Marco Wouters: flower seller

5 Jun

Everyone on Islington Faces Blog has a story. Belgian-born Marco Wouters has been running Angel Flowers opposite Islington Green for 20 years.  He knows who loves who, who is saying sorry and which houses have been visited by a new baby. But amongst the 87 varieties of flowers for sale there’s also a cracking history of how Upper Street is in constant flux.  Let’s start by finding out about the shop’s macabre good luck charm. Interview by Nicola Baird

Marco Wouters points at the burnt beams in the ceiling of his business Angel Flowers.

Marco Wouters points at the burnt beams in the ceiling of his business Angel Flowers – possibly rescued from the Great Fire of London in 1666. The shop’s ceiling hides another secret.

“I’d be intrigued to know if there are any more cats in Islington,” says Marco Wouters, as he kneels on his office floor and starts to pull up the loose wooden boards by the stairs. Out of the second floor window there’s a thoroughly modern view of the Business Design Centre and the Hilton Hotel. Nearby some of his 10 staff are taking internet orders for flowers.

Slowly Marco’s efforts are rewarded and the dark shape under the floorboards snaps into focus – it’s clearly a mummified cat. There are four skinny legs, still with claws, and a long tail. The beast lies outstretched as if asleep under the floorboards. A hint perhaps of the magic and superstition that troubled-Londoners used years ago to deal with family and business worries?

Has anyone else found a preserved cat in an old Islington building?

Has anyone else found a preserved cat in an old Islington building? This one still has a hint of fur and is still at Angel Flowers.

“The cat’s 400 years old,” reckons Marco. “It was in the wall of the next door house – number 60 and 61 was originally one building built after the Great Fire, maybe in the 1670s. I was told by a customer that there were no other buildings when it was first built and this road (he points to the Upper Street/Essex Road junction) was known as the Hedgeway.” He stops speaking for a moment, seemingly lost in thought as to how Islington has changed over the centuries. “You’d have been able to see all of London from here when it was the only house…”

Downstairs in the shop, filled with beautiful blooms plus some astonishingly-coloured cacti, you can clearly see vast, partially burnt ceiling beams (see photo at top). Marco says these beams originally ran into the next door premises, although they were replaced by metal girders when the building next door was refurbished. It’s now a popular Japanese restaurant

Helen sweeps the old York flagstones that were once part of the outside pathway around 60 Upper Street.

Helen sweeps the old York flagstones that were once part of the outside pathway around 60 Upper Street.

What customers know
“Somebody came in and said these oak beams are from ships or they were in the Great Fire and got recycled – it is a very simple building. And it’s not listed, the Building Design Centre used to own it. Somebody re-did the roof and knocked down the chimney. When I moved into it in 1995 it was a second-hand clothing shop known as the Glorious Clothing Company which sold vintage, obviously. One of my customers said that 50 years ago  it was a spectacle shop and there used to be bedsits – she’d lived here as a student.”

Nowadays 60 Upper Street is a burst of colour squeezed by O’Neills and the Japanese restaurant, but it’s clearly a unique Islington survivor. Could it be because the cat was put in the house for good luck?

“She was next door – builders put her alive in the wall and she’d have starved to death,” explains Marco apologetically. “People after the plague (1665) and the Great Fire (1666) were quite superstitious! I want to stay here for a long time, but if I do leave I’d like the new owner to keep this cat.”

Marco lifts up the loose floorboards to reveal a 400 year old mummified cat - put there for good luck.

Marco lifts up the loose floorboards to reveal a 400 year old mummified cat – put there for good luck.

Why here?
Unlike the cat Marco chose to make his home and business in Islington. He grew up in Belgium – so speaks Flemish, Spanish, French and German. His fifth language is English “it may have moved up a bit now,” he says with a self-effacing grin. “I came to Islington for a drink and it reminded me of a little town in a big town, like anywhere in Europe, not London. I lived in Smithfield for a while and I’m now near Chapel Market. Living here you don’t have to leave – nearly everything is here, though perhaps there are too many big chains – but they bring people in as well.”

marcowouters_flowers

WHAT DO FLOWER SELLERS KNOW ABOUT HUMAN NATURE?

Q What’s changed?

I used to know everyone and have many more regulars in the first 10 years, but that was before supermarkets sold flowers. Now business is functions, account customers, corporates, lots of weddings and civil partnerships. For the last few years the shop’s been on line so we can deliver flowers to people in Islington who have friends and family overseas.”

Q What’s the best flower?

“I prefer to take tulips home. I get excited every three months when a new season starts and new flowers arrive.”

Q Who buys flowers?

“There are quite a few sorries, it’s mostly birthdays or new born babies. And that love thing still keeps coming up…”

Q Best place for lunch?

Try and support your neighbours. I go to Don Matteos café, 74 Upper Street, N1.

Angel Flowers is at 60 Upper Street, London, N1. The shop offers same day flower deliveries (if orders taken by 2pm), tel: 7704 5312. For opening hours see http://www.angel-flowers.co.uk/contact-us.php

Find out more

  • Detailed info about Angel’s development here.
  • Islington flames. There was a fire along Islington High Street in 1839. The so-called Second Great Fire of London during World War Two – which produced the iconic photo of St Paul’s Cathedral surviving the flames – was on 29-30 Dec 1940. The blaze stretched from St Paul’s churchyard to south Islington, see here
  • More about mummified lucky cats from the Daily Telegraph (2009) and the Daily Mail (2012).

Over to you

Do you know of any other buildings in Islington that boast a mummified cat, if so please leave a comment or let Marco know at Angel Flowers? By the way, if you’d like to feature on this blog, or make a suggestion about anyone who grew up, lives or works in Islington please let me know, via nicolabaird.green@gmail.com. Thank you.

If you liked this interview please SHARE on twitter or Facebook. Even better follow islingtonfacesblog.com (see menu top right).

This blog is inspired by Spitalfields Life written by the Gentle Author.

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4 Responses to “Marco Wouters: flower seller”

  1. homemadekids June 6, 2013 at 8:56 am #

    From Facebook:
    Elaine: What an interesting article :))

    Christian: Not very lucky for the cat. But fascinating story.

    Vicki: Yep v interesting

  2. homemadekids June 21, 2013 at 3:32 pm #

    From Alex at Islington Museum:
    Hey there,

    I’m leaving here today but I just wanted to let you know that we do indeed have a mummified cat too! Strange world. http://www.islington.gov.uk/islington/history-heritage/heritage_museum/Pages/aboutusmus.aspx?extra=6
    Good luck with everything!

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. 10 of the best Islington interviews | Islington Faces Blog - November 13, 2013

    […] Marco Wouters, flower seller  (5/6/13) – I popped into his shop by Islington Green to buy a gift and noticed the beams were really old. Turned out it’s the oldest house on Upper Street and even boasts a 400 year old mummified cat, bricked up into the walls of the house for luck. During the interview Marco got on to his knees and removed the floorboards so my 12 year old daughter and I could get a proper view of his bit of Islington history. […]

  2. Cass Farrell: Small Restorations boss | Islington Faces Blog - October 8, 2014

    […] found a mummified cat inbetween floorboards, see interview with Marco Wouters at Angel Flowers, see here. “We’ve found old coins and a newspaper clipping from the 1920s though,” he […]

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