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Nevio Pellicci At New Spitalfields Market

December 10, 2014
by the gentle author

Nevio Pellicci goes in search of Maris Piper

“This is my dad’s old car,” explained Nevio Pellicci as he drove Contributing Photographer Sarah Ainslie & me through Bethnal Green before dawn on Monday morning, “I just use it now for these market trips” – and he patted the dashboard affectionately in remembrance of Nevio Pellicci senior. Each Monday, Wednesday and Friday, Nevio drives over to the New Spitalfields Market to buy fresh vegetables for his celebrated family-run cafe in the Bethnal Green Rd which has been in business since 1900.

“I’m up at five-fifteen and at the cafe by six,” Nevio explained lightly, revealing that he had been working even before we set out that morning,”When I was a boy, my mum used to wake me at four-fifteen and I’d just roll over, but my dad used to switch the lights on. He was of the old school, he was a grafter. You always had be doing something, that’s how he prepared you for life ahead.”

We sped through the empty East End streets towards Leyton, where the nocturnal wholesale market was just winding down after a night’s trading. Once we drove through the security gates, Nevio’s first port of call was Johnny Bates – known as the Legend – a tall man with a shock of white hair, whose role goes by the arcane name of Cartminder. In other words, Johnny keeps an eye on Nevio’s car and makes sure his market purchases are safe when they are delivered to the car by the Porters. “I bring him a piece of bread pudding sometimes,” Nevio confided to me, “Not too often mind you, I don’t want to spoil him.”

Leaving the dark of the car park, we entered the vast market hall that stretched away into the distance with a bewildering array of stands displaying enough vegetables to feed a city, stacked up in tall metal towers. Nevio knew what he was looking for and went straight for the spring greens at Ernest Hammond, where he is a familiar customer – enough to be welcomed liked a long-lost relative by the fellows behind the desk. The current Mr Hammond informed me he is sixth generation in this family business, the oldest in the market.

When I looked around, Nevio was off searching among the produce, since the greens were merely the overture to his essential quest – for potatoes to make the chips for which Pelliccis are famous throughout the capital.“Mum won’t use anything else but these!” he announced, holding up a sack of Maris Piper in triumph.

“We used to get our veg delivered,” Nevio confessed to me, rubbing his hands in glee as we strode through the cavernous hall together, “But I prefer to come here, you get to see what you are buying and you save a lot of money.” Next stop was Aberdeen Stanton, third generation traders in the market. “This is where I get 95% of my stuff,” Nevio assured me with a proprietorial smile, “If they haven’t got it, they’ll find it for me.”

“I’m in and out in no time, I get everything and I’m back to the cafe,” admitted Nevio, once he had run through his list. But, since Sarah & I were there, he agreed to take a stroll around, and we were drawn by the pungent aroma of Christmas trees, which put Nevio in the seasonal spirit, encouraging him to buy four decorative wreaths – one for his mother Maria, one for his wife Nicola, and one each for his sisters Anna and Bruna.

Our last destination was Dino’s Cafe, that was formerly in Crispin St, Spitalfields, and moved here in 1991. “I used to come in here when I was bunking off school,” Nevio whispered to me. Taking a moment to shake hands with Ernesto Fiori, the proprietor, and greet Jim Olney, the paper bag seller from Donovans, we  carried off cups of tea to drink on our way.  As we were leaving, I met Keith Edwards, a Porter of forty-eight years standing – “I’ve Porters in my family in the London markets going back over a hundred years,” he told me.

Before I could pursue the conversation with Keith, we were outside in the sunrise as Porter, Terry Holt, arrived with Nevio’s order – delivered at the car where Johnny Bates was waiting. Terry boasted fifty-one years in the job. “I had three uncles down here as Porters in 1963,” he informed me proudly. Johnny Bates, thirty years a Cartminder, was not to be outdone –“My grandfather worked in Spitalfields Markt when he was eight years old and when the Market closed in the morning, he walked up through Quaker St, under the arches, whistling and then his mother came out the house with a piece of toast and his schoolbooks for him, and off he went to school.” After this disclosure, I knew why Johnny is known as ‘the Legend.’

We were chilled to the bone and, lacking the inborn vitality of market traders, Sarah & I were happy to be back in the warm at Pelliccis in Bethnal Green eating a hot breakfast. It had been an adventure, but for Nevio it happens three nights a week, every week, as a prelude to a day’s work in the cafe. The lengths some people will go to for fresh vegetables are astonishing.

