Columbia Road market

Columbia Road Flower Market is one of many markets in Central London; a street flower market, it is located in East London. Columbia Road is a road of Victorian shops off the Hackney Road in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets. The shops along Columbia road have opening times entirely aligned with market hours: Sunday morning only. Only the Royal Oak, pictured below, the chemist and the local Londis are open at other times.


Columbia Market was established in 1869 as a covered food market, by the philanthropist Angela Burdett-Coutts for 400 stalls; with flats above, in a tall Gothic building. However, a planned railway line (for the delivery of fish) was never built, and in any case traders preferred selling outdoors. The market closed in 1886, after use as warehouses and small workshops, the original building was demolished in 1958.

The market was moved to Sunday, by Act of Parliament, in order to accommodate the needs of local Jewish traders. This also provided the opportunity for Covent Garden and Spitalfields traders to sell their stock left over from Saturday. The enduring love for cut flowers and plants amongst people in the East End, was introduced by Huguenot immigrants (together with a fascination for caged song birds).

The market suffered in World War II, from rules prioritising food production, and went into a long decline. A large civilian shelter, beneath the market, suffered a direct hit by a 50 kg bomb, on the night of Saturday, 7 September, 1940, at the height of The Blitz. From the 1960s, new rules forced traders to attend regularly, and the market enjoyed a new resurgence with the increasing popularity of gardening programmes.

Modern market

The market is in operation every Sunday from 8 am to 2 pm. Traders arrive from 4 am every Sunday morning to set up their stalls. A wide range of plants, bedding plants, shrubs, bulbs and freshly cut flowers are available at competitive prices.

The market also has a number of shops selling bread and cheeses, antiques and garden accessories. There are also a number of outlets selling unusual international edibles, soap, candlesticks and Buddhist artefacts.

Much of Columbia road is part of the Jesus Green Hospital Estate.

The market is popular not only with plant and flower buyers but also with photographers and television companies who regularly film there.

One can buy oysters next to Jones' Store for £1.50 on Sunday mornings. Situated in the heart of the market, Café Columbia is revered for its freshly filled bagels and is known to have been frequented by members of the seminal British band The Libertines. Further down the road, the Stringray Globe sells pizzas and beer for competitive prices to a crowd of international bohemians and the parents of local residents. Columbia Road is now home to the smallest coffee shop in the world at number 150, StART COFFEE.

Classic Terracotta caters for gardeners potting needs, stocking pots, planters and compost. There is a regular stall selling "Columbia Carriers"; it is an inexpensive plastic/fabric bag with a large flat base (ideal for carrying trays of plants).what's more the steet is now home to a traditional sweet shop, selling such things as Army and Navy, Sherbet dabs, Black Jacks and Coltsfoot rock SUCK & CHEW. at number 130.

London "Burkers"

Columbia Market was built upon an area known as Novia Scotia Gardens. This had been a brick field, north-east of St Leonard's, Shoreditch, the brick clay had been exhausted and the area begun to be filled in with waste (leystall). Cottages (probably evolving from sheds, serving the gardens), came to be built here, but were undesirable as they remained below ground level, and so were prone to flooding.

In July 1830, John Bishop and Thomas Williams rented no. 3 Nova Scotia Garden, from a Sarah Trueby. Together with Michael Shields, a Covent Garden porter, and James May, also known as Jack Stirabout and Black Eyed Jack, they formed a notorious gang of Resurrection men, stealing freshly buried bodies for sale to anatomists. On November 7th, 1831 the suspiciously fresh corpse of a 14 year old boy was delivered, by these men, to the King's College School of Anatomy, in the Strand. Joseph Sadler Thomas, a superintendent of police, searched the cottages at Nova Scotia Gardens, and found items of clothing in a well in one of the gardens, and also in one of the privies, suggesting multiple murders. The Resurrection men were arrested, and by an extraordinary arrangement, the police opened the premises for viewing, charging 5 shillings. The public carried away the dwelling, piece by piece, as souvenirs. Bishop and Williams were hanged at Newgate on 5 December 1831 for the murder. The police had tentatively identified the body as that of Carlo Ferrari, an Italian boy, from Piedmont, but at their trial Bishop and Williams admitted it to be that of a Lincolnshire cattle drover, on his way to Smithfield.

By 1840, the area had degenerated into a notorious slum. It is for this reason that Burdett-Coutts purchased the land, and established Columbia Market.


The market lies some distance from Liverpool Street station and Bethnal Green tube station and Old Street tube station; but is well served by bus routes 26, 48 and 55. Shoreditch High Street railway station will open in 2010.

Parking restrictions and eager traffic wardens make parking near the market difficult. One solution is to park for free on the Hackney side of Hackney Road where traffic wardens do not operate on a Sunday.

Notes and references

See also

  • Helen MacDonald - Legal Bodies: Dissecting Murderers at the Royal College of Surgeons, London 1800-1832 - in Traffic: An Interdisciplinary Postgraduate Journal, No.2, 2003 pp.9-32 ISSN 1447 2538
  • Sarah Wise - The Italian Boy: A Tale of Murder and Body Snatching in 1830s London (Metropolitan Books, 2004) ISBN 0805075372
  • Image of the 'Burker' cottages, at City of London library

External links

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