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c 1900-1950

The Basket Men of Covent Garden

For 300 years, Covent Garden was London's market for fruit, vegetables and flowers.

You’d be hard pressed to find fresh produce for sale in Covent Garden today. It is a (reasonably) tasteful tourist shopping destination. But for more than 300 years, from the 1650s until 1974, Covent Garden was London’s market for fruit, vegetables and flowers, all carried in baskets.

1925: Market trader Alfred Bailey practising with 15 baskets at Covent Garden, London, for the basket-carrying championships.
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These pictures show some of the hundreds of market porters who transported the many and varied forms of garden produce from the market buildings to their end buyers, in a basket (or more often than not, baskets) balanced on their heads. Once offloaded to the waiting carts and (later) trucks, the goods would then be driven as swiftly as possible across the length and breadth of Britain.

1930: Transporting market baskets
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It likely won’t surprise you to learn that the porters were more than a little competitive about their vertical stacking prowess, and competitions were common. In 1933, ‘Basket’ Jim Sainsbury set a record, balancing 15 baskets on his head. When he went for 20, Jim found his talents were exceeded.

1926: A porter carrying many baskets on his head
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1922: A Covent Garden market porter
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1928: Basketman Jim Sainsbury
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1915: A market trader with a stack of baskets
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1931: E. W. White, porter, carrying twenty baskets stacked to King Street, Covent Garden
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1925: A Covent Garden carman crossing a temporary Waterloo Bridge, London
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1925: A porter at Covent Garden Market, London, carries twenty baskets on his head
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1933: A competitor in the Basket Carrying Championships at Covent Garden, London
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