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Fire At Crescent Trading

October 3, 2012
by the gentle author

Philip Pittack & Martin White, cloth merchants – “We’re destroyed here!”

“A lifetime’s work has gone up in smoke” declared Philip Pittack, standing in the ruin of the Quaker St premises where he operated Spitalfields’ last cloth warehouse with his partner Martin White, until the recent conflagration. Just two years ago, Philip & Martin were forced to move their business, Crescent Trading, from the old stable across the road and they set themselves up again in their new premises with all their cherished fabrics neatly arranged in metal racks stretching up to the ceiling. Celebrated equally for their ceaseless repartee and their extraordinary bargains, this new calamity is a cruel blow for these two popular gentlemen who, between them, possess over one hundred and twenty years of experience in the trade.

When I received Philip’s emotional phone message, I went round next morning to discover the warehouse flooded and a hole in the roof at the rear where the fire started. Just the night before, Philip recalled – savouring the tender memory – he and Martin had been celebrating at the Mansion House in the City of London, where designs by a student they sponsored were the centrepiece of an evening promoting British wool. Yet next morning, Philip woke to news of a different sort.

“I got a call at 7:45 from the manager of City Electrical next door to say there had been a fire. ‘You’d better get down here,’ he said.” Philip told me, taking a seat in his office in spite of the pool of water covering the floor,“Obviously, I was in shock but I got dressed, jumped in the car and flew down here. Coming along Grey Eagle St, I saw the back door hanging off and smoke billowing out and I felt sick. The manager of City Electrical said, ‘You’ve had a big, big, fire.’ and I said, ‘I don’t want to go in,’ but he guided me through the entrance that had been cut in the door by the firemen and I fell to my knees. I couldn’t speak for an hour, I was so shocked. He gave me a glass of water but I couldn’t drink it I was shaking so much. Then Martin arrived and we just sat and looked at the devastation.”

Even in such circumstances, Philip & Martin managed to retain their dignity and their dapper appearances – Philip in a fine Guernsey sweater, and Martin swathed in a silk scarf and with his monocle swinging. “It took four of us all day to get the water out and we ruined our ordinary shoes, so Martin went over to Blackmans in Cheshire St but they had sold out of Wellingtons and he came back in these designer boots.” continued Philip, with Martin leaning on the doorpost modelling the fancy footwear in question, “Fortunately, by the time I got there the delivery of Wellington boots had arrived.”

An electric fire appears to be the cause of the fire which, mercifully, was restricted to the corner of the warehouse, although heat caused the roof to buckle and smoke filled the whole building, permeating the precious rolls of fine suitings and silks. “We’ve had customers coming in and they’ve gone out crying, saying, ‘What are we going to do now?'” Philip confessed to me, wringing his hands in contemplation of the question. This is the beauty of Crescent Trading. There is a joyous rapport that exists between Philip & Martin and the fashion students and young designers who come to discover fabrics and be inspired, delighting in the knowledge and experience on offer that is always dispensed with wit and levity. It is a human exchange that is cultural as much as it is commercial, and it makes all parties happy.

Facing such a disaster at this point in their careers, many would expect Philip & Martin to retire. Yet I am delighted to report that their spirit is stronger than this. Both worked a lifetime as cloth merchants and come from families that have been in the trade for generations. As soon as it can achieved, they plan to repair the building, clean out the premises and restock. As the last cloth warehouse in Spitalfields, a place that for centuries was filled with cloth warehouses, we need them to carry the living history of the textile industry here.

“We’ve been knocked down, but we will get up again and we’ll be back,” Martin assured me.

Martin White “I could easily get depressed but I’m not a miserable person.”

Philip Pittack – “I was in a terrible state for three days.”

Philip & Martin in happier times.

If you would like to buy any of Crescent Trading’s stock of fabric call 0207 377 5067

You may like to read my earlier stories about Crescent Trading

Philip Pittack & Martin White, Cloth Merchants

All change at Crescent Trading

19 Responses leave one →
  1. paul permalink
    October 3, 2012

    This is terrible news. I send my best wishes to Philip and Martin in their endeavors to get up and running again. Spitalfields desperately needs to retain fantastic businesses like Crescent Trading.
    I’m sure their loyal customers will back them to the hilt!
    To better times ahead.

