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The Return Of David Prescott

June 10, 2023
by the gentle author


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David standing outside 103 Commercial St in the mid-sixties

Growing up in the large flat above the Spitalfields 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

7 Responses leave one →
  1. June 10, 2023

    This is a great story, thanks GA and David. We are the gatekeepers of real social history and photographs are the visualisations of it. I have some cine film, transferred to DVD , of our flat in Whitecross Street ( not Spitalfields I know, but not far). I often return too and see the lively food market and colourful murals cheering up the Peabody buildings, or “peanuts” as we nicknamed them.
    It is progress I suppose. I do enjoy mooching around Spitalfields Market too, pretending I’m a tourist ( although I suppose I actually am one now). My Dad used to laugh at the gentrification of the area but I feel sad that real londoners can’t afford to live in these places anymore. I do think it is important that historical sites are preserved, land us a precious resource but so is history. I love the spray painted flower, preserved for all time – brilliant.

  2. Stuart McColl permalink
    June 10, 2023

    I’n not from the area but I spent time in Whitechapel and Spitalfields and loved it and it’s history. Loved this insight into an area and everyday way of life that has changed as much as my hometown Glasgow. Nice easy nostalgic read. Thanks

  3. Kitty Shepherd permalink
    June 10, 2023

    Great post, super story and marvellous images. Thank you

  4. June 10, 2023

    It’s wonderful if the house where you were born is still standing. Mine was built shortly before I was born and now it’s been torn down again… You can see from that: NOTHING is of constancy in our world!

    Love & Peace

  5. Cherub permalink
    June 10, 2023

    I loved working in the Spitalfields area, it had such a different and friendly buzz to its neighbour the City. That was over 20 years ago now.

    On another note, I love the 60s wallpaper and everyone crowded together on the sofa at Christmas!

  6. Richard permalink
    June 10, 2023

    David. Good to see one of the Prescott’s on the blog. My business James Ince & sons (Umbrellas) Ltd shared Spital Yard with Prescott’s. Moving the cars around was an hourly ritual when someone needed to get out! You may remember my father Geoff and grandfather Wilfred who ran the company during your time there. We moved out in 1985 and are still in business in Bethnal Green.
    All the best and I’ll look out for the flower!

  7. June 10, 2023

    Thank you for telling David’s story, now preserved for as long as the internet lasts. May the flower stay white even longer.

    I enjoyed all the photos, especially the one at Christmas and the wedding shots. Such a flavor of that era.

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