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Smithfield Meat Market, seen from a neighbouring building
Smithfield (also known as West Smithfield) is an area of the City of Londonmarker, in the ward of Farringdon Withoutmarker. It is located in the north-west part of the City of London, and is mostly known for its centuries-old meat market, today the last surviving historical wholesale market in Central London. Smithfield has a bloody history of executions of heretics and political opponents, including major historical figures such as Scottish patriot William Wallace, the leader of the Peasants' Revolt Wat Tyler and a long series of religious reformers and dissenters.

Today, the Smithfield area is dominated by the imposing, Grade II listed covered market designed by Victorian architect Sir Horace Jones in the second half of the 19th century. Some of the original market buildings were abandoned for decades and faced a threat of demolition, but they were saved as the result of a public inquiry and will be part of new urban development plans aimed at preserving the historical identity of this area.

The area

West Smithfield in 1827, from John Greenwood's map of London
In the Middle Ages Smithfield was a broad grassy space known as Smooth Field, just outside the London Wall, on the eastern bank of the River Fleetmarker. Due to its access to grazing and water, it was used as the City's main livestock market for nearly 1000 years. Many toponyms in the area are associated to the trading of livestock: while some of these street names (such as "Cow Cross Street" and "Cock Lanemarker") are still in use, many more (such as "Chick Lane", "Duck Lane", "Cow Lane", "Pheasant Court", "Goose Alley") have disappeared from the maps since the major Victorian redevelopment of the area.

Religious history

In 1123, the land closest to Aldersgatemarker was granted for the foundation of St Bartholomew's Priory by Rahere; as thanks for surviving an illness. The Priory enclosed the land between Aldersgate (to the east), Long Lane (in the north) and the modern Newgate Streetmarker (to the south). The main western gate opened on Smithfield; and there was a postern to Long Lane. The Priory was also granted the rights to a weekly fair; and this was established within the outer court along the line of the modern Cloth Fairmarker; leading to a Fair Gate. A further annual fair was added in 1133, the Bartholomew Fair, one of London's pre-eminent summer fairs, opening each year on 24th August. A trading event for cloth and other goods as well as a pleasure fair, the four-day event drew crowds from all classes of English society. The fair was suppressed in 1855 by the City authorities for encouraging debauchery and public disorder.

In 1348, Walter de Manny rented of land in Spital Croft, north of Long Lane, from the Master and Brethren of St. Bartholomew's Hospital for a graveyard and plague pit for victims of the Black Death. A chapel and hermitage were constructed, renamed New Church Haw; but in 1371, this land was granted for the foundation of the London Charterhousemarker, a Carthusian monastery.

A little to the north of the district was established the Priory of St John of Jerusalem, an order of the Knights Hospitallers. This was in existence by the mid 12th century, but not granted a charter until 1194. To the north of the Hospitallers was a priory of Augustinian canonesses; the Priory of St. Mary at Clerkenwell.

By the end of the 14th century, the religious houses were regarded as interlopers — occupying what had previously been public open space near one of the City gates. On a number of occasions the Charterhouse was invaded and buildings destroyed. By 1405, a stout wall was built to protect the property and maintain the privacy of the order, particularly the church where women had come to worship.

The religious houses were dissolved in the reformation, and their lands broken up. The priory church of St John's still exists, a little to the north of Old Streetmarker, and is now the chapel of the Order of St John. The St John's gatemarker remains, forming the boundary between Smithfield and Clerkenwellmarker. John Houghton, the prior of the London Charterhouse, went to Thomas Cromwell with priors from two other houses to obtain an oath of supremacy that would be acceptable to their communities. They were flung in the Tower of Londonmarker; and on 4 May 1535, they were taken to Tyburnmarker and hanged — becoming the first Catholic martyr of the Reformation. On 29 May, the remaining twenty monks and eighteen lay brothers were required to take the oath; those ten refusing were taken to Newgate Prisonmarker and left to starve. With the monks expelled, Charterhouse became a private house, before the foundation by Thomas Sutton in 1611 of a charitable foundation forming the school named Charterhousemarker and almshouses known as Sutton's Hospital in Charterhouse on the site. Some of the buildings were damaged in The Blitz. The school moved to Godalmingmarker in 1872, and the site is now occupied by a part of Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistrymarker. Charterhouse was an extra-parochial area, becoming a civil parish in its own right that was incorporated into the Metropolitan Borough of Finsburymarker in 1899.

