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Contact What Matters: a guide to Columbia Road

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What Matters: a guide to Columbia Road

Welcome to our What Matters guides, a series exploring what makes London the city it is today. Alongside interviews with well-loved local businesses, we’ve got guides to the best independents and articles exploring just how much history and heritage can be packed into one street. Today we’re taking a walk down Columbia Road, home to the world-famous flower market and a whole host of excellent independent businesses.

Nestled between Shoreditch and Hoxton, Columbia Road is home to the world-famous flower market. On Sundays from 8am – 3pm the street is transformed into a bustling hive of activity that encapsulates the character of the East End of London.

Back in the 1800s the market was originally held indoors at the Columbia Market Buildings, funded by Lady Angela Burdett-Coutts. At the time, Lady Burdett-Coutts was considered the richest woman in England and was renowned for her generosity. Influenced by Dickens’ observations on the impoverished areas in London, Lady Burdett-Coutts wished to improve the East of London and provide an opportunity for traders to stimulate the local economy. Unfortunately, her efforts were not particularly successful, and the market closed in 1886.

With the increasing popularity of outdoor stalls, such as those at Covent Garden, the market decided to set up shop at their new home of Columbia Road. It was at this point, the market day changed to Sunday- a big boost for trade as many Jewish traders in the area had previously been excluded from the market as it was held on the Sabbath.

However, it wasn’t until the late 20th century that the flower market gained the commercial success it celebrates today. This is largely thanks to the popularity of gardening shows like Ground Force but also the cries and endless patter from over 40 stall holders, independent boutiques, cafes and vintage shops.

Flower Market

As of summer 2020, new measures have been introduced to allow for social distancing. Stalls are spaced further apart and there is a limit on the number of people who can browse the stalls at one time.

Get there early to avoid long queues or, if you prefer to bag a bargain, visit between 2pm and 3pm when you can put your haggling skills to good use. To help make the most of your time at the market, we’ve done some research on the stalls you must visit.

George

He has been selling flowers at Columbia Road since 1949 and is such an icon at the market that he has no need for a second name.

Speciality: Perennial plants which will last for years. Perfect for a gardening novice.

Saffron Flowers

The stall holders import their flowers from mainland Europe, mainly the Netherlands. This is the perfect stall to grab bunches of flowers to fill your home with beautiful blooms.

Speciality: Tulips in every shade.

Mr and Mrs Grover

Mr & Mrs Grover have owned a stall at the iconic market since 1973. Columbia Road is in the Grovers’ blood so much so that their son owns a flower stall on the road too.

Speciality: The most useful and practical of plants – herbs! Find everything you need to add an extra kick to your Sunday roast.

The Garden Shop

Although this is not a stall, it made our list as it is open on Fridays and Saturdays too. Here you’ll find everything you need to help your urban jungle thrive.

Speciality: Gardening tips. Stall holders are often too busy to pass on their green-fingered wisdom so take a detour to the Garden Shop to make the most of your new purchases.

Cafés and Vintage Shops

The Victorian shops that line the road were originally built in tandem with the Jesus Hospital Estate in the 1860s. The East Enders that populated the social housing estate would do all their essential shopping here. The businesses that occupy the buildings may not necessarily offer essential services nowadays, but the contents hark back to their original occupants. You can while away the afternoon exploring vintage clothing and furniture shops displaying a plethora of antiques.

Get your fill of vintage clothing, jewellery and accessories at Glitterati or combine a love of antique homeware with a much-needed pick-me-up by heading into Cake Hole Café @ Vintage Heaven.  The shop is filled with kitchenware and crockery from years gone-by so you can be sure to find some unique pieces to brighten your home. You will also find an abundance of traditional cakes and homemade cream teas to satisfy a sweet tooth.

Look a little further along the road to Peponita for some extra retail therapy. Here you’ll find shoes that are as beautiful as they are practical. Designed to be stylish and timeless, the shoes are also made to weather busy London life. You can also grab a coffee and a slice of homemade cake while you browse.

Pubs

Established in 1760, The Birdcage stands on the corner of Columbia Road and is an integral part of the road’s history. Despite the building being damaged during World War II, the pub remained open throughout. The building has since been restored and is now owned by the Draft House group.

A short walk up the road, you can grab the perfect Sunday roast at The Royal Oak without knowing about its colourful past. It may strike you as familiar as it was used as a set in both Kray twins films but this pub is an exception to the idea of East End pubs being overrun by thugs and gangsters in 1960s London. The Royal Oak was an important meeting place for the East End gay community who were welcomed by the resident drag act, a transvestite couple called Lil and Maisie. They began performing during World War II and continued into the 60s.

Enjoyed this article? We’ve got plenty more in the What Matters blog series- why not find out more about Islington’s Upper Street?

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An exceptionally busy lettings market throughout London Read More
What should cohabiting couples consider before buying a property? Read More
Hammersmith Bridge reopens to pedestrians Read More
What are the changes to the Right to Rent legislation? Read More
What does the lettings market for family homes look like in central London? Read More
Exceptional demand for family homes in south London Read More
London sales market set for one of the busiest summers on record Read More
Nine of the most luxurious homes on the market Read More

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