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Columbia Road Market 67

January 23, 2011
by the gentle author

This is George Gladwell selling his Busy Lizzies from the back of a van at Columbia Rd in the early seventies, drawing the attention of bystanders to the quality of his plants and captivating his audience with a bold dramatic gesture of presentation worthy of Hamlet holding up a skull.

Last week, I published George’s account of trading at the market since 1949 and this week it is my delight to show a prime selection from his personal collection of photographs, which have never been seen before. There is an appealing air of informality about the flower market as it is portrayed in these pictures. The metal trolleys that all the traders use today are barely in evidence, instead plants are sold from trestle tables or directly off the ground – pitched as auctions – while seedlings come straight from the greenhouse in wooden trays, and customers carry away their bare-rooted plants wrapped in newspaper. Consequently, the atmosphere is of a smaller local market than we know today, with less stalls and just a crowd of people from the neighbourhood. Whilst you can see the boarded-up furniture factories, that once defined Bethnal Green, and Ravenscroft Buildings, subsequently demolished to create Ravenscroft Park, both still in evidence in the background  – I hope sharp-eyed readers may also recognise a few traders who continue working in Columbia Rd Market today.

During the week, I had the pleasure to visit George & his wife Margaret at their beautiful smallholding surrounded by trees, at the end of a lane in the Langdon Hills, and George searched through a lifetime’s photo collection to find these beautiful portraits that he took of his fellow traders at Columbia Rd one Summer long ago. Over the years, many thousands of images have been taken of Columbia Rd Flower Market, but George Gladwell’s relaxed photographs are special because they capture the random poetry and spontaneous drama of the market seen through the eyes of an insider.

Read George Gladwell’s account of trading since 1949 in Columbia Road Market 66

Albert Harnett

Colin Roberts

Albert Playle

Bert Shilling

Ernie Mokes

The magnificently named Carol Eden.

Fred Harnett, Senior

Herbie Burridge

George Burridge, Junior

Jim Burridge, Senior

Kenny Cramer

Lou Burridge

Robert Roper

Ray Frost

Robert Roper

George Burridge

Photographs copyright © George Gladwell

12 Responses leave one →
  1. January 23, 2011

    What fantastic photographs. Does George Gladwell have many more, on other themes? It would be wonderful to see them. He has a wonderful eye.

  2. January 23, 2011

    This is yet another brilliant discovery I can’t believe how much fantastic stuff you are uncovering on your quest.

  3. Gary permalink
    January 23, 2011

    I have bought plants and bulbs from Ray Frost when he had a stall in Roman Road Market

  4. Chris Dixon permalink
    January 23, 2011

    Marvellous photos!

    Albert Harnett looks very familiar, I’m sure I used to buy plants from him when he was an older man.

    Looking forward to reading George’s reminiscences. (I was at school with some Gladwells – wonder if they were related?)

    Very pleased to have discovered your blog, by the way. As a Bethnal Greener in exile it’s bringing back some great memories.

  5. August 28, 2011

    what great photo

  6. August 28, 2011

    great phtots

  7. Jan permalink
    January 15, 2012

    Great pictures, I remember the faces of all these stall holders, both my husband and I were brought up in Columbia road.

  8. Lisa permalink
    March 28, 2012

    The picture labelled George Burridge Junior is actually Bob Grover. Uncle of Carl and brother of Mick Grover who are stallholders at Columbia. Im his grandaughter. He said some of the best days of his life were at Columbia Road Market.

  9. fred gallone permalink
    May 14, 2013

    brilliant stuff. I remember seeing a lot of those faces, and a few pictures of my mum and dads cafe in the back ground. It was a good market, everybody knew each other. Sometimes there was a bit of aggro but you knew where you were with it.

  10. Natalie permalink
    April 13, 2015

    I reconise two of the custmers in the George Burrindge pic (the last one)…I believe this is Olive Hacker and her eldest daughter Angela? They used to live in Columbia Road.

    I used to live in Ravenscroft and went to Columbia School

  11. Brenda permalink
    February 14, 2016

    Did you know any Dullage families in Ravenscroft?

  12. K Jennings permalink
    October 28, 2016

    The picture labelled – Albert Playle is actually his son Colin Playle ! And the photo underneath is a picture of Ernie Playle an his wife Mary -Ernie and Albert were brothers !! Albert and Ernie were my uncles -my mum(their sister Vera) used to work with Albert and Colin Playle !!

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