There has been a market on the site now known as Old Spitalfields Market, located on the eastern outskirts of the City of London next to what was the Priory and Hospital of St Mary Spital, since the thirteenth century.
But it was centuries later when, following the tumult of the Civil War, in 1682, John Balch was formally granted a Royal Charter by King Charles II to hold a “flesh, fowl and roots” market on Thursdays and Saturdays in or on the rectangle of land known as Spital Square. A ‘market-house’ was built on the site around this time for administrators with traders selling their wares from stalls.
The success of the market drew people to the area – in particular, Huguenots fleeing France who brought with them new skills in silk-weaving, and later Irish fleeing the Potato Famine and Jews escaping the harsh political climate in Eastern Europe – and the market gained a name for itself as a place to buy fresh produce.
By late in the 19th century, the market had fallen into decline. So, in 1876, a former market porter by the name of Robert Horner decided it needed an upgrade and, buying the lease, had the central market square roofed with glass and new market buildings, known as the Horner Buildings (pictured above), constructed around the northern, eastern and southern sides of the site. Having cost £80,000, it was completed in 1893.
In 1920, the City of London took over control of the market and later than decade expanded the original buildings. Having continued to grow over the ensuing years and with traffic congestion continuing to increase in the surrounding streets, it was decided to move the fresh produce aspect of the market to a new location at Leyton to the north-east.
The new market, known as New Spitalfields Market, covers more than 31 acres and boasts more than 100 traders.
Meanwhile, Old Spitalfields Market, the western end of which was redeveloped in the late 20th century, continues to operate on the original market site – now known as Horner Square, with stalls selling everything from contemporary and vintage fashion to music, gems and jewellery, bric-a-brac and antiques as well as various themed market days – check the website for more details.