 4 years ago. I always tell people to go to Quaker st as its an Aladdins cave of treats.

    xxxx

  24. Judy Potts permalink
    November 13, 2013

    Just heard the two gentlemen on Radio 4 “Midweek”. I simply must go and spend some time in this wonderful warehouse with these inspiring men next time I’m in London (Dec 8). Really looking forward to it. Fabric is so difficult to source these days if you don’t live near a city.

  25. Jackie permalink
    November 13, 2013

    Great interview this morning on Radio 4! Hope to visit you, your warehouse sounds amazing.

  26. January 23, 2014

    Great to have learnt about these gentlemen: I thought I knew all the fabric shops in this town inside out but seems not. It’s about time I picket up the long-forgotten pastime of shopping in Brick Lane on a Sunday.

  27. patricia watts permalink
    February 25, 2014

    I am a south london girl now in her 60′s who has been going over to the east end since my 20′s, its only just through rotherhithe tunnel so easy to reach. My daughter and myself have been looking for some silk fabric and although i have been to Spiltalfields many times, shame on me for not visiting Crescent Trading. I was so upset when i read they were closing down……..so imagine my suprise when i
    came on this website to see the boys are still trading. Congratulations and may they go on forever. Another 2 customers will be visiting very soon.

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