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David Prescott Of Commercial St

August 16, 2015
by the gentle author

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

Mickey Davis at Spitalfields Fruit & Wool Exchange

Vivian Betts of Bishopsgate

Neville Turner of Elder St

The Coles of Brushfield St

David Kira, Banana Merchant

17 Responses leave one →
  1. Rosemary Hoffman permalink
    August 16, 2015

    I remebr all this as I went to Central foundation girls school. The name Prescott rings a bell too

  2. frank hadley permalink
    August 16, 2015

    I know what you mean by missing spitalfields as i also lived nearby and went to st josephs in gun st. also went to the cubs and scouts in toynbee hall, we used to play around the market in our dinner break, my friends dad was a porter in the market, i still visit the old place and sometimes get a bit tearful remembering those carefree days. thanks for sharing your memories david keep well.

  3. August 16, 2015

    As Time Goes By …

    Love & Peace

  4. Glenn permalink
    August 16, 2015

    Great story. Thanks again for bringing us the social history of Spitalfields.

  5. Shawdian permalink
    August 16, 2015

    David, Must be nice to be able to keep going back to where you spent your childhood, but very odd to see the changes and a little bit of nostalgic sadness of times gone by. Thank you for sharing.

  6. Stephen Foster permalink
    August 18, 2015

    I think that it’s fantastic to still be able to see the flower. Over the 40+ years things are going to change, but to see something that you did as a child still visible is priceless.

  7. Neville Turner permalink
    August 23, 2015

    An interesting and very personal story told as it was without anything missing.l remember several residents in Elder St actualy shelling fresh peas ready for canning for your father’s company on a piece rate done at home into tin buckets to supplement the family income.My father Charles(Wag) Turner and Bert Prescott were close friends I am holding a photograph of them together at what looks like a mason evening gathering,it does bring back many vivid memories of Spitalfields Market.Good luck to you David.

  8. david prescott permalink
    August 31, 2015

    Hi neville just been reading your piece on here and i think i remember your mum and i,ve been to where you lived with my dad . on my page you said you have a photo of our dads together.would it be possible to see it. thanks for the memories neville,be safe.

  9. sharon jenkins permalink
    February 23, 2016

    thanks for sharing your memories david ,I lived flower and dean street from 1959-1974..remember alan crockett,his brother robert and sister rosemary…brought back so many memories ..many thanks

  10. Simone Davies permalink
    August 29, 2016

    Hi David
    WOW……that brought back some memories….. remember me………my family, Doris my mum, my sister Patricia and me (Simone) Davies, used to live in the flat downstairs to your family….and I was friends with your sister Sylvia…..a lifetime ago……

  11. David Prescott permalink
    September 7, 2016

    well,well hello Simone yes i do remember you ,pat and your mum very well. I was reading about your dad and his bomb shelter living at No 103 i never knew about that .dad and mlck my bro always admired him.well how is every one.were in kent west kingsdown,are you still in london.sylvia is in upperbelverdere.hope this finds you .xx

  12. Simone Davies permalink
    October 3, 2016

    Hi David,
    Nice to hear from you……..yes there are several stories about dad and his wartime bomb shelter. Thank you we are all well, hope you and all your family are well too………… Mum died in 1996…….Tricia now lives in Spain and l live in Bedfordshire…. Tricia has a son called Michael and he lives in Surrey with his wife Nicki and daughter Mia….
    Hopefully this reaches you.
    best regards….. Simone….xx

  13. Harry OReilly permalink
    December 19, 2016

    Hello David,
    Great to see you on here & a magic stroll down memory lane , have a memory Christmas
    all the best for now .
    Harry & Frank ,

  14. David Prescott permalink
    January 8, 2017

    Really great to hear from you hope all the family are well.are you on Facebook,I’m on there see Terry Mulcrone.We were talking about you and your family the other week.Have looked for you on Facebook but no luck

  15. Harry OReilly permalink
    January 26, 2017

    Will look you up on facebook ,hope all your family is well give regards to Terry also ,speak soon.

  16. David Prescott permalink
    February 28, 2017

    Harry OReilly if your having trouble getting hold of me this is my mobile number cheers. 07770426922

  17. Angela Brown nee Donaldson permalink
    October 23, 2021

    I remember the man with the tap on his head!!
    It must have been about 1964, I was about 9 years old and had just come out of the Mayfair cinema (Saturday morning pictures) there was a pub opposite next to Christchurch Primary School.
    The man was outside the pub with a tap on his forehead! Us kids were mesmerised, I got home and told my mum, I really believed it was growing out of his head! (Think kids were more naive then). Also remember a man we called …Spitting gob! When we called out to him he would chase us. So sad we just didn’t realise he had mental health problems

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