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The Re-Opening Of Crescent Trading

August 8, 2020
by the gentle author

‘I want to sell my stock of textiles’

If you were eighty-nine years old and your business partner of thirty years died of Coronavirus, could you find the moral courage to go on? This is the brave step that cloth merchant Martin White has taken, re-opening Crescent Trading after the death of Philip Pittack. He and Philip were a charismatic double act, renowned for their ceaseless repartee and matchless knowledge of textiles. Last week, I went along to show my moral support, as the last cloth warehouse in Spitalfields reopened for business, and Martin confided his thoughts to me.

“On St Patrick Day, 17th March, I told Philip, ‘It’s too dangerous to be here and I am going home.’ I warned him, saying, ‘And you should as well.’ But ‘I’m not going,’ he said, ‘I’m not going…’

I called him every day from home and, the following week, he said ‘I’ve got take my wife to the hospital on Tuesday but have a good customer coming in, will you cover for me?’ I said, ‘No, I will not!’ I didn’t and I wouldn’t.

His wife’s visit to the hospital was nothing to do with the virus but she caught it and, all of a sudden, he began to feel unwell too. His daughter made him go to hospital, he was there for three weeks and they put him on a ventilator.

Philip had underlying health problems. For years, he had congestion of the lungs and diabetes. He also had several stents put in to deal with his heart problems and that fall didn’t do him any good. So he just couldn’t take the treatment for coronavirus. We all thought he was going to pull through but he didn’t, he died on 11th May.

Before we knew anything about the lockdown, Philip and I made an agreement about what to do with the business, whichever one of us went first. He was twelve years younger than me. I am eighty-nine and I was unwell for four months, so it left me in a strange and awkward position, which I have overcome. I have fulfilled all the conditions of our agreement.

Now I am working here on my own. I started coming in on Sundays and re-opened last week. I must admit I am delighted to be back. I love it, I love this work. I have been with Crescent Trading for thirty years but I have been in the trade since I was fourteen, that’s seventy-five years. I want to sell my stock of textiles.

Customers can only come in two at a time, they have to wear masks and use hand sanitiser. If they want to buy fabric, they can buy it. We are open for business.”

Martin White with his trademark monocle

Martin White & Philip Pittack in the old days

Crescent Trading, Quaker Court, Quaker St, E1 6SN. Open Sunday-Friday.

You may also like to read about

So Long, Philip Pittack

Philip Pittack & Martin White, Cloth Merchants

All Change at Crescent Trading

Fire at Crescent Trading

The Return of Crescent Trading

16 Responses leave one →
  1. August 8, 2020

    I bought some lovely Liberty fabric from this shop the last time I was in London. I hope that the shop is still there when travel is possible again.

  2. Adele Lester permalink
    August 8, 2020

    So sorry to hear about Martin’s partner passing. Used to buy all my fabrics at Crescent back in the day. Would go in after school in nearby Spitalfields and choose my fabric for whatever new fashion was in style that week ! Good luck Martin and stay well, Thanks GA for the update.

  3. August 8, 2020

    Greetings from Boston,

    Martin is still looking chipper – love those polished leather shoes. So sorry about his partner in business. A story for our times…

  4. Robin permalink
    August 8, 2020

    Martin, thank you for your commitment to the textile trade and to your partner, Philip. I’m so glad to hear that you’ve been able to open the shop again.

  5. August 8, 2020

    RIP Philip.
    Martin, what a brave decision to re-open and to keep faith with your promise to Philip.
    Long may your business prosper, you both gave it so much energy and commitment over the years.

  6. August 10, 2020

    As a regular caller at Crescent Trading
    with my Students. Thank you Martin for continuing the spirit of the East End.

  7. Tracey permalink
    September 1, 2020

    My father Martin, loves his work, he loves his customers and most of all he loves fabrics, the feel of them and the smell of them. Philip death was a great loss but nonetheless Martin carries on and always will even when he has someone currently trying to sabotage his business by putting out there that he is no longer open or in business. Nothing or anyone will ever keep my father down. We are so proud of you and all that you do. Keep on keeping on Papa… we love you x

  8. October 12, 2020

    Hi Martin,
    I am so very saddened to hear the news about Philip.
    Dawn & I (Hardy & Hooper) have been coming to you for nearly 20 years. We always loved our visits to you & bought some fabulous quality cloths from you over the years.
    I very happy to hear that you have opened again Martin. Well done!
    We must come & visit you again very soon.
    Our deepest sympathies to you & to Philip’s family. What a wonderful man he was.
    Kindest regard,

  9. October 12, 2020

    Hello Martin,

    Shirley and I have purchased a lot of fabric from Philip and his charisma and personality will be sadly missed. Our deepest sympathies to you and his family. Great news about Crescent Trading reopening and we shall see you soon!

  10. Jayne Edwards permalink
    January 17, 2021

    So sorry to hear about Philip. I came just before the first lockdown and had such superb service. My plan was to bring my sewing club but cannot because of the virus, would you consider sending fabric by post?
    Jayne Edwards at Gaddens Sewing Club

  11. anita permalink
    March 29, 2021

    I have only recently found out about the sad news about Philip, my thoughts are with his family and Martin.

    I wasn’t able to visit as much as I would have liked, due to the distance involved.

    When I was able to visit, I loved every moment, for the banter, knowledge and great fabric. It was an honour to have met Philip.

  12. Jill Beauchamp permalink
    November 16, 2021

    Glad to know that you are carrying on. I would love to visit your Emporium.
    I am mask exempt & allergic to hand sanitisers I will be unable to partake of the rich feast of fabrics.
    Long may you thrive!

  13. Tina permalink
    January 13, 2022

    I googled your business today to see if you’ve reopened since the pandemic and was devasted to learn of Phillip’s death.
    He was always a true gentleman, like you, Martin! We don’t see many honest, old fashion men with respect and professionalism in this industry. I’m only a small business and you never treated me any different to your bigger clients.
    “The two little greek girls” send our condolences to you and Phillip’s family.
    May he RIP and he’s legacy of a true gentleman live on!
    Be strong and stay safe x

  14. Darren Sheehan permalink
    October 7, 2022

    I first met the lads in the mid nineties .
    a very unique style which i found charming but also very thorough.
    From a by gone era.
    Hard times but simple times.

    I hope your still trading Martin.
    Phillip will be greatly mised for sure .

  15. Ronnie Newman permalink
    November 21, 2022

    My dad Len and I dealt with Phillip for 25 years, He was a regular visitor to our factory in Great Eastern St., collecting our off-cuts and sample remnants every few weeks. We had the same joking discussions every time over what the sacks of rags and remnants were worth and we were all always satisfied that a fair deal had been agreed in the end (even if Phillip lifted his foot up under the sacks when weighing them). The last time we traded with you was around 1990 after we sold the business to Skylar Knitwear. My dad passed in 1994 he was 84. I’m now 85 and still going (just). If I remember rightly Phil was about 5/6 younger than me. So sorry to hear of Phillips passing, his humour and personality will be missed by all who knew him. Martin, keep well and keep working if you still enjoy it. Best wishes, Ronnie Newman

  16. paul robert spendlove permalink
    April 18, 2024

    Hi Martin,
    I only just found out about Philip
    So very sad to hear that we no longer have such a lovely man in the trade.
    I always received a warm welcome visiting you both and enjoyed every minute in you company.
    I also learnt a lot from you for which I thank you.

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