From its inception, the priory of St Bartholomew had treated the sick. The Reformation left it with neither income nor monastic occupants. After a petition by the City authorities, Henry VIII refounded it in December 1546, as the "House of the Poore in West Smithfield in the suburbs of the City of London of Henry VIII's Foundation". Letters patent were presented to the City, granting property and income to the new foundation the following month. The King's own sergeant-surgeon Thomas Vicary was appointed first superintendent of the hospital The King Henry VIII Gate, constructed in 1702, still forms the principal entrance to the hospital.

The principal church of the priory, St Bartholomew-the-Greatmarker, was shortened, losing the western third of the nave, and became the Anglican parish church of a parish that followed the former boundary of the priory and the thin strip between the church and Long Lane. This parish was a liberty, and until 1910 maintained its own gates, which were shut at night by watchmen. The provision of street lighting, mains water and sewerage were beyond the means of such a small parish; and in 1910 the parish was reincorporated into the City of London. The boundary of the parish extends about 10 feet into Smithfield — possibly marking the site of a former road.The hospital formed its own separate parish, around the parish church of St Bartholomew-the-Lessmarker — unique amongst English hospitals. In 1948, the hospital became part of the National Health Service and adopted the name St Bartholomew's Hospitalmarker.

The status of the former priory created the two parishes of St Bartholomew's. These had historically been associated with the parish of St Botolph Aldersgatemarker — leading to disputes over the tithes and taxes due from lay residents, after the dissolution. Smithfield and the market was part of the parish of St Sepulchre-without-Newgatemarker. It was founded in 1137, with a benefice granted by Rahere. This parish extended from Turnmill Street in the north to St Paul's Cathedralmarker and Ludgate Hillmarker in the south, along the banks of the Fleet (now the course of Farringdon Street). The church bell tower holds the twelve "bells of Old Bailey" from the nursery rhyme Oranges and Lemons. Traditionally, the Great Bell was rung to announce the execution of prisoners at Newgate.

Civil history

As a large open space close to the city, Smithfield was a favourite place for public gatherings. In 1374 Edward III held a seven-day tournament in Smithfield, for the amusement of his beloved Alice Perrers. Possibly the most famous tournament in medieval Smithfield was the one ordered in 1390 by Richard II. Jean Froissart, in the fourth book of his Chronicles, reports that sixty knights would come to London to tilt for two days, "accompanied by sixty noble ladies, richly ornamented and dressed". The tournament was proclaimed by heralds in England, Scotland, Hainault, Germany, Flanders, and France, to rival the jousts given by Charles of France into Paris a few years earlier, on the entry of his consort Isabeau de Bavière. Geoffrey Chaucer supervised the preparation of the tournament as clerk of the king.

Along with Tyburnmarker, Smithfield was for centuries the main site for the public execution of heretic and dissidents in London. The Scottish patriot William Wallace was executed here in 1305. The market was used as a meeting place for the peasants in the Peasants' Revolt of 1381 and the revolt's leader, Wat Tyler was killed there after being stabbed by William Walworth, the Mayor of London, and a squire on 15 June 1381.

Religious dissenters (Catholics as well as different Protestant denominations such as Anabaptists) were put to death at Smithfield in the course of the changes in the religious orientation of the Crown, since King Henry VIII. About fifty Protestants and religious reformers, known as the Marian martyrs, were executed here under the reign of Mary I. Swindlers and coin forgers were boiled in oil here during the 16th century. However by the 18th century the "Tyburn Tree" (near the present-day Marble Archmarker), had become the main place for public executions in London. After 1785, they were again moved, this time to the gates of Newgate prison — just to the south of Smithfield.

In 1666 the Smithfield area was left mostly untouched by the Great Fire of Londonmarker, which stopped near the Fortune of Warmarker tavern, at the junction of Giltspur Streetmarker and Cock Lane, where the statue of the Golden Boy of Pye Cornermarker is located. In the 17th century, several residents of Smithfield emigrated to the United States where they founded the town of Smithfield, Rhode Islandmarker.


Since the late 1990s, Smithfield has seen many new bars, pubs and clubs. Nightclubs such as Fabricmarker and Turnmillsmarker were the pioneers of the night life in the area, patronised on weekday nights by the many workers in nearby Holbornmarker, Clerkenwellmarker and the City; at weekends, the night clubs and bars with late licenses draw people into the area on their own merit.

