Growing up I had a huge dislike towards plants. Reason being that my lovely mum had and still has the greenest fingers on earth, and I never did. Just look at her immaculate garden back home in Lithuania.
To me, plants and gardening was always a chore rather than a fun pastime. I was instructed to water the plants in my room (which I did not care about; why were they even there!?) and I would have to talk to them, and apologise to each and every one if I “injured” them due to my clumsiness.
My mother, the sage that she is, always used to say: “One day you will not want to live without plants! You will see!” I would just roll my eyes at her and walk away, like all teenagers do.
Lo and behold, 20 years later and my home houses at least 10 plants (5 of them are orchids that I am waging an unending war with; I am not giving up and need to see if they re-flower). Now it is my mothers turn to roll her eyes at me. “What happened to my daughter?” – she exclaims every single FaceTime conversation we are having and I’m showing her the progress of my green inhabitants.
Living in London gives you opportunities to buy flowers everywhere, whether it is Sainsbury’s or a corner shop. However, seeing that I am also an explorer of all things wonderful, I have to introduce to you Columbia Flower Market. It is a must site to visit not only for the locals but for tourists as well.
Columbia Flower Market is situated in East London, off Hackney Road, and is surrounded by a throng of lovely Victorian shops where you can buy terracotta pots for your flowers or bespoke jewellery for your significant other. It is open only on Sundays, 8AM-2PM. Interesting fact: When the flower market started, it was originally opened on Saturdays. It was moved to Sunday by Act of Parliament to accommodate the needs of local Jewish traders.
The market was established in 1869 by a philanthropist Angela Burdett-Coutts, and to begin with it was a food market with 400 food stalls. Angela’s husband owned a fishing fleet in North Sea and they thought they could use some of the space in the market to sell their catch. It was a great idea in theory, but practically and financially it did not work out due to the popularity of the Billingsgate Fish Market. Thus, the food market died out and was closed in 1886. Later on, it was taken over by the growing popularity of Flower merchants.
I’m always fascinated not only by the beauty of the locations I visit but also what fascinating stories each location can tell. And London has many interesting tales.
East London has never had the best of reputations. Each borough had some interesting personalities, crazy stories, and tales. And that was the case for this particular area too. Columbia Road got famous because of a gang named the Resurrection Men. I have to admit, when I think of East London, I think of Jack the Ripper. Such a famous character, so many books written and movies have been done about him (and Johnny Depp in From Hell – to die for!)
However, Resurrection men – never heard of them before. Who were they? Transpires, they were a notorious gang of thieves who used to steal freshly buried bodies and they used to sell them to the anatomists. I mean WOW! I guess you had to find ‘creative’ ways to make ends meet in those days!? Unfortunately for them, they got caught, tried for murder (as one of those freshly delivered bodies was a bit too suspicious, did not die of natural causes!) and hanged at Newgate on 5th December 1931. The house where they used to reside was open to public for viewings, like a museum, and the visitors took the house piece by piece away with them as a memento. Now this story could fuel anyone’s imagination! My mind is buzzing with possible stories. If only I was a writer!
The area is fascinating because of its association to World War II. The market went into decline due to increased demand for food production (who needs flowers when people are starving!). And most importantly, at the height of The Blitz (7th September 1940), a 50kg bomb hit a civilian shelter beneath the market.
There are many more stories I’m sure (like how the road originally was used to herd the sheep to a slaughter house). But I am sure you get the point.
Despite all of these unfortunate events, the market is now back in full swing and it attracts thousands of visitors on a monthly basis. So, if you are stuck for ideas what to do on a Sunday, grab your best friend (like I did), some cash, and head over there. You will not be disappointed by the variety of selections for any plants you might think off, but just around the corner, on Ezra street, there are loads of lovely cafes, bespoke shops, bars, pubs, live music – everything you might crave for a Sunday morning or afternoon.