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Sophie Howarth’s East London

By Sophie Howarth

Jan 9, 2012

From the Premier 2009 issue

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Photo by Stephen McLaren

The founder and director of the School of Life shares her favorite spots in East London.

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Name: Sophie Howarth
Age: 34
Neighborhood: East London (aka the East End)
Lived here since: 1999
Occupation: Founder and director of the School of Life, which she describes as “an apothecary for the mind.” The school offers courses in Love, Work, Play, Family, and Politics, as well as Sunday “sermons” on pessimism, punctuality, curiosity, and other topics delivered by the likes of writers Alain de Botton and Geoff Dyer.

I live just behind Columbia Road in East London, which, if you’re going to be glamorous about it, you call Shoreditch. I moved there because I loved the community and the simple domestic Victorian architecture. Now my brother, sister, and mum have all moved in within a few streets, so we have a real sense of family there. You can walk though my back garden to visit my sister’s back garden.

East London is full of contradiction—a source of tension and wonder. London’s financial center, the City, is possibly the richest square mile in the world; it butts up against a part of the East End that has a level of poverty we should be ashamed of today.

This was where waves of immigration came through in the 17th century. There are a lot of people here in their 20s, 30s, and 40s, as well as families that have been here for generations.

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In a really good way, East London is in flux. This area is en route to where the Olympics are happening in 2012, so transport links are getting better, things are smartening up. The house that I live in was declared uninhabitable in the ’70s, but my street is one of the most coveted places now.

My house is mainly filled up with odd finds from the shops on Columbia Road. I always find funny old pictures that are out of fashion. It’s like art—though you’d hardly call it that now.

The East End is a great place to do street photography. It’s got such an eclectic mix of people and such a strong history of photography, like bits of Manhattan. But it’s the markets that really make East London. There are three fantastic markets within three minutes of where I live.

See all of Sophie Howarth’s favorite places in Shoreditch:

Regent’s Canal

Lots of people don’t know that there’s a canal, Regent’s Canal, that winds through the middle of London. Hire a bike at Broadway Market, and you can carry on down the canal to Olympic Park. I want to get everyone rambling around London on back roads on bikes.

Unto This Last 

Unto This Last, named after a John Ruskin book on craftsmanship, is a micro-factory where they make all the furniture—sideboards, tables, etc.—right in front of you. 

Labour and Wait Homewares

Photo by Graham Marks

There’s a lovely street called Cheshire Street. Labour and Wait sells old-fashioned homewares: twine and string and gardening tools and glasses, all beautifully laid out like a ’50s housewares store.

Royal Oak Pub

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There’s a lovely little courtyard behind the Royal Oak. On a Sunday morning, you can get coffee from the pub, tucked away from the flower market.

Columbia Road Flower Market

Columbia Road is London’s main flower market. On Sundays, it’s totally filled with flowers. It’s an amazing place. Columbia Road Sundays, 8 a.m.–3 p.m.

Brick Lane Restaurants

There are Somali and Bangladeshi communities in the East End, so there’s a strong element of that. Brick Lane is the curry center of London.

Brick Lane Market

Brick Lane Market has everything from bric-a-brac to high-end design. Brick Lane between Bethnal Green Road and Wentworth Street Sundays, 8 a.m.–3 p.m.

>> Next: There’s a New Cheese Conveyor Belt Restaurant in London and It’s Spectacular

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