‘Never seen anything like it’: Ridley Road Market brought to a standstill for popular trader’s funeral procession

People paid their respects as the hearse made its way through the market. Photograph: Julia Gregory

Ridley Road Market fell still today to mark the recent passing of a much-loved trader who had worked there for more than 40 years.

Steven Clark, who was known as The Suitcase Man, died last month at the age of 57 after a short illness.

In an unusual step, his funeral procession visited the market so friends and customers could pay their respects.

Clark’s hearse, accompanied by family and friends, stopped by his pitch – kept vacant by market bosses since his death – so mourners could offer condolences.

Guests were asked to wear a little bit of pink – Clark’s trademark colour  – to celebrate his life.

Floral tributes included one in the shape of a suitcase.

Shoppers and traders gathered near his pitch at the junction wth Colvestone Crescent and shared their memories of Clark.

They then gave a round of applause before the procession left.

Ali Nedim, who has a pitch selling men’s clothes, knew Clark for 40 years.

He said: “He was my neighbour on the market and my best friend. He was a great guy. I started here when I was 21 and he started when he was about nine years old – he was working on Saturdays.

“He loved his market.”

Ridley Road royalty, Steven Clark. Photograph: Clark family

Nedim said he would wait for Clark to arrive at around 6.30am and the pair would have a coffee and a chat before the market opened for the day.

They watched one another’s stalls if they had to leave to fetch stock, and their families grew up together.

Clark has three daughters and three grandchildren, with another grandchild on the way.

“He loved his family,” said Nedim.

He recalled how his friend prepared for seasonal sales.

“He loved Christmas time. He told me he would be selling trolleys. He sold a lot of trolleys at Christmas time.”

Summer was peak time for selling suitcases to residents heading off on their holidays.

Nedim added: “It’s important to have this send-off. He loved his market. He was born here. Every day it’s been like this – customers can’t believe he has died.”

On the choice of colours, he explained: “Steve loves his pink. He wears pink trainers, he loves the colour pink.”

Customers and traders have filled three books of condolence set up by Hackney’s market office.

Peter Mattheou, senior markets officer at Hackney Council, said of today’s event: “In all my years at the market I have never seen anything like it.”

On Saturday 10 June, traders will be joined by senior Hackney politicians to unveil a bench in Clark’s memory near his pitch.