Delightful Shops to Body Snatching - There's more to Columbia Road than its Flower Market

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Columbia Road - Beyond Fabrics

 Beyond Fabrics

One of the most charming things to do in London on a Sunday morning is to visit Columbia Road Flower Market, selling all things horticultural from cut flowers, bedding plants to garden accessories. This very popular market is open from 8am to about 3pm and attracts both locals and those in the know who desend on it and its adjacent quirky shops. However I’d recommend visiting on a Saturday, when the crowds can be avoided while many of the delightful shops and cafes are still open. 

Beyond Fabrics are just one of the delightful shops, stocking vintage inspired fabrics and offering craft workshops and courses.

Columbia Road - Leopold Buildings

Leopold Building - Victorian, philanthropic housing

Today this area which lies on the fringes of Shoreditch. in one of the most desirable quarters of London's East End. However in the 1800s this area was one of the most squalid parts of London, a notorious slum whose inhabitants experienced abject poverty. So awful were these conditions that reputedly one in four children died before their first birthday.  It was during the mid 1800s that the area started to attract the attention of philanthropists who funded a variety of community projects.  The Leopold Building, the imposing block of flats pictured above, is a surviving example of the type of benevolence of this period, dating from 1872 it was built for Sydney Waterlow's Improved Industrial Dwellings Co.

Angela Burdett – Coutts, the famous banking heiress, financed a huge gothic style market hall with soaring turrets which was intended to replace several street markets and to enable the traders to work undercover. The market hall started as a Saturday trading market but was changed to a Sunday to accomodate the needs of the Jewish traders. It was opened in 1869 but the traders preferred to continue to work outside and so the building went through several different uses before it was eventually demolished in 1960. 

The area where the market was built was previously known as Nova Scotia Gardens, which had a gruesome connection with body snatching. It was there in the early 1830s John Bishop and his neighbour Thomas Williams were living, who were together with James May all part of a gang of resurrection men or body snatchers. They became known as the London Burkers, as like the more infamous Burke and Hare, they too had turned to murder to meet the lucrative demands for cadaver or corpses. When the police investigated they discovered clothing belonging to one of the victims in Bishop’s house. Unbelievably the police requested that the landlord open, what became known as the House of Murder, for the  public to view the property for which they were charged an entrance fee of 5 shillings. 

Columbia Road - Angela Flanders

Angela Flanders

In more recent years the success of the Flower Market has seen the surrounding area being transformed into a fantastic shopping destination with a great selection of vintage shops, art galleries, pubs, cafes and restaurants.

I visited the Saturday just before Christmas and found the stores had a fabulous selection of original and usual gifts which makes it a good place to shop if you are looking for something special.  There are just too many delightful places to visit so on this blog post I’ve included just a few of them here.

Angela Flanders perfumery was established in 1982 and offers their own range of over 35 unique fragrances, bath and beauty products and candles. 

Columbia Road - Elephicks


Elphicks is owned by Sharon Elphick, a textile designer, who uses the space as her studio during the week and as a shop and gallery at the weekends to display her and other artists work.

Columbia Road - Nelly Duff

Nelly Duff

Nelly Duff is a screen print store whose walls are lined with contemporary art work. 

 Columbia Road - Suck and Chew

 Suck & Chew

Suck and Chew is a vintage sweet store and the perfect place to visit to stock up on supplies of Kola Kubes (my favourites).  

 Columbia Road - Vintage Heaven

 Father Christmas in Vintage Heaven

Vintage Heaven is a fabulous retro store stocking vintage china, glass and household objects. Don't forget to walk to the back of the shop to discover Cakehole Cafe, their vintage tea rooms offering delicous cream teas and cakes. See my blog for more information about their fabulous cream teas.

Practical Information 

Address:  Columbia Road, Bethnal Green, London, E2

Nearest Stations:  Hoxton in Travelcard zone 1/2 or Shoreditch High Street, Travelcard zone 1 or Bethnal Green in Travelcard zone 2 and its a 10 - 15 minutes walk from each of the station. For a more detailed location please refer to map.

Opening Hours:  Please check website for opening times


If you enjoyed reading this you might like my blog on nearby Spitalfields Charnel House.

The author of this blog is a qualified City of London and City of Westminster Tour Guide who leads guided walks combining world famous landmarks with hidden treasures often missed by the crowds.