He was there for so long no-one ever thought one day he wouldn’t be. Photo: Tom Storr

[dropcap]I[/dropcap]t was a real shame that longterm and well-liked fruit-and-veg blokey Jack slipped quietly away from his Queen’s Crescent spot recently.

The reason? He retired after a whopping fifty years with little more than a whisper, apparently not telling anyone till a week before.

“I’ve been shopping there all my life,” says reader Ann Jones. “First as a child with my mother, then as a young adult, and still now as a not-so-young adult. Jack has been my prime source of vegetables for a good many years. An advantage to a single person such as myself was that I could buy as little or as much as I wanted – two bananas, half a cabbage, half a pound of carrots rather than being forced to buy the pre-packed quantities that supermarkets offer. I was devastated when one Saturday I found Jack’s pitch empty. I would have wanted to wish him happy retirement, as I’m sure would have many of his customers. ”

“He probably has no idea of how much he’ll be missed,” agrees regular Ali Moshref. “The stall was sustainable in the purest sense: if it wasn’t seasonal and priced reasonably enough to sell he wouldn’t stock it. When it was time for cherries, nectarines or asparagus, they were always delicious and great value. I’d wait and see what he had, and that would dictate what I’d cook for the week. When buying pears, I’d ask if they were ripe. His response was always the same. ‘All you need with them is a bib, to catch all the juices!'”

A glimmer of hope? There’s talk of his daughter taking over, so watch this space.

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And what was Queen’s Crescent like a century ago?

159 Queen’s Crescent, J. Sainsbury c1914

[dropcap]“A[/dropcap]t the weekend many South End Road shoppers would go down to Queen’s Crescent market, particularly on Saturday evenings. In those days the market would remain open until very late in the evenings and weekends. Before refrigerated storage, perishable goods such as meat, fish, fruit and green vegetables were auctioned off and many people were glad to have the opportunity of buying real good bargains. Bread & confectionery was also sold off on Saturday evenings and there were often long queues at the baker’s. The oldest Sainsbury’s shop in London next to the original one in Drury Lane was in Queen’s Crescent, a large Woolworths 3d & 6d store and some excellent wet fish stalls, so there was plenty to buy in the bustling market.

In the dark autumn and winter days the stalls would be lit by hissing naphtha lamps and heated by coke braziers – rather more dangerous than now, but a lot more warm and cheerful. The sweet stalls were wonderful, although probably unhygienic, because all the sweets were unwrapped, cough candy, fruit gums, sherbet lemons and nut toffee, but oh what wonderful scents and choice of sweets, scooped up into the ubiquitous paper cones. And then there were ladies who sold such things as mint – penny a bunch of mint ma! – lovely sweet violets, watercress penny a bunch, bunches of seasonal flowers holly & mistletoe. Usually their baskets were on the edge of the kerb where they sold their wares. Markets then had a magic which has gone now.”

Extracted from Shopping In South End Green In the 1920s and 30s by Joyce Maxwell MBE [/box]

Read more on Queen’s Crescent market here

With thanks to Ann Jones.

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