The site of Columbia Market was built upon an area known as Nova Scotia Gardens. This had been a brick field, the brick clay had been exhausted and the area begun to be filled in with waste (leystall). Cottages (probably evolving from sheds, serving the gardens), came to be built here, but were undesirable as they remained below ground level, and so were prone to flooding.
The Columbia Road Flower Market began as a Saturday trading market. It was moved to Sunday, by Act of Parliament, in order to accommodate the needs of local Jewish traders. This also provided the opportunity for Covent Garden and Old Spitalfields Market traders to sell their stock left over from Saturday. The enduring interest and demand for cut flowers and plants were introduced to the East End by Huguenot immigrants.
The market suffered in World War II from rules prioritising food production, and went into a long decline. A large civilian shelter beneath the market suffered a direct hit by a 50 kg bomb on the night of Saturday, 7 September 1940, at the height of The Blitz.