At weekends, and from early morning, the business of the market is concluded and the area has become a popular venue as the start for sporting events. Until 2002 Smithfield hosted the midnight start of the annual Miglia Quadrato car rally, but with the increased night club activity around Smithfield the UHULMC (a motoring club) decided to move the event's start to Finsbury Circusmarker. Since 2007, Smithfield has been the location of an annual event dedicated to bike racing known as Smithfield Nocturne.

The market

Map of the main buildings of the Smithfield Market complex


Meat has been traded at Smithfield Market for over 800 years, making it one of the oldest markets in London. A livestock market occupied the site as early as the 10th century. In 1174 the site was described by William Fitzstephen as:
a smooth field where every Friday there is a celebrated rendezvous of fine horses to be sold, and in another quarter are placed vendibles of the peasant, swine with their deep flanks, and cows and oxen of immense bulk.
The livestock market expanded over the centuries to meet the demands of the growing population of the City. In 1710, the market was surrounded by a wooden fence to keep the livestock within the market; and until its abolition, the gate house of Cloth Fair was protected by a chain (le cheyne) on market days. Daniel Defoe referred to the livestock market in 1726 as "without question, the greatest in the world". and the available figures appear to support this claim. Between 1740 and 1750 the average yearly sales at Smithfield were reported to be around 74,000 cattle and 570,000 sheep. By the middle of the 19th century, in the course of a single year 220,000 head of cattle and 1,500,000 sheep would be "violently forced into an area of five acres, in the very heart of London, through its narrowest and most crowded thoroughfares". The volume of cattle driven daily to Smithfield started to raise major concerns.

Growth and decline: End of the cattle market

In the Victorian period, pamphlets started circulating in favour of the removal of the livestock market and its relocation outside of the city, due to its extremely poor hygienic conditions as well as the brutal treatment of the cattle.The conditions at the market in the first half of the 19th century were often described as a major threat to public health:
Of all the horrid abominations with which London has been cursed, there is not one that can come up to that disgusting place, West Smithfield Market, for cruelty, filth, effluvia, pestilence, impiety, horrid language, danger, disgusting and shuddering sights, and every obnoxious item that can be imagined; and this abomination is suffered to continue year after year, from generation to generation, in the very heart of the most Christian and most polished city in the world.
The old open air Smithfield in 1855, before the construction of the Meat Market
In 1843, the Farmer's Magazine published a petition signed by bankers, salesmen, aldermen, butchers and local residents against the expansion of the livestock market, arguing that livestock markets had been systematically banned since the Middle Ages in other areas of London:
Our ancestors appear, in sanitary matters, to have been wiser than we are.
There exists, amongst the Rolls of Parliament of the year 1380, a petition from the citizens of London, praying- that, for the sake of the public health, meat should not be slaughtered nearer than "Knyghtsbrigg", under penalty, not only of forfeiting such animals as might be killed in the " butcherie," but of a year's imprisonment.
The prayer of this petition was granted, audits penalties were enforced during several reigns.
Thomas Hood wrote in 1830 an Ode to the Advocates for the Removal of Smithfield Market, applauding those "philanthropic men" who aim at removing to a distance the "vile Zoology" of the Market, and "routing that great nest of Hornithology". Charles Dickens criticised the location of a livestock market in the heart of the capital in his 1851 essay A Monument of French Folly comparing it to the French market outside Paris at Poissy:
Of a great Institution like Smithfield, [the French] are unable to form the least conception.
A Beast Market in the heart of Paris would be regarded an impossible nuisance.
Nor have they any notion of slaughter-houses in the midst of a city.
One of these benighted frog-eaters would scarcely understand your meaning, if you told him of the existence of such a British bulwark.
An Act of Parliament was passed in 1852, under the provisions of which a new cattle-market should be constructed in Copenhagen Fields, Islingtonmarker. The new Metropolitan Cattle Marketmarker was opened in 1855, and West Smithfield was left as waste ground for about one decade, until the construction of the new market .

Victorian Smithfield: Meat and poultry market

Decoration from the Fish Market (currently abandoned)
The present Smithfield meat market on Charterhouse Streetmarker was established by an Act of Parliament: the 1860 Metropolitan Meat and Poultry Market Act. It is a large market with permanent buildings, designed by architect Sir Horace Jones, who was also responsible for Billingsgate and Leadenhallmarker Markets. Work on the Central Market, inspired by Italian architecture, began in 1866 and was completed in November 1868 at a cost of £993,816 (£ as of ). The Grade II listed main wings (known as East and West Market) were separated by the Grand Avenue, a wide roadway roofed by an elliptical arch with decorations in cast iron. At the two ends of the arcade, four huge statues represent London, Edinburghmarker, Liverpoolmarker and Dublinmarker and bronze dragons hold the City's coat of arms. At the corners of the market four octagonal pavilion towers were built, each with a dome and carved stone griffins.

