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Still boxing clever after 44 years

Still boxing clever after 44 years

27 Jun, 2024

Still boxing clever after 44 years

Ex-boxer Richie Edwards has worked for several firms since he first stepped foot in the market in 1980. Here, he looks back on his time here, tells a few of the stories that can be repeated and charts some of the changes that he’s seen

The career path

“I came over to have a look in the school holidays with my Grandad, who had a big flower stall on East Street down the Walworth Road and was a long-term Covent Garden customer. We said hello to a few fellas, then one asked me why I wasn’t at school. I said ‘I just left school’ and he said ‘well in that case why aren’t you at work? He turned to my Grandad and said ‘bring him at 4am sharp on Monday and I’ll give him a month’s trial’.

“That was in 1980 when I was 16 and 44 years later I’m still here. But I’m not on trial any more!”

“I was a tea boy when I first got here, tidying up and doing odd jobs here and there. I was on £32 a week, with the odd tip. It wasn’t great [money], but I wasn’t getting nothing doing nothing was I?

“First I worked for David Ingamells where Colin and Greg looked after me. I was there for a few years and then joined Alagar and spent a lot of years there with Alan and Stella. I then went to Deano’s for a couple of years, before Alagar asked me to come back. When Alagar closed down, I worked at John Hart for a while, before going back to Deano’s. I’ve been at DG Flowers since Deano’s closed down about 18 months ago.

“I had no idea Deano’s was closing down. It was one week before Christmas when he told me, but I’ve been here a long time and I’d had four offers within a few hours. I took a week out, but ended up going with John and Dave. I think it’s the busiest company in the market, there’s never a really quiet day.

“I didn’t do portering, but became a junior salesman at Ingamells and I’ve been a salesman ever since. I really made my way with Alan and Stella though, they were a really good couple and made sure I got on."

Travel tips

“I live in Bexley Heath now, but originally I was from Walworth, then lived in Bermondsey for a few years. I used to walk from the Old Kent Road down to the market and I’d see this milk float go past me at Elephant & Castle most days. One day he stopped, told me he delivered the milk to the market, and said ‘jump in’. So, for about a year and a half, I got a lift from the Elephant to work on a milk float! I then found another fella, Freddie Horner, who worked on Carey’s and he lived two minutes from me, so I used to meet him outside the Hourglass pub every morning and he was my new lift."

Diamond dahlias

“I’ve had the same customers for a long time. There are people I’ve served for 40 years, but I also have a lot of new customers now. They do tend to follow you from firm to firm though and I’m known especially for dahlias. I’ve been getting them now for 38 years from a guy in Essex who I used to serve. He brought me in a couple of boxes and they were great quality and we have built that up over time to around 200 buckets a week during the season. They always start last week of July or first week in August and end when the frost comes. For the rest of the year I have people asking me when I’ll have dahlias again! I get them exclusively as it’s the only way to make money out of them – you can’t spread them around, so he’s only dealt with me for nearly four decades.

“You’ve got to have something about you for people to keep coming back. You shouldn’t just expect them to turn up day-in, day-out. Plenty of the same people come and see me every week, you know what time they’ll be there and roughly what they might order and you understand their business. You have to think ahead and buy stuff that you think people will like and it has to work for them or they won’t come back.

“I don’t mind doing the odd delivery either – today, I’m going to drop off at a florist in Bexley Heath on my way home. I used to serve this lady a long time ago – she started buying from a Dutchman, but she’s come back to the market and she’s come back to me. She messages me two days before, I order the stuff and if she can’t make it in to pick it up, I’ll deliver it. At the end of the day, if you’re going to take £400 or £500 off a customer, why wouldn’t you?

Standout quality

“The best place to get your flowers is still from this market because you can get what you want when you need it and you can guarantee consistent quality.

“Years ago, everything was sold by the box, there were no buckets and water. Nothing was sold by the bunch. Now, it’s still a wholesale market, but people can come and buy a few bunches – the supermarkets have driven that. There are still salesmen here you can go and have a barter with, but that’s also getting rarer – lots of people have a price, it gets scanned in and that’s it. So you don’t get the banter you used to.

Market family

“I split the sole of my trainers in the early days and had brown tape keeping them together. I used to help out the guys opposite at the end of every day and they’d treat me really well. One day they asked me about my shoes and asked what size I was. I didn’t think anything of it, but the next morning they gave me a brand new pair of trainers. ‘If you help us we’ll look after you’ – that sort of sums up what the market is.

“It’s a cliché I know, but it is a massive family. You get bred into it. You come here ‘normal’ and you just become a market person!

“I have so many mates here – everyone knows who I am and we’ve shared so much together. We go out for a beer and we have a laugh about football and this and that. They joke about my time as a boxer and I’m a Chelsea season ticket holder, so there’s plenty flying around from the Arsenal and West ham fans at DG!

I was a contender!

Pictured: Richie's last pro fight was against Norris Dennis at Dulwich Baths

"I was a boxer as a kid at my Grandad’s gym at Manor Place in Walworth. From there I did a bit of unlicenced stuff, which you’re not supposed to obviously! Then I turned pro – as a lightweight, 9 stone 6 believe it or not; that’s why a few people call me Tubby now! I was the first signing of Frank Maloney (now Kelly Maloney) who went on to be most famous as Lennox Lewis’s manager. We all used to train together. Kelly is my son’s Godfather. I had seven professional fights and was undefeated, then came home one day in 1984 and put my bag down. I knew I’d had enough and I never went back. So, I never lost as a pro. I had 96 amateur fights and won 85 of them, but beat everyone I lost to in the return fights. I won all 11 of my unlicenced fights too, so I did alright."

That’s life

“I’ve got a good life. I used to wonder what I was doing getting up in the middle of the night to go to work, still do sometimes. But the market’s been a massive part of my life.

"Would I change it? With hindsight maybe I’d think twice about doing the hours again, but while you’re doing it, it’s what you do. Obviously now, I’m a lot older than I was when I came here (Richie was 60 years old last month) but I’ve never come seriously close to doing anything else. There is nowhere like this place, for the antics, laughing and joking, playing tricks on everyone.

“There are still guys here now who I laugh and joke with about when I first came into the market. ‘You were a right proper little Jacko’ they say, to which I’ll reply ‘but I was just a kid’. Obviously someone then shouts ‘yeah and you still are!’”

Tommy Leighton
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