When Hidden London Is No Longer Hidden

Christopher Fowler
I was in Columbia Road Flower Market yesterday. I have mates who live in the road itself, and wanted to pick up a bit of greenery and have a beer with them. Columbia Road began as a pathway along which sheep were driven to the slaughter- houses at Smithfield. It had several names over the centuries, but Columbia Road was named in honour of the heiress and philanthropist Angela Burdett Coutts, who had not only built Columbia Market (now demolished) but had instituted a Bishopric in British Columbia. The run of Victorian shops there today were built during the 1860's to service the population of the nearby Jesus Hospital Estate. Apart from providing all the necessities of life, many of the shops were given over to upholstery as an adjunct to the thriving wood trade in the area. Wood turning and milling factories peppered the area until the late 20th century, the buildings which housed the Fleapit Café and Milagros being two of the largest. The Flower market began as a Saturday trading market, but as the Jewish population grew a Sunday market was established. The Saturday market lapsed, but the Flower market evolved. It serviced the local population whose houses have small gardens. Plants were brought by handcart from nearby market gardens in Hackney and Islington and market pitches were claimed on the day on the blow of a whistle. The area went into a decline in the 1970's. Demolition was mooted, but the locals fought back and the area was saved. Now the market is a victim of London's massive tourism industry. On a Sunday morning it seems only a handful of people are buying flowers - thousands of Spanish, French, Chinese, Italian and Eastern European visitors are taking pictures of them and swelling the narrow streets to bursting point. Great for tourism - disastrous if you actually want to shop. And what began as a service to the community became just another photo opportunity. And it's the same everywhere, of course. I was put off of visiting Dubrovnik by a disclaimer that read; 'Please note that between May- October many of the picturesque streets will be impassable due to cruise ship groups'. However, London has an interesting way of dealing with this. It quickly sprouts new markets in less well-known areas. Once Camden Council decided to ruin its famous market by turning it over entirely to tourists, the locals switched to other markets in Islington, Hackney and Spittalfields. What will happen when the Olympic crowds arrive remains to be seen.
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Helen Martin (not verified) Tue, 10/05/2011 - 02:00

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

The British Columbia bishopric must have been the Vancouver Island or Victoria one. I'm not C of E so I don't know which name is used. One interesting thing among many that she endowed was a listing of the names of deceased people whose bodies were moved when the railway went through Old St. Pancras' property. That, and drinking fountains for dogs.

Ian Phillips (not verified) Sat, 14/05/2011 - 16:02

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

The same has happened to Borough Market, the local shoppers and useful stalls have moved on to Maltby Street and Bermondsey Square so the tourists can take photos of ostrich burger stands in peace.