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Columbia Road Market 57

October 31, 2010
by the gentle author

There was a misty haze over the City and the distant sound of gulls as I left home this morning early to speak with the redoubtable Josephine Ferguson who celebrates half a century of trading at Columbia Rd this year. When I arrived she was nursing an injured foot that had been run over by a trolley, but as soon I introduced myself, she rose to the occasion, dismissing it as nothing, her glittering grey eyes lifting to meet mine. “I’ve been here since I was twenty-two and now I ‘m seventy-two,” she declared with a gracious smile, framed by her long straight red hair emerging from a knitted cloche hat.

Josephine’s first husband was Herbert Burridge, one of the proud family that above all others has defined the nature of this market for generations. And although he is no longer alive, Josephine is supported today on her stall by her two energetic daughters Denise and Daphne who hovered protectively as we spoke, and by her son Stephen Burridge who has a stall at the other end of the market. Additionally, Josephine’s grandson, who is in floristry, supplies the handsome gourds you can see in the picture, which are in season now.

Personally, Josephine specialises in cacti and succulents, as well as a range of ferns, bulbs, and cyclamen. “Mostly it’s a thing that men don’t sell, because you need to lay out a lot of money for a small profit. You’ve got a lot of your money tied up in them and if it’s severely cold you could lose them.” she explained cautiously, casting a maternal glance of affection over all her bizarrely shaped, spiky yet tender, cacti nestling in their trays.

Although in retirement, Josephine still gets up at five to come here from Enfield every Sunday, and in the week she helps out her son with his business.“It doesn’t seemed to have changed much,” she said, glancing around and reflecting on her fifty years trading in Columbia Rd, “My husband used to say that years ago they had to run with baskets on their heads to get a pitch. Somebody blew a whistle and they ran. Lady Burdett-Coutts set it up and she tried to get a railway here to help the traders. Now it can get a little petty, the market inspectors come along and say, ‘Move this, move that.'”

“I like it, we all like it.” admitted Josephine, confirming her statement with a smile, and contemplating the chaotic scene that surrounded her with sublime equanimity, “It gets you out and it’s an adrenalin rush. Even if you don’t make a lot you’ve achieved something and it gets you by for another week. The only thing I don’t like is the rain.” And then, as if Josephine had tempted the gods, with a wry grin Denise reached out her hand to the gentle raindrops that had begun to fall from the low cloud which hung over the East End this morning. Mother and daughter exchanged a momentary affectionate glance of recognition, before setting to work eagerly, preparing the stall for yet another Sunday’s trading, confident in their shared belief that the rain would pass presently.

Photograph copyright © Jeremy Freedman

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