As I walked up Bethnal Green Road, there was no doubt I was back in the trendy, refreshingly diverse, colourful, gritty, old streets of East London.
There was a cardboard sign taped over a board outside a cafe offering a free air guitar with every coffee; a church with a street art style mural near the door; creative shop names like A Corner of the World.
In one photo, you can see the way the area is changing and diversifying. You can stop by S & R Kelly and Sons (a family business established in 1915 with this branch the last remaining and open since 1934) for some jellied eels or traditional pie and mash topped with liquor and then pop next door to pick up an Indian sari or Arabian abaya at Amana. On the same road, you’ll find the historic London landmark, Grade-II listed, family-run greasy spoon from 1900, E. Pellicci, where the Kray twins used to eat as kids in the 1940s. You can also stop by the Limehouse Superstore for halal food. Jackfruit, anyone?
But none of that was the reason I was there. Since Jorge’s the manager of the Royal Horticulture Society’s London Shows, I try to visit as many as I can. The Sunday before last, one of their “RHS On Tour” events took their quirky green van and plant-filled stalls over to one of my most favourite places: Columbia Road Flower Market.
They were set up in Ravenscourt Park at the end of the flower market with gardening advice, tables full of succulents and cacti, seeds to plant at home and a few activities like flower crown making with the Secret Adventurers Club (cool name for a business, no?) and Bloom Box (who will soon feature in one of the Small Business Breakfast interviews – stay tuned).
From there, I dove into the crowds on Columbia Road. On the corner, a group of musicians were playing in the street. They gathered a pretty big audience and, at the end, raised their violins and assortment of other instruments in the air to cheers. The flower vendor behind me chuckled to himself and said aloud, “Right then. Anyone want to buy some Hydrangeas?”
If the area around Columbia Road is very diverse, I’d say the market vendors are definitely still very much majority white British from families with roots in east London who have passed their businesses through the generations. There are plenty of Cockney accents and the particular sense humour that comes with this. I think my favourite thing that I saw in the market was a tray of cacti, missing one cactus. The empty slot made the perfect holder for a cup of tea. And there’s not much that’s more British than milky tea.
It was a beautiful day to be outdoors and an afternoon in the sun is always improved even more when you’re surrounded by the scent of thousands of plants and the vibrant sight of them lining a full block stall after stall.
I’m juggling two pretty big freelance projects right now along with my regular 9-5 (and this blog, of course), so I didn’t have time to go in to any of the shops but they are worth a visit in their own right. There are not many places in London (or anywhere really) these days that have quite as many lovely independent shops in one strip.
Down at the far end, there are also a couple of walk up coffee and juice windows and a tapas bar, Laxeiro, with outdoor seats. I haven’t been, but I’ve heard it’s worth a visit. And then there’s the all of the colourful shops, cafes and market areas around the corner of Ezra Street that are well worth seeing too. You could, very easily, spend a full day around here eating Lili Vanilli cakes and buying Mexican decor for your flat along with armfuls of beautiful blooms.
Unfortunately, there was no time for that on this visit and I shortly headed home to hole up with my laptop, Oakley and too many cups of tea.
- I’m 150 pages into this book right now and can’t put it down. Have you read anything interesting lately?
- Dress wish list. Trousers wish list. Shoes wish list.
- How cool is this table? And I love this one too…
- For any London-loving chess players out there, this would make a fun gift!
- Another slice of East London in my Etsy shop!
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