As the market was built, a cut and cover railway tunnel was constructed beneath the market to create a triangular junction with the railway between Blackfriarsmarker and Kings Crossmarker through the Snow Hill tunnelmarker — closed in 1916, but now used for Thameslink services. This allowed the construction of extensive railway sidings, beneath Smithfield park, and the transfer of animal carcases to the Cold Store building, or direct to the meat market via lifts. These sidings closed in the 1960s, and are now used as a car park, accessed through a cobbled descent in the centre of Smithfield park. Today, much of the meat comes to the market by road.

The first extension of the meat market took place between 1873 and 1876 with the construction of the Poultry Market immediately west of the Central Market. A rotunda was built at the centre of the old market field, with gardens, a fountain and a ramped carriageway to the station beneath the market building. Further buildings were added to the market in later years. The General Market, built between 1879 and 1883, was intended to replace the old Farringdon Marketmarker located nearby and established for the sale of fruit and vegetables when the earlier Fleet Marketmarker was cleared to enable the laying out of Farringdon Street in 1826–1830.A further block (also known as Annexe Market or Triangular Block) consisting of two separate structures (the Fish Market and the Red House) was built between 1886 and 1899. The Fish Market was completed in 1888, one year after Horace Jones' death. The Red House, with its imposing red brick and Portland stone façade, was built between 1898 and 1899 for the London Central Markets Cold Storage Co. Ltd.. It was one of the first cold stores to be built outside the London docksmarker and continued to serve Smithfield until the mid-1970s.

20th century

The concrete shell dome of the Poultry Market (T.
Bennett, 1962)
During World War II, a large underground cold store at Smithfield was the theatre of secret experiments led by Max Perutz on pykrete, a mixture of ice and woodpulp, alleged to be tougher than steel. Perutz's work, inspired by Geoffrey Pyke and part of Project Habakkuk, was meant to test the viability of pykrete as a material to construct floating airstrips in the Atlanticmarker to allow refuelling of cargo planes in support of Lord Louis Mountbatten's operations. The experiments were carried out by Perutz and his colleagues in a refrigerated meat locker in a Smithfield Market butcher's basement, behind a protective screen of frozen animal carcasses. These experiments became obsolete with the development of longer range aircraft and the project was soon abandoned.

At the end of World War II, a V2 rocket struck at the north side of Charterhouse Streetmarker, near the junction with Farringdon Roadmarker (1945). The explosion caused massive damage to the market buildings, extending into the railway tunnel below, and over 110 casualties.

Horace Jones' original Poultry Market was destroyed by fire in 1958. The Grade II listed replacement building was designed by Sir Thomas Bennett in 1962–1963. The main hall is covered by an enormous concrete dome, shaped as an elliptical paraboloid, spanning by and only thick at the centre. The dome is believed to be the largest concrete shell structure ever built in Europe by that time.


Workers inside the Central Market at Smithfield
Smithfield is the only great London market (not counting lesser markets such as Leadenhall Marketmarker and Spitalfieldsmarker) not to have moved out of central London for cheaper land, better transport links and more modern facilities (compare with Covent Gardenmarker and Billingsgate). The purpose of the market is to supply inner city butchers, shops and restaurants with meat for the coming day, so the trading hours are from 4:00 a.m. to 12:00 noon every weekday.Instead of moving away, Smithfield market has been modernised on its existing site: its imposing Victorian buildings have had access points added for the loading and unloading of lorries. The buildings stand on top of a warren of tunnelsmarker: previously, live animals were brought to the market on the hoof (from the mid-19th century onwards they arrived by rail) and were slaughtered on site. The former railway tunnels are now used for storage, parking and as basements. An impressive cobbled ramp spirals down around the public park now known as West Smithfield, on the south side of the market, to give access to part of this area. Some of the buildings on Charterhouse Street on the north side have access into the tunnels from their basements.

Some of the former meat market buildings now have other uses. For example, the former Central Cold Store, in Charterhouse Streetmarker is now, most unusually, a city centre cogeneration power station operated by Citigen. Another former cold store now houses the night club Fabricmarker.

