Lost London – Columbia Market…

An image of the market in The Illustrated London News.

No, this is not the Columbia Road flower market we know today. This was a short-lived vast gothic market place built in the Bethnal Green in the mid-19th century to serve the East End.

The project was financed by philanthropist (and for a time Britain’s richest woman) Angela Burdett-Coutts and represented an attempt to get the costermongers off the streets.

The building, designed by Henry Darbyshire, was built in 1869, constructed of yellow brick with Portland stone cornices and a green slate roof.

It consisted of four blocks of buildings with arcades built around a central quadrangle which was open to the sky and featured some 400 stalls located under cover. There were also a series of shops with residences located above and a clock-tower which sounded every quarter hour.

The market, which sold fresh produce, was run by Burdett-Coutts’ secretary and future husband (they married in 1881) William Burdett-Coutts who built connections with a fishing fleet to supply its vendors.

He had planned a rail link with Bishopsgate to serve the market but that never happed and competition from Billingsgate and other markets – and the fact the costermongers preferred the streets – eventually saw it go out of business. It closed only a relatively few years later in 1886.

Taken over for a short time by the City of London Corporation, it was returned to the Baroness in 1874, briefly reopened 10 years later, then, according to The London Encyclopaedia, let out as workshops before finally being demolished in 1958.

A few remnants, including some rather grand iron railings and lion statues, remain.

10 Historic London Markets – 8. Columbia Road Flower Market…

Originally founded in the early 1800s, the Columbia Road market in East London has since evolved into a specialist flower market on Sundays.

First emerging as a general street market in the early 1800s, the market was formalised in the mid 1800s when banking heiress Angela Burdett-Coutts financed the construction of the now demolished – and somewhat architecturally fanciful – Columbia Market. This opened in 1869 at the northern end of the road but didn’t prove a great success. Despite efforts to save it – including apparently relaunching it as a fish market – it closed in 1885.

The market building – which is said to have resembled the sort of market hall that might be found in rural areas – was later used as a warehouse but after suffering bomb damage in World War II were demolished.

The market, meanwhile, reappeared on the street and as the area’s Jewish population grew, moved to a Sunday, a decision which allowed traders from Covent Garden and Spitalfields to trade their leftover goods from the previous day.

The introduction of new regulations – including those introduced in the 1960s requiring traders to attend regularly – saw the market gradually transform itself into the colorful market selling cut flowers, plants and bulbs you can find there today. Popular with film makers and photographers thanks to the colourful backdrop it provides, the surrounding streets also feature a range of interesting independent shops and cafes.

WHERE: Columbia Road, Bethnal Green (nearest Tube stations are Shoreditch, Liverpool Street, Aldgate East and Bethnal Green); WHEN: 8am to 2pm Sunday; COST: Free; WEBSITE(S): www.columbiaroad.info/www.columbia-flower-market.freewebspace.com/index.html.

PICTURE: Dynasoar/www.istockphoto.com