  2. October 3, 2012

    I’ve never had the opportunity to see the fabrics they sell, but the loss off such a respected and loved business is indeed a tragedy. Best wishes to everyone concerned for an energetic and successful return to business.

  3. joan permalink
    October 3, 2012

    This is terrible news. I’ve recently finished making an Issey Miyake designed jacket from fabric purchased from Phil and Martin and have been enjoying wearing it (and the compliments I’ve been given for it).

    I wish them every success in rebuilding Crescent Trading.

    Best wishes,


  4. October 3, 2012

    People with this spirit are what London is really all about, and the passing on of value and inspiration to young students is vital, so they can see that this stuff is made, traded, curated.
    I’ll bring my gf in the States to the shop when she comes over if I may, she’ll love it. May the force be with the re-opening.

  5. Ros permalink
    October 3, 2012

    I am very sorry to hear about this devastating fire and wish Philip and Martin the strength and determination they will need to build their business back up again. Here’s to their re-opening.

  6. Gary Rose permalink
    October 4, 2012

    Devasting for Philip & Martin,
    All their hard work gone up in smoke after all these years.
    But they are fighters, and will return to serve their beloved
    They will be back, stronger than ever…………

  7. MzTallulah permalink
    October 4, 2012

    Awfully sad news, I had very much enjoyed your previous reports and dreamed of being able to visit one day. My best wishes to Philip and Martin, and I still hope to be able to meet them and see the renewed shop.

  8. Barry Seifert permalink
    October 4, 2012

    My dear Phil & Martin,

    Was shocked to read the news,most important nobody was hurt.

    Best thing to say to you guys is. As with nature fire burns & erases everything & then it gives
    us new shoots,it grows again fitter & stronger.

    Every success with claim,

    Barry Seifert

  9. Nicola permalink
    October 5, 2012

    I agree with Barry and Gary. Dad you and Martin will come back better than ever!!! Keep your head up and stay strong, this article actually made me cry xxx

  10. October 5, 2012

    Sptalfields Life,
    I thank you so much for your heart-wrenching article and you guys for your comments.
    We will be back, and call upon all of our wonderfull customers to WATCH THIS SPACE
    We may be two old farts but we still have a fire in our bellies!

    With best wishes to you all

    Philip and Martin

  11. Nicole permalink
    October 5, 2012

    Philip & Martin,

    Old Farts are the ones who get things done these days! I wish you the best in rebuilding your business.

  12. October 8, 2012

    Shocked at the news, where do we get our supplies from.

    Philip & Martin the straightest guys in the trade, reliable, honest and reasonable in price.

    With best wishes for an early return to trading.

  13. October 8, 2012

    I’ve never had the opportunity to shop with them, being at the wrong end of the country, but the whole story is heartbreaking (I have tears in my eyes looking at the pictures).

    Their determination to continue is astonishing.

    I wish them all the good and luck that anybody could.

  14. Oliver Barnett permalink
    November 3, 2012

    Every time I take another suit length to my tailor his words are I can’t believe you found this wonderfully top class fabric in the East End
    I tell him this place is the best kept secret in London for . fabrics ,
    The fire I have been told by the FAB TWO will not deter them and promised me that they will be back as soon as possible

    Looking forward to their reopening ,they have my full support and I hope yours.

    Oliver Barnett

  15. lawrence and marion sussman permalink
    December 7, 2012

    dear philip and martin,look forward to seeeing you in the not to distant future<miss coming up and having a chat

  16. December 28, 2012

    Such lovely guys, so helpful, Always love going in their, I really wish them lots of luck and success for the future!!! You are an example for a honest fair business!!

  17. Gerry permalink
    January 22, 2013

    Ohh. This is very sad news. I’ve purchased many fabrics over the years… I’m so sorry but hope to support you in the future.

  18. January 24, 2013

    Sad news indeed, I can imagine what they went through; we suffered a massive fire at our fabric warehouse in Birmingham back in November 2005, the whole warehouse burnt down to the ground. The cause was the heating system flue caught fire and spread on the upper floor,

    We had to start from scratch, until the new warehouse was rebuilt. Now 8 years later we have made a good recovery, hope you guys put it together again.

  19. HazelnRamsden permalink
    September 10, 2013

    Congratulations on your re-opening which I saw this morning on the national news TV. Brilliant publicity for you and I wish you every success with your new phoenix, literally risen from the ashes.

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