Part of Smithfield is still open space: a large square with the market on one side and mostly older buildings on the other three. A public park is at the centre. The south side is occupied by St Bartholomew's Hospitalmarker (frequently known as Barts), and part of the east side by the church of St Bartholomew the Great. The church of St Bartholomew the Lessmarker is just inside the hospital's main gate. The north and south of the square are now closed to through traffic, as a part of the City's security and surveillance cordon known as the Ring of steel.

Demolition and development plans

The former cold store known as Red House (1898)
Since 2005, the General Market (1883) and the adjacent Fish Market and Red House buildings (1898), part of the Victorian complex of the Smithfield Market, have been facing a threat of demolition. Their owner, the City of London Corporation, intends to replace them with office blocks. Property developers Thornfield Properties plan to demolish the historic site and build a seven-storey office block, offering of office space with a retail outlet on the ground floor. Several campaigns, promoted by English Heritage and Save Britain's Heritage among others,
are being run to raise public awareness of this important part of London's Victorian heritage. In March 2005, then Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell announced the decision to give Grade II listed building protection to the Red House Cold Store building, on the basis of new historical evidence qualifying the complex as "the earliest existing example of a purpose-built powered cold store". The future of the adjoining buildings, in particular the General Market, remains unclear. Development plans have been postponed after government planning minister Ruth Kelly decided to call a major public inquiry to be held in 2007. The Public Inquiry for the demolition and redevelopment of the General Market Building took place between 6 November 2007 and 25 January 2008. In August 2008, Communities Secretary Hazel Blears announced that planning permission for the General Market development had been refused, stating that the threatened buildings made "a significant contribution" to the character and appearance of Farringdonmarker and the surrounding area.

Some of the buildings on Lindsey Street opposite the West Market are likely to be demolished to allow the construction of the new Crossrail station at Farringdon. The buildings to be demolished include Smithfield House (an unlisted early 20th century Hennebique concrete building) the Edmund Martin Ltd. shop (an earlier building with alterations dating to the 1930s) and two Victorian warehouses behind them.


Image:Smithfield-meatmarket-large.jpg|The Central Market and Grand Avenue from the southFile:Grand Avenue Smithfield market.jpg|The entrance of the Grand Avenue from the northImage:Smithfield-cold-store-large.jpg|The former Central Cold Store, currently a power stationImage:Port_of_London_Authority_building_on_Charterhouse_Street_1.jpg|The Port of Londonmarker Authority buildingFile:Inside Smithfield market II, EC1.jpg|Inside the Poultry MarketImage:Smithfield Meat Market abandoned 1.jpg|The General Market (now abandoned)Image:Smithfield Meat Market abandoned 3.jpg|Inside the General Market (now abandoned)File:East Poultry Avenue Smithfield market.jpg|East Poultry Avenue

See also


  1. The parish: Bounds, gates and watchmen, The records of St. Bartholomew's priory [and] St. Bartholomew the Great, West Smithfield: volume 2 (1921), pp. 199-212. accessed: 10 April 2009
  2. Religious Houses: House of Carthusian monks, A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 1: Physique, Archaeology, Domesday, Ecclesiastical Organization, The Jews, Religious Houses, Education of Working Classes to 1870, Private Education from Sixteenth Century (1969), pp. 159-169. accessed: 10 April 2009
  3. Religious Houses: House of Knights hospitallers, A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 1: Physique, Archaeology, Domesday, Ecclesiastical Organization, The Jews, Religious Houses, Education of Working Classes to 1870, Private Education from Sixteenth Century (1969), pp. 193-204. accessed: 10 April 2009
  4. Religious Houses: Houses of Augustinian canonesses, A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 1: Physique, Archaeology, Domesday, Ecclesiastical Organization, The Jews, Religious Houses, Education of Working Classes to 1870, Private Education from Sixteenth Century (1969), pp. 170-182. accessed: 10 April 2009.
  5. The Carthusian Martyrs of London Barry Bossa accessed 9 May 2009
  6. St Bartholomew's Hospital, Old and New London: Volume 2 (1878), pp. 359-363 accessed: 9 April 2009
  7. St Bartholomew the Less parish (AIM25) accessed 9 April 2009
  8. Snowhill (London Railways) accessed 13 April 2009
  9. CHP plant (E-on UK} accessed 13 April 2009
  10. General Market, Smithfields Market

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