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Columbia Road

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Tower Hamlets

A horticultural market area in a mainly Bangladeshi part of Bethnal Green. There has been a market in Columbia Road almost since Bethnal Green came into existence and in 1869 the philanthropic Baroness Burdett-Coutts initiated 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 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 along the eastern half of the street, with more than fifty stalls and almost as many shops and cafés.

click for area map (opens in a new window)
A Columbia Road stallholder clutches a cheering mug of rainwater

The tight parking restrictions are rigorously enforced on Sunday, so bring plenty of change for pay and display machines, and be prepared to cruise around for a while until you find a spot.

Postal district: E2
Further reading: Linda Wilkinson, Watercress But No Sandwiches: 300 Years of the Columbia Road Area, Jhera, 2001 – winner of the Raymond Williams Award for Community Publishing

click to visit the official Columbia Road website

Brewer's London Phrase & Fable

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