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150 Years In Commercial St

January 2, 2020
by the gentle author

Gardners Market Sundriesmen is moving to 78 Ruckholt Rd, Leyton, E10 5NP. Please help Paul Gardner with his move by coming along to the old shop at 149 Commercial St at 7pm this Friday 3rd January to help load paper bags into vans. If you have a van and are willing to assist with transport, please call Paul direct on 020 7247 5119.

All are welcome at a party to celebrate Paul and one hundred and fifty years of Gardners Market Sundriesmen in Spitalfields at his shop this Monday 6th January from 6:00pm – 9:00pm.

One hundred and fifty years have been measured out in paper bags by four generations of one family in Spitalfields. In 1870, James Gardner opened Gardners Market Sundriesmen as one of the first traders in the newly constructed Peabody Buildings in Commercial St and now his great-grandson Paul Gardner is moving out of these premises. Photographer Andrew Baker went along to record the final days of Spitalfields oldest family business in situ.

Paul still uses the same block of wood that his great-grandfather carved out to keep his change behind the counter. Paul keeps his great-grandfather’s account books with the names of the mostly Jewish traders whose scales James serviced regularly. Over a century and a half, a lot of history has accumulated in Paul’s shop and now he is taking it with him, along with all his customers.

When I first met Paul Gardner nearly ten years ago, he was being harassed by an aggressive property agent operating on behalf of the corporate owners of the building. But in the last decade, something extraordinary happened. As I wrote more stories about Gardners Market Sundriesmen, the word spread through the news media and Paul became a frequent and eloquent spokesman for the small businesses which make up the majority of our economy in this country.

As founder of the East End Trades Guild which now represents over three hundred independent shops and businesses locally, and as a repeated visitor to Downing St with petitions demanding the government recognise the damage done to small businesses by excessive rent and business rate increases, Paul Gardner has acquired moral stature.

These days, Paul gets appropriate respect from the property agent who is rightly wary of the media coverage he might receive for any unsympathetic treatment of Gardners Market Sundriesmen.

After one hundred and fifty years, Paul has decided the time is right for his family business to leave Spitalfields. They were established here in 1870 because of the wholesale fruit and vegetable market, which moved out in 1991. Although Paul found new customers among the young designers and entrepreneurs who have redefined the neighbourhood, the impossibility of parking in Commercial St combined with escalating overheads make it unrealistic to continue in his old premises.

Paul’s family owned a shop at 87 Ruckholt Rd, Leyton, near the New Spitalfields Market, for decades. They had converted it to housing but now they have converted it back to a shop with a flat above for Paul’s son. As owners of the premises, they pay no rent and the shop has free parking. In future, Paul will be making regular deliveries across the East End. Thus in one move, the business becomes viable again to sustain a fifth generation.

Paul is beloved of his hundreds of devoted customers for his decency, good humour and honest trading. If you can say there is a most-respected person in the East End, then that is undoubtably Paul Gardner. I am sure you will all want to join me in wishing him well.

Photographs copyright © Andrew Baker

You may like to read my other stories about Gardners Market Sundriesmen

At Gardners’ Market Sundriesmen

Paul Gardner, Paper Bag Baron

Paul Gardner Goes To Downing St

Paul Gardner Returns to Downing St

Joan Rose at Gardners’ Market Sundriesmen

James Brown at Gardners’ Market Sundriesmen

Vigil at Gardners’ Market Sundriesmen

Christmas at Gardners’ Market Sundriesmen

18 Responses leave one →
  1. Caroline Bottomley permalink
    January 2, 2020

    Wishing you all the very best Paul.
    I met you a couple of months ago, after visiting because of GA’s lovely blog posts about you.
    I bought some bags and string, and you so kindly gave me a Beauty of Bath sign, which now sits very jauntily in the kitchen and reminds me of you and of my Dad.
    Thank you again. And to echo GAs comments, what thoroughly nice example of a human being you are!
    Good luck, Caroline xx

  2. hilary smith permalink
    January 2, 2020

    Wishing you well for the future.

  3. January 2, 2020

    To paraphrase “If Carlsberg made specialist market sundriesmen it would be Paul Gardner”. This shop has been an institution in Commercial Street and its ever helpful and chatty owner deserves all the praise he will get for both his smiling disposition, his ability to somehow keep all his customers happy and not least for his skill in finding things in his Aladdin’s Cave of a shop.
    We wish him success in Ruckholt Road

  4. Jill Wilson permalink
    January 2, 2020

    It is a shame that he has to leave Spitalfields after all this time but it sounds like it makes perfect business sense to move to Leyton – especially if there is good parking there!

    I will clear my van of the last vestiges of Christmas work and be there to help on Friday…

    Best wishes to Paul and his family for a happy and prosperous future.

  5. richard permalink
    January 2, 2020

    All the best Paul. Enjoy your new start in the suburbs
    By the way, if you have any square block style scale weights knocking around (circa 8 – 10lb) i could use one or two here.
    Don’t think we will get to the shindig but have a good one. i remember clearing our Bishopsgate premises. The stuff we found……! See you soon.