Spring greens from Ernest Hammond


Ernest Hammond, six generations in the family business

Nevio with Ernesto Fiori of Dino’s Cafe

Nevio with Keith Edwards, Porter

Jim Olney, right, celebrated paper bag salesman

Nevio with Johnny Bates, legendary Cartminder

Terry Holt senior and Terry Holt junior – both Porters

Nevio’s order for Pelliccis Cafe

Delivering the fresh veg at Pelliccis

Photographs copyright © Sarah Ainslie

E.Pellicci, 332 Bethnal Green Rd, E2 0AG

You may like to read my other Pellicci stories

Christmas Ravioli At E Pellicci

Maria Pellicci, Cook

Maria Pellicci, The Meatball Queen of Bethnal Green

Christmas Part at E.Pellicci

Pellicci’s Celebrity Album

Pellicci’s Collection

Colin O’Brien at E.Pellicci

Colin O’Brien’s Pellicci Portraits ( Part One)

Colin O’Brien’s Pellicci Portraits (Part Two)

Colin O’Brien’s Pellicci Portraits (Part Three)

Colin O’Brien’s Pellicci Portraits (Part Four)

17 Responses leave one →
  1. December 10, 2014

    Good to see people who love their work and are proud of it. This makes a huge difference, no wonder the food at Pellicci’s is so good! Valerie

  2. Steve permalink
    December 10, 2014

    love the door in the first shot, I’m sure there’s some gallery in Shoreditch that would pay a small fortune for it!

  3. December 10, 2014

    Loved the programme (the whole Market TV series), and love Sarah Ainslie’s photographs here. The men all look a lot happier than they did in the documentary… well done!

  4. Terry holt snr permalink
    December 10, 2014

    Enjoyed our little chat on Monday and tell Sarah the photos were great one thing I had four uncles me grandfather Jim Holt and i think four cousins working down the market at one time nice meeting you

  5. cliff permalink
    December 10, 2014

    The person with Nevio – Johnny Bates- any relation to the family of ‘Bates porters’ who worked in Spitalfields Market in the 60’s ?

  6. Barbara Hague permalink
    December 10, 2014

    My grandmother’s family, her father and brother were potato merchants in Spitalfields Market mid to late 1880’s. Story goes that Charles Harper owned half of Spitalfields market and his son James Harper gambled it all away, and ended up as a market porter. A Mrs Harper is in one of the old phone directories as a potato merchant certainly (found in Portsmouth library). Can’t find any other evidence though.

  7. Phillip permalink
    December 10, 2014

    No picture of the car? How can that be?

  8. Anita permalink
    December 10, 2014

    I adore Pellicci’s — it’s a must-visit on every trip to London for us.

  9. sarah jarman permalink
    December 11, 2014

    My look how you’ve grown up Nevio. So lovely to see those pics. Your dad would be very proud of you. Love to everyone x Love Sarah and Ed xxx In Leigh-on-sea xxx Long time no see!!

  10. Greg Tingey permalink
    December 11, 2014

    Maris Piper for chips, eh?
    Of course there is a different route to fresh veg – an allotment – but that would be no good for Pellicci’s (!)
    Again, getting specific varieties is imprtant, though: Foremost, Epicure, British Queen, Golden Wonder ( & others)

  11. John bates permalink
    December 12, 2014

    Yeah your right cliff my grandad Harry bates and his brothers Tommy and Danny were porters ,also my father John and his brother ashal bates . They were there from the 1930 s up until recently , did you know them?

  12. cliff permalink
    December 12, 2014

    Hi John,
    I knew them all !!!
    I worked in Spitalfield Market for over 25 years, about 20 of those years i spent working with Ashel, what a great character he was,we had a great working relationship,miss those days immensely.
    Your grandad Harry Bates was a real gentleman, always giving sound advice to Ashel & Danny which was promptly ignored!
    Great memories.

  13. December 19, 2014

    To know Nevio and his lovely family is a true delight. I HAVE to go whenever in London, usually to visit my niece Charlie who works round the corner and has been taken ‘under their wing’.
    I never leave to come back to Cumbria with being given a piece of their famous bread pudding! And, they are the ONLY people allowed to call me ‘Auntie Sally’ 🙂

  14. ian silverton permalink
    December 22, 2014

    New the Holt Brothers,from using my Dads Pub,The Westminster Arms,in Bethnal Green,remember Terry,and his brother Johnny,was friends with the late Steve Farmer,who Terry Worked with for years, Ian Silverton

  15. Terry holt snr permalink
    January 4, 2015

    Hello Ian. I remember drinking in your dads pub in the 1960s with me dad Arthur and his brothers also me grandfather Jim Holt I used run round VIctoria park with Stevie Farmer jimmy Huddard Johnny Nicholson and other porters from the market

  16. John bates permalink
    January 4, 2015

    Thanks for that cliff ,there was always something funny going on in that old market .theres not many of us left now ,but the few of us that are left still have a laugh and enjoy ourselves .my grandad certainly was a gentleman ,always lending my dad and ashel a few quid on a Monday morning .cheers be lucky

  17. ian silverton permalink
    January 6, 2015

    Also remember my Dads uncle Jack Silverton owned The Gun pub in the old Spitifields Market,remember going in their as a child,he travelled everywhere by London Cabs,back in the 1950s,that was something!!!!!! He had one parked outside our pub when he visited,sometimes all day!!!!!

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