John Hardcastle has worked at the Market for 50 years, having taken his first full time job here when he left school at 15 to join a firm on Drury Lane. He followed his father, Derek, and two of his uncles into the trade and has never veered from the flower business from day one. He now owns and runs Bloomfield of London. Wife Michelle – who has been alongside him for most of his Flower Market journey – tells us about John and his half a century of dedication to Market life.
Michelle married John when they were both 21 and says a life married to a man working Market hours can be challenging at times. “John actually lived above one of the firms in the old Covent Garden Market from an early age and was steeped in the Market long before he officially became a porter,” she says, “coming in to work before school on many mornings to earn some money.
“And it’s been absolutely solid work for as long as I’ve known him. I have never met anyone who is more loyal – I’m sure a lot of people would agree with that, or more hard working, he gives 100% every single day. The hours have always been difficult, but he never complains.” Michelle admits that it was hard when the children were young. There was good and bad of course, because he was often there when they finished school, but at the busy times such as Christmas and Valentine’s Day, we had to accept that we just wouldn’t see him much for long periods,” she says. “He’d just get home, get ready for bed, get up and start again!”
The good times definitely outweigh the more challenging aspects of the job, she adds. “He’s only moved firms a handful of times in all those years and I really don’t know how he’s done it. His role has always been to ensure that I could be there for the children and he’s provided a really good life for the family.”
Since John established Bloomfields, he has been committed to sourcing the finest and freshest flowers from around the world and has fresh, seasonal flowers delivered six days a week from Holland, South America, Italy and other countries. On a daily basis, Bloomfields has a large array of fresh and dried flowers to choose from on its stand in the Market, but also places specific orders for customers. The company will delivery in London for a charge and in exceptional circumstances will look to accommodate deliveries further afield.
He has also brought the next generation of Hardcastles into the business. “Our children, Sophie and Sam, have both worked at Bloomfields and Sam is full-time there now,” Michelle says. “If I’m honest, neither of us really wanted him to have a career at the Market, as we’ve seen what an impact it can have on you socially, but when he left university, he went to work with his dad and he’s thriving. It really suits him and he takes after his father with his work ethic. Our daughter Sophie takes after John too – she also worked with him for a while after she left university, but she works in fashion now. I look after the books with my brother and even now when the firm’s busy, all of us are happy to help out if and when needed.”
John’s dad ran his eponymous business Derek Hardcastle in the Market for many years, but Bloomfield is Michelle’s maiden name and when John set up his own business, he decided he’d like to keep that name alive. “When my dad retired, he was at a loose end and used to go to the market three days a week to collect the sales books for me. It gave him something to do,” recalls Michelle.
“John’s brother and cousins are also in the trade and I’m not sure that the next generation of many families is coming into the market any more. It’s definitely becoming harder to find staff as we lose those connections. But ours really is a family business, everyone has been connected in one way or another.”