Arriving at Columbia Road on a Sunday morning is like stepping into a film set. The low-rise, sandy-coloured terraced houses provide the backdrop to several stalls bursting with all sorts of colours, and alive with the persuasive shouts of their traders.
Just visible behind the stalls and crowds are several small shop fronts, all painted in different colours and standing to attention like a row of soldiers in the IBA (the Independent Business Army, if only there were such a thing).
These shops hark back to a quaint past but of course their products represent a modern reality, where food generally comes from one of the Big Four and clothes from one of Philip Green’s many pies. Accordingly, aside from the one organic grocer and a traditional sweets vendor, Columbia Road’s small shops offer niche services: arts and crafts materials and workshops; artisan and sustainable jewellery; quirky imported Mexican home wares; stacks of vintage terracotta pots.
As well as this wealth of gift buying options, no 21st century cosmopolitan market would be complete without its dedicated groupies: the café-brunch spots. Of these, Columbia Road has plenty, many with tables and chairs outside to give well-swaddled Londoners a chance to play at al fresco continental dining. The authentic rustic charm of Campania & Jones stands out if you have a few pennies to spare, for its wood burning stove and cute take-away window hatch as much as its homely southern Italian cooking.
Once brunch is done, though, the flowers and plants are of course the main attraction. The serious gardeners and florists arrive in the early hours to buy up their stock, but by mid to late morning there’s still plenty left for the rest of us. Succulents, herb plants, tropical-looking flowers alongside English roses, foliage, houseplants… you name it, at least one trader probably has it.
And for those who aren’t interested in buying photosynthesising decorative ornaments, the atmosphere and aesthetics of the market are unique. Perusing the stalls really does feel like navigating a tropical jungle on the streets of Hackney.
So whether you’re stoked by greenery, brunch, or even celebrity spotting (a sighting of at least one of the curious creatures is almost guaranteed every week), Columbia Road does indeed offer a very wholesome Sunday morning destination – perhaps even as wholesome as a trip to church.
Photos by Alexandra Heal