Columbia Road, Tower Hamlets

London’s busiest botanical bazaar, located in a mainly Bangladeshi part of Bethnal Green

A Columbia Road stall­holder smiles in the rain

A Columbia Road stall­holder clutches a cheering mug of rainwater

There has been a market in Columbia Road almost since Bethnal Green came into existence and in 1869 the philan­thropic Baroness Burdett-​​Coutts funded the construction of a grand edifice, not unlike St Pancras station in appearance, to house the purveyors of affordable fresh food to the people of the East End.

It was intended that the market should have its own railway line and station but these never mater­i­alised and the market was not a success. The traders returned to their less-​​regulated street pitches, which the local residents preferred.

The building was subsequently put to a variety of uses, including as cabinet making workshops for Jewish immigrants. The magni­ficent Gothic fantasy was demolished in 1958 to make way for some of the most ordinary blocks of flats in the East End.

The presence of a strong Jewish community got the street market a Sunday licence, as it did in Petticoat Lane, and as Sunday trading became estab­lished the weekday market died out.

From as early as 1927 various influences pushed Columbia Road towards a special­isation in flowers and plants. The market now operates from 8am to 2pm every Sunday, with more than fifty stalls and almost as many cafés, shops, boutiques and galleries – many of a pleasingly bohemian character – most on Columbia Road itself but also spilling into Ezra Street.

Postal district: E2
Further reading: Linda Wilkinson, Columbia Road – a Strange Kind of Paradise, self-​​published, 2013
Website: Columbia Road flower market


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