Columbia Road

Columbia Road, Tower Hamlets

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

Columbia Road, with a tilt-shift lens

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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* The picture of Columbia Road at the top of this page is cropped from an original photograph, copyright Aurelien Guichard, at Flickr, made available under the Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic Licence. Any subsequent reuse is hereby freely permitted under the terms of that licence.