  6. January 2, 2020

    Wishing Paul all the best in his new venture. I hope you will keep us updated on his progress.

  7. Thomas permalink
    January 2, 2020

    Good luck Paul.

    I used to visit your shop back in the ‘70’s with my old boss, Colin Brandon, when Romford still had a proper fruit and veg market, unlike today’s bureaucratically sanitised affair.

    Happy New Year.

  8. Marcia Taylor permalink
    January 2, 2020

    We visited Paul and heard his story when we were in London a few years ago . I brought lots of small coloured striped bags . Paul gave me two plastic money signs . Which are still on display . So pleased the business is to carry on . Good luck to all who are able to help with the move .
    We also went to Bob Mazzer’s photography book launch . I can recommend his book Underground . Also Colin O’Brian photography books . And l now have Doreen Fletcher’s
    paintings book . And of course thank you, gentle author .

  9. Annie S permalink
    January 2, 2020

    Sad that Paul’s family’s familiar shop will no longer be in Commercial Street, however the move makes absolute sense.
    Very best wishes for the future in your new home in Leyton Paul!

  10. January 2, 2020

    Best of luck, Paul. What a wonderful shop, lovely bags, string, everything… DEar G.A., please let us know about the new shop. Thank you.

  11. Linda Granfield permalink
    January 2, 2020

    I’m sad to see the “We’re Moving” sign in the window but glad to hear Paul will have his business up and running again soon.

    Thank you to GA for introducing me to Paul G. via the blog.

    Any chance the store sign can be given to the Museum of London? Don’t they have a wall of such signage from the past? (Might be confusing with another museum.) What a family story!

    I await the follow-up GA story about what “treasures” were uncovered as the store was emptied.

  12. Clare permalink
    January 2, 2020

    It’s the end of an era indeed. Good luck with the move. Spitalfields’ loss is Leyton’s gain – it’s round the corner from me, so I look forward to buying some sundries! There’s a great making and selling community here growing, and I have a feeling you’ll do well in your new home.

  13. January 2, 2020

    Dear GA, how decent of you to give Paul a helping hand in his move to Leyton ! In fact, on reading your report I am moved (no pun intended) enough to offer a hand in my small , but when the rear seats are shut, spacious VW tomorrow evening . . Leyton is just down the road.

  14. January 2, 2020

    Oh, heartbroken!
    Thwarted creativity uppermost, as bought ten films three years ago with a quite-desperate desire to photograph a multiplicity of colour ‘abstracts’ within this wonderful shop. Only a photographer wd understand the feeling :-))
    Alas, as the main carer for my elderly housebound husband, I have not been able to physically leave our house for over three years; so will console myself with the Gentle Author’s writings and Andrew B’s images of this lovely shop and its equally memorable owner.
    Dear Paul Gardner, we only met twice but your eyrie is burned on my brain and I wish you and your son the HAPPIEST of New Years – and all that you would fervently wish for yourselves in the years to come.

  15. Jo N permalink
    January 2, 2020

    Your wonderful work has had me fall in love with all these East End survivors, GA, and now it breaks my heart to see each one go. Great news of course that the move will enable this historic business to continue, but Spitalfields will clearly be poorer without Paul and his shop.

  16. Jane Gardner permalink
    January 2, 2020

    Wow – thankyou for all those lovely comments about Paul and his shop. It will be very sad and the end of an era but we hope the new shop in Leyton will allow a fifth generation of our family to continue the business.

    We appreciate any offers of help with moving tomorrow. We will be there from 7pm. Either at Commercial Street or 78 Ruckholt Road Leyton E105NP.

    It is surprising how much stuff there is in the shop. I think there is probably some from the 1870s!

    We would also love to see as many as possible on Monday evening from 6pm to 9pm. It will be rough and ready but there will be drinks and nibbles and Paul will sweep the floor (hopefully).

    Thankyou for supporting Paul for the last 47 years and hope to see you in the new shop.

    Jane ( the long suffering wife!)

  17. PAUL Gardner permalink
    January 2, 2020

    Dear Gentle Author – thankyou so much for supporting me over the last ten years when times were hard. You have always been an inspiration to me and I hope I have been to you. A nicer friend I never could have. I have always enjoyed your company when you drop in to my shop for a chat and I hope you will continue to visit me in Leyton. See you tomorrow.
    Cheers and thanks,

  18. Carol Himmelman-Christopher permalink
    January 3, 2020

    I could not be more pleased!! Since first reading of Mr. Gardner and his traditional family business, I have been afraid of reading that corporate….idiots had one and he was forced out. So to have him make the decision (although I know it was a true wrench), to have the business continuing to thrive – this just makes the New Year start out brilliantly. Would be there to help if I could — sitting now in Edinburgh, flying home soon to Berlin — but a long-distance “resident” of Spittalfields due to the wonderful Gentle Author. Thank you!!

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