A Weekend Guide to East London
It’s hard to see everything in a city that covers over 1500 square kilometres with hundreds of destinations of recommended cafes and galleries. Besides, you’ve been to all the iconic museums, and had your photo taken at Tower Bridge already, so why not avoid the stress of the underground and stay in East London. Everything is on the doorstep and there’s plenty to see and do while you’re there. Much more than see loads of things, it’s a good place to relax and enjoy nice food with some friends.
Take a walk from one end of Hackney down to Shoreditch and you won’t regret that you didn’t visit the TATE this time around… although make sure you go there at least once in your life.
Why not start on Wilton Way. It’s a stone’s throw from Hackney Central (London Overground – the orange line). A quiet road once you find it, with some interesting shops. If you’re coming from Hackney Central, you’ll first discover Momosan Shop. You’ll be struck by the large window as you pass, always with a lovely display of crafts and homeware. You’ll want to move in right away. Step in the door and… immediate tranquillity. Always smelling subtle incense and an instant homely feeling. It’s usually the Palo Santo burning, of which you’ll want to buy so you can recreate the essence when you get back home.
Leave Momosan Shop feeling Zen and make your way, literally less than 30 steps west, to J. Glinert. Another shop with an immaculate display of household essentials and hardware. Practical things, utensils, pens, magazines, watering cans, and coat hooks; this place is an homage to the original shop that the current owner visited as a kid – and he kept the name too! It’s well worth the visit, even if it’s just to get to hear the history of Wilton Way from a true local (the owner, Tom, that is).
Continue west down Wilton Way and you’ll find Violet’s. A welcoming table and chairs out the front of this organic bakery/café. Get a cup of Buckwheat tea, accompanied by a chocolate and tahini brownie… you won’t regret it. They serve hot food too and have a daily specials menu.
After your pit stop, turn back the way you came and take a right down Navarino Road – all the way to the end, over the zebra crossing – and now you’re in London Fields. This place has been on record since as early as 1275, used for feeding live stock before taking it to market. Now, its buzzing with locals of every sort. If you’re visiting in the Summer, then be sure to have your swimming costume handy if you want to use the Lido.
Or just stroll through and enjoy the smell of the barbecue area.
You might want to return in the evening, sit on the grass and enjoy some food (I’ll tell you where to get that from shortly). If you walk all the way to the most southern tip of the park, cross over another zebra-crossing and you’ll be on Broadway Market. This road always has a great atmosphere going on and you’ll probably want to stop off at nearly every shop and restaurant you walk past. If you’re here on a Saturday, there’s a street market on going from 9 am till 5 pm.
It might seem like any other road (an in relation to London I suppose it is) but notice each shop and you’ll see how much of a melting-pot it really is.
Turkish food, pie and mash, caribbean cuisine, jellied eels, italian street food, bangladeshi super-market, artisan bakeries, art book shops, furniture galleries.
It has the lot – and does well to epitomise the East End of London. Take note of a restaurant or two (I recommend Bella Vita, 53-57), and store them in your head for later. Try to get back there when you start to feel hungry for dinner (because it will be busy). Don’t bother to wait around for a table. Order pizzas to take away and go and sit back on London Fields and soak in the atmosphere.
You’ll see a few bookshops on Broadway Market, as you walk south towards Regents Canal. If you can only stop by one, make sure it’s Artwords Bookshop on the corner of Broadway Market and Jackman Street. They specialise in visual culture covering all subjects fashion, art, graphic design, architecture, photography, and fine art. I’m certain you’ll see at least a magazine you’ll want to leave with.
If it isn’t already time for dinner, by the time you’ve pulled your head out of some books, then let’s continue the journey. Cross over the canal (where, if you want to take a detour, do walk along and discover and array of canal boats… and yes, people do live on those!) and wiggle your way over Hackney Road and onto Columbia Road. It’s easy enough to find, but again away from the bustling main roads. If you’re unsure then follow the cycle path from Broadway market straight down and cross over the main road. Continue to follow the cyclists and you’re there. Columbia Road Flower Market on a Sunday will be like no other experience in London (unless you want to go to New Covent Garden Market at 4 in the morning). The road is closed off to vehicles and it is very busy! But, it’s the place to get flowers from, and just to experience a very traditional London market. The oldest flower seller has been there since 1949 every Sunday! If you’re there any other day of the week, then you’ll see a much calmer Columbia Road. Very colourful shop fronts, an almost cobbled street, and an array of shops, once again. Visit Choosing Keeping and treat yourself to a new set of pencils, or a fountain pen so you can write your postcard to send back home.
You can walk all the way to the end of Columbia Road, peer in the window of Two Columbia Road for an eye full of twentieth century furniture for sale. Turn left and left again at the end and onto Shoreditch High Street. There’s more than plenty to do down here, if you have another day. But for now, turn into Calvert Avenue.
If you read some descriptions of this area in the Victorian era, you wouldn’t believe it was the same place you’re looking at right now.
It was a slum. Families averaging at eight people were crammed into small terrace houses, pigs and cows were sniffing around back gardens, people preparing tripe, boiling cloths, slaughter houses, and lakes of putrefying night soil added to the filth (The Morning Chronicle, 1850). So, it was decided by the London County Council that this area was going to be cleared, and on it was the built the world’s first council estate, Bounday Estate. All the orange brick buildings you see in that area, formerly the Old Nichol (and fictionalized as The Jago, in Arthur Morrisson’s A Child of the Jago) were part of the scheme. So, a very interesting historical revolution in social housing as early as 1890 – whose chief architect, Owen Fleming, was only 23 when it started! If you’re still walking down Calvert Avenue, you’ll see straight ahead of you a mound with a band stand a top. That mound started as the dirt dug up in the area to form the foundations and eventually became the centre-piece for the estate. Any of the streets fanning from Arnold Circus (that’s the bandstand mound), lined with now huge trees, will take you on a little tour around the Old Nichol. But take a road heading south, cross over near to Shoreditch Station, and head down the infamous Brick Lane. Named after the brick and tile factory that took up the land in the 15th century, this area has witnessed successive waves of immigrants from all over the world – each who have left a stamp: Irish, Hugenots, Jews, and is now the heart of London’s Bangladeshi community (sometimes even referred to as Bangla-Town).
If you make it to the end of Brick Lane be sure to visit Whitechapel Gallery, which will undoubtedly have on a very interesting exhibition on. Now, go back to Broadway Market and get that pizza…
PLACES & SHOP LIST
- Momosan Shop | 79A Wilton Way, E8 1BG
- J. Glinert | 71A Wilton Way, E8 1BG
- Violet Cakes | 47 Wilton Way, E8 3ED
- London Fields| E8
- Broadway Market | E8 4QJ
- Artwords Bookshop | 20-22 Broadway Market, E8 4GJ
- Columbia Road | E2
- Flower Market | E2
- Choosing Keeping | 128 Columbia Road, E2 7RG
- Arnold Circus | E2 7ES
- Whitechapel Gallery | 77-82 Whitechapel High St, London E1 7QX
Pssst! Did you know that Maria Black used to live in the East end of London? Actually, the brand was founded here and the Heroes Collection was inspired by the streets that you will encounter on your way around the area.