Sydney Crabb was born the day the British Empire Exhibition opened at Wembley in 1924. He grew to have a voice of purest cockney and a smile that’d light up a funeral parlour. The strength he demonstrated as a porter at Spitalfields Market belied his bantam-like appearance, often carrying three-tier boxes of onions or a case of 1,064 oranges 4’ 6” high, balanced on a rope knot on the forehead as though it were the most natural thing in the world.
From midnight to mid-morning for fifty years, Syd loaded and unloaded produce, often carrying crates until his shoulders bled. Pranks and scams went hand in hand with the physically tough work, and Syd never failed to be amused by the dozens of cunning tricks he witnessed to ‘improve’ the fruit and veg.
Living in ‘a monkey house full of chattering children’, and later grandchildren, Syd was rarely home, and for decades had a Sunday morning pitch in Petticoat Lane. Stocking it with different items each week, he sold his tat in quick-fire auctions with great panache. Complete dinner services and plaster statues bounced through the air accompanied by the claim of a fanciful pedigree and the promise of a bargain. Curiously, and despite the boast he could sell sand in the desert, Syd is widely remembered for failing to off-load twelve dozen Silver Jubilee mugs due to an unfortunate spelling error.
Sydney Crabb stayed at Spitalfields until it closed in 1991, choosing not to relocate to Hackney Marshes. When he died, one year later aged 68, his funeral, complete with plumed black horses, stopped outside the old market in tribute. Three of Syd’s former workmates kept a commemorative mug as a reminder of his disastrous Silver Jubilee deal - and now they remind them of him.
(2006) transfer-printed ceramic mugs: each 100 x 130 x 100 mm