Tucked away in the East End of London, in the effortlessly cool areas of Shoreditch, Spitalfields and Brick Lane, there is a lively, colourful and eclectic road, where 60 independent shops and a glorious flower market live. This is, Columbia Road.
On a sunny but chilly Sunday morning, my friend and I took a stroll to see what Columbia Road had to offer. From antique and vintage clothes shops, to small art galleries, English and Italian delis and traditional sweet shops. Of course the Flower market was a wash of colour and wonderful scents filled the air.
Columbia Road has delicious cupcake shops, this one in particular caught my eye. The edible sugar roses placed on the heart shaped cake look too good to eat. We had to treat ourselves to a cupcake with a hot drink, it was scrumptious!
The retro style sweet shop, ‘Suck & Chew’ had us in awe as the shelves were filled with jars of hundreds of different types of sweeties! Childhood memories came rushing back as that sweet smell took over our nostrils!
This vintage style bicycle looks just like Nica Play’s new logo! The sense of fun within the sweet shop captures the essence of what the Nica Play collection is all about. It’s about jumping on your bike and going to have an adventure!
I love making things, from cushions to baking cakes. Columbia Road is full of inspirations and the fabric shops are filled with row upon row of beautiful prints, colours and textures. Even the button collections are enormous!
- Among all of the food and fabric shops, there is a quaint book store. The type of book store that you could easily sit down and get lost in your own world for hours.
Although the shops and the market make a lovely day out, our experience was made by the people of Columbia Road. The warmth and enthusiasm of the market stool traders and the happiness of the shop keepers, kept a smile on our faces all day.
Street traders, known as Pearly Kings and Queens, have been part of London’s life for hundreds of years in the East End. They originated from 'Costermongers' and they provided an essential service to London's poor communities. They would sell anything from food, flowers, clothes etc mainly in small quantities from baskets or barrows around the streets & alleyways of East London. They then set up permanent stalls where the more populated areas were and then finally evolved into today's familiar and popular Markets. Pearly King and Queens use style and panache as their cheeky banter draws in their customers. They created what we know today as Cockney rhyming slang, to entertain and also confuse!
The Pearly King and Queen costumes originated in 1880s when a road sweeper, Henry Croft transformed a worn out dress suit and top hat with smoked pearl buttons. He incorporated patterns, symbols and slogans, the most famous being ‘All for Charity’. Henry Croft was a life long friend of the coasters and was influenced by their outlook on life and how they helped one another and those who were less well off. He joined the coasters with their fundraising parade and carnivals to help raise funds for their hospital. Soon after, all 28 boroughs produced their own Pearly costumes, which became a huge hit with onlookers and helped them to raise funds for their charities.
Today the Pearly Kings and Queens give up their spare time whenever they can to concentrate on charitable and educational work. And of course, not forgetting, spreading Cockney goodwill, spirit & cheer!
The Flower market began in the Victorian era as a Saturday trading market, but as the Jewish population grew around the area, a Sunday market was established. The Saturday market became no more, as trade became very slow around the 1940s, but the Flower market evolved into a flourishing market. Initially, the Flower market catered for the local community as many people in the East End had houses with small or no gardens. The market was nearly lost in the 1970s due to the economic decline. However, the locals fought to stop the market being demolished and they won. Since the 1980s the market has become a well loved and very popular market with an international reputation. Today a variety of unusual shops compliment the style of the market and add to the buzzing atmosphere.
Take your Mum on a special day out this Mother’s Day. Columbia Road will be an experience you will always remember.
Nica Kim xxx