Columbia Road Flower Market - Still here despite everything....
Updated: Apr 27
Columbia Road began its life as a pathway along which sheep were driven to the slaughterhouses at Smithfield. Like much of the land in East London it was finally built on to serve the needs of a growing London population which resulted from the magnetism of Empire during the Victorian era. And yet to visitors and locals Columbia Road, Flower Market is far more important than just a road that sheep once walked upon.
This Victorian Street survived the blitz and many of the braindead of architects of the 1970s who colluded with most corrupt London councils with the aid of local developers to bulldoze this street in the name of progress. Thankfully it was the strength of the people who kept this road alive and it is the strength of their character that makes Columbia Road Market the high energy place it is most days especially when it's market day on Sunday.
Columbia Road is located between Shoreditch & Bethnal Green in the London borough of Tower Hamlets. Some would consider this is where the EastEnd of London begins and where at least back in the day you would find many a cockney.
It’s had several names over the centuries, but Columbia Road was named in honour of the heiress and philanthropist Angela Burdett Coutts, who had not only built Columbia Market (now demolished) but had instituted a Bishopric in British Columbia. The run of Victorian shops we see today were built during the 1860s to service the population of the nearby 'Jesus Hospital Estate'. Apart from providing all the necessities of life, many of the shops were given over to upholstery as an adjunct to the thriving wood trade in the area. Woodturning and milling factories peppered the area until the late twentieth century. The buildings which house the Fleapit Café and Milagros, being two of the largest.
The Flower market began as a Saturday trading market, but as the Jewish population grew a Sunday market was established. The Saturday market lapsed, but the Flower market evolved. Initially, this serviced the local population many of whose houses have small gardens. Plants were brought by handcart from nearby market gardens in Hackney and Islington and market pitches were claimed on the day on the blow of a whistle. The whole area went into a decline in the 1970s. Indeed demolition was mooted, but the locals fought back and the area and market were saved. Since the 1980’s the market has grown into one of international repute. Today a wide range of unusual shops complement it, turning the whole area into one of the most interesting shopping experiences to be had anywhere.
The market is in operation every Sunday from 8 am to 2 pm. Although if you get there between 2 pm and 4 pm there is usually trade still going on. Traders arrive from 4 am to set up their stalls. A wide range of plants, bedding plants, shrubs, bulbs and freshly cut flowers is available at competitive prices. Many of the traders are the second or third generation of their family to sell at the market.
The market also has shops selling bread and cheeses, antiques, garden accessories, unusual international edibles, soap, candlesticks and Buddhist artefacts. The market is popular not only with plant and flower buyers but also with photographers and television companies, who frequently film there and also me! Hence the reason In my latest video finds me visiting my local market.
If you aren't local to London then I would highly recommend to either get the train into London booking via Trainline. Trying to find a place to park in London with each year becomes more and more of a chore - hence if you can jump onto a train for the weekend or just the day it is highly recommended.
Of course, while you are taking in the sights of Columbia Road Flower Market you could also spend the day trying some of the local food that is found in the area on a Sunday. A great way of experiencing this if you are new to the area is to take in a Food Tour. One such tour that I recommend highly is this one:
Your local foodie host will meet you in the heart of Shoreditch where you will be guided through the East End's history, culture and immigration story through the medium of food.
You will experience centuries-old classics alongside the most modern cutting edge dining establishments that tell the story of our fascinating community as you wander through bustling Spitalfields Market and vibrant Brick Lane.
The walk lasts around 2.5 hours, with up to 6 food stops and you certainly won't leave hungry as we fill your belly and your senses with modern Indian, Burmese, Singaporean, British, Australian to Classic Jewish and African delicacies.
This is not your average fish 'n chips, curry, pie and mash food tour of London, as we handpick the best independent places, doing it differently and showcase some of London's best upcoming chefs. The routes and restaurants change regularly but their quality remains their priority. Fully Vegetarian and Vegan options available!
Of course, if you aren't even from the UK and need to fly into London to experience the food and the markets I would suggest flying into one of London's six airports. You are of course more than likely to be able to pick up a good deal if planned ahead. Kayak, Google Flights and Skyscanner should be the go-to websites for searching for the best flight deals. In my personal experience, my favourite place to go for European flight deals is Skyscanner. For some reason, Skyscanner works best when searching for European Flights over any of its rivals.
To find the best place to stay in London I recommend using either Booking.com or Airbnb for your travel needs. I've included both a Booking.com & Airbnb booking portal on this page to allow you to search for bargains and compare prices.
Happy Flower Hunting in the EastEnd of London!
If any of this information has been useful to you and you fancy buying me a Coffee please do click the link below to buy me a Coffee via Ko-Fi.com.
Thank you - Alex van Terheyden AKA The Wondering Englishman