David Prescott Of Commercial St
David standing outside 103 Commercial St in the mid-sixties
David Prescott was not at all surprised to see the empty space behind the Fruit & Wool Exchange when he returned to Spitalfields last week, because he used to play football in the empty parking lot there in the sixties before the construction of the multi-story car park which has just been demolished. Growing up in the large flat above the market at 103 Commercial St, with school and the family business nearby, David had run of the neighbourhood and he found it offered an ideal playground.
One day in the sixties, David leaned out of the window and made his mark by spraying painting onto a flower in the terracotta frieze upon the front of the nineteenth century market building. Astonishingly, the white-painted flower is still clearly discernible in Commercial St half a century later, indicating the centre of David’s childhood world.
No wonder then that David chose to keep returning to his home territory, working in the Spitalfields Fruit & Vegetable Market until it closed in 1991. These days, he is amazed at the changes since he lived and worked here but – as long as the white-painted flower remains on Commercial St – for David, Spitalfields remains the location of his personal childhood landscape.
“Albert, my grandfather, ran fruit & vegetable shops down in Belvedere, and he used to come up to Spitalfields Market with his horse and cart to buy produce. So my father ‘Bert and his brother Reg decided to start a business in a little warehouse in Tenterground. Upstairs, there were prostitutes and men in bowler hats would come over from the City and look around, circumspect, before going upstairs.
They traded as R A Prescott, which was the initials of the two brothers, Reginald & Albert, but also my grandfather’s initials – which meant they could say they had been going over a hundred years already. They started in Spitalfields in 1952 but, when I was born in 1954, my father took the flat over the market at 103 Commercial St opposite the Ten Bells. Mickey Davis, who ran the shelter at the Fruit & Wool Exchange during the war lived in the flat below, but he had died in 1953 so we just knew his wife and two daughters.
I went to St Joseph’s School in Gun St and I loved it because all my friends lived nearby, in Gun St and Flower & Dean St, and I went to the youth club at Toynbee Hall. I used to walk through the market and everyone knew me – and since my sister, Sylvia, was six years older, they always teased – asking, ‘Where’s your sister?’
We never locked the doors except when we went to bed at night. One day, we came home and found a woman asleep in the living room and my dad sent her on her way. I used to climb up out from our flat and take my dog for a walk across the roof of the market, until the market police shouted at me and put up barbed wire to stop me doing it. Our mums and dads didn’t know what we were up to half the time. We made castles inside the stacks of empty wooden boxes that had been returned to the market.
I remember there was was a guy with a large bump on his head who used to shout and chase us. It would start on Brick Lane and end up in Whitechapel. There was another guy with a tap on his head and one who was shell-shocked. These poor guys, it was only later we realised that they had mental problems.We threw tomatoes, and we put potatoes on wires and spun them fast to let them fly.
In 1966, me and my pal Alan Crockett were in ‘The London Nobody Knows.’ They said, ‘Do you want to be in a film? We want you to run down the street and pile into a fight.’
My dad died of lung cancer when I was fifteen in 1969, but my mum was able to stay on in the flat. He got ill in April and died in August in St Joseph’s Hospice in Mare St. I left school and went to work with my uncle. By then, Prescotts had moved over to 38 Spital Sq. They weren’t part of the market, they supplied catering companies with peeled potatoes and they bought a machine to shell peas and were the first to offer them already podded. I worked with my elder brother Michael too, he set up on his own at 57 Brushfield St, but then he moved to Barnhurst in Kent and bought a three bedroom house. I became a van boy at Telfers, I used to leave home at half past two in the morning to get to Greenwich where they had a yard, by three to start work.
In 1972, we left the flat in Spitalfields and moved to a house in Kingston, and I worked for Hawker Siddley – they trained me as an engineer. But I missed the market so much, I had to come back. I got a job with Chiswick Fruits in the Fruit & Wool Exchange and then I went back to Prescotts. I was working at the Spitalfields Market in 1991 when they moved out to Leyton, but it was’t the same there and, by 2000, I’d had enough of the market. In those days, you could walk out of one job and straight into another. I must have had thirty to forty jobs.“
R A Prescott of 38 Spital Sq
David as a baby at 103 Commercial St in 1955
David at five years old at his brother Michael’s wedding in Poplar in 1959
David with his mum, Kathleen, playing with the dog in the yard at the back of the market flat
David’s sister Sylvia, who went to St Victoire’s Grammar School in Victoria Park
David is centre right in the front row at St Joseph’s School, Gun St
In 1966, David and his pal Alan Crockett were in ‘The London Nobody Knows.’ This shot shows Alan (leading) and David (behind) running down Lolesworth St.
Christmas at 103 Commercial St in 1967
David’s mother Kathleen and his father ‘Bert on holiday in 1968
David stands on the far right at his sister Sylvia’s wedding at St Anne’s, Underwood Rd, in 1964
David leaned out of his window and sprayed paint onto this flower in 1964
Looking south across the Spitalfields Market
Spitalfields Market empty at the weekend
Spital Sq after the demolition of Central Foundation School
The Flower Market at Spitalfields Market
From the roof of Spitlafields Flower Market looking towards Folgate St
Clearing out on the last day of the Spitalfields Fruit & Vegetable Market in 1991
David stands in the Spitalfields Market today beneath the window that was once his childhood bedroom
You may also like to read about