The flower market at Columbia Road

Published by Emma Lee-Potter in on Wednesday 15th February 2012

The flower market in London’s Columbia Road has been on my “must visit” list for years. Every Sunday the narrow street in the heart of the East End is filled with stalls selling everything from hyacinths to narcissi to ten-foot banana trees. I knew it would be exactly my sort of thing.

Reading Joanna Trollope’s Daughters-in-Law a couple of weeks back reminded me it was high time I got my act together and went. In the book, graphic designer Luke lives in a flat “at the very top of a tall and elaborate brick building in Arnold Circus, a stone’s throw… from Columbia Road flower market, from Brick Lane, from – oh my God – Hoxton.”

So this weekend, with my husband in the Far East and my son whizzing down an Italian mountainside on a snowboard (scary), I reckoned I had the perfect opportunity. Luckily my student daughter lives just round the corner and she sweetly agreed to come with me. Actually, her favourite clubs, bars and “the best bagel shop in the world” are in that neck of the woods so she didn’t take much persuading.

Sure enough, Columbia Road is everything it’s cracked up to be. Open from eight am till “three-ish” every Sunday, the place is alive with stallholders yelling “three bunches for ten pounds,” shoppers of all ages clutching flowers wrapped in brown paper and 20-somethings dressed in tweedy, old-fashioned outfits that look straight out of a Dickens novel.

Along with the flower stalls, the Columbia Road shops (open on Sundays) are pretty top-notch too. Between the pair of us we bought cards from Ryantown (artist Rob Ryan’s shop), homemade cakes from a delightfully-named bakery and gift shop called Treacle and two gold buttons from Beyond Fabrics for my daughter’s coat.

From there it was just a brisk walk (it was blooming cold) round to Brick Lane. Famed for its curry houses and vintage shops, the place was as busy as Oxford Street in the pre-Christmas rush. Street artists sat sketching, visitors queued up to buy curries and bagles (tucking in appreciatively as they walked down the street) and old and young alike played chess and a game called Carrom (apparently a cross between draughts and billiards) at outdoor board tables.

Hmmm. Curry, flowers and board games – what better way to spend a Sunday afternoon?

Images: Columbia Road (top), Arnold Circus (above)

12 comments so far

  • It sounds a lovely day.

    I don’t know that part of the world at all, and ought to go some time – you make it sound well worth a visit.

    I tell a lie – I read Brick Lane so I know the immediate area in which it’s located very well!

  • Thanks, Liz. I didn’t know east London at all either but now my daughter’s a student round there I’m loving discovering the area. I loved Brick Lane, the novel, too – but didn’t enjoy her latest so much.

  • Nostalgic memories of visiting with a new grandchild and her parents, when they lived in Homerton (thank god for the wonderful hospital there). We love that part – a thrill for us a few weeks ago, walking down Fournier Street to Brick Lane when Gilbert, or was it George, came out of his house in his tweed 3 piece suit of a sludgy green with matching cap. You should go to the Whitechapel – not just for the art, but super cafe! And City Road has wonderful galleries, unexpectedly, being rather near Hoxton. Ramble, ramble but you get my drift – I love East London.

  • I have spent many happy hours wandering around that part of London and yes, the best all night bagel shop in the world! They don’t have those luxuries in North Yorkshire! Did you walk down Fournier Street near Spitalfields Market? Lovely street with original georgian architecture…I’ve just noticed the above comment!!

  • I can’t believe you never went to Columbia Rd when we lived there for 7 years, Emma! We went again recently and it had been a tad gentrified, sadly, but was still great fun. Anytime you want to go or to Spitalfields, I’m your gal!

  • How wonderful, Jackie. Next time I visit I’m going to walk down Fournier Street and go to Whitechapel and City Road too. Thanks so much for all the recommendations. Hopefully I might spot Gilbert and/or George too!

  • Hi Kim. My daughter’s thrilled that you agree about the brilliant all night bagel shop. We went at lunchtime but it was still delicious. I’ll definitely go to Fournier Street too next time – thank you for recommending. And even though North Yorkshire doesn’t have all night bagel shops, it’s a pretty special place to live!

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