Born in East London on 23 December 1937, Barry enjoyed a decades-long relationship with the Fruit and Vegetable Market. This began at the old Covent Garden and carried on when the market estate moved from central London to Nine Elms in 1974.
A proud Cockney, Barry famously told people that he could hear the Bow Bells from the hospital when he was a baby (according to tradition, a true Cockney must be born within earshot of the sound of the bells at St Mary-le-Bow, a historic church in the City of London). “Barry was a massive character and a true pioneer of the fruit and vegetable industry,” says Gary Marshall, Chairman of the Covent Garden Tenants' Association.
Aged just 14 when he left school to work alongside his father Herman Ruffell, Barry quickly took to working on the family’s fruit and vegetable business. On one of his first days his colleagues got him to unsuspectedly eat a fiery chilli, which proved a new experience for the young market trader. He eventually set up his own successful business, BS Ruffell, that would bring new technologies to the market, previously unseen at that point.
Barry is known as being the first person to install a walk-in fridge (known as 'cold pots' in the trade), to keep his produce at the perfect temperature for his customers. So successful was the new innovation, that Barry would often charge other market businesses to keep their produce in his cold pot area!
As one of the best-known traders on the market, Barry enjoyed a hard-earned reputation for being passionate and exacting when it came to fresh produce. “He would only accept the very highest standards of produce and would always say you have to pay extra for quality,” explains his son Mark, taking the time to reflect on Barry’s long and distinguished career at Covent Garden Market.
“He was a unique individual and loved by so many people. He was very opinionated and they really broke the mold when they made him. He never took a sick day in his life and really loved working at the market. When I was younger, I had a sign made up that read ‘Everyone is entitled to Barry Ruffell’s opinion’ and this was something that we always joked about.”
Proud of his Jewish heritage, Barry was a passionate Tottenham Hotspur fan, which would often lead to banter on the market between fans of rival teams. In later years, Barry enjoyed huge respect in the market as an elder of the Fruit and Vegetable wholesalers and often joked that he was ‘the last man standing’ from the original market traders.
“He loved everything to do with space, black holes and the planets and had read ‘A Brief History of Time’ by Stephen Hawking at least four times,” says Mark. “I remember him using fruit from the market to explain how the solar system worked, with a grapefruit being the sun and smaller fruit for all the planets.”
A true market legend and a larger-than-life personality, Barry passed away on 13 January 2021. Everyone at New Covent Garden Market has Barry in our thoughts and send their heartfelt condolences to Mark and the rest of the family.