A covered – and splendidly decorated – Victorian-era market located just off Gracechurch Street in the heart of the City of London, Leadenhall Market might go un-noticed by many but visit at lunchtime on a weekday and you’ll to fight for space among the besuited City workers looking for sustenance there.

The history of a market on this site goes back to Roman times for it was under the current market that the remains of Londinium’s basilica and forum – the Roman marketplace – can be found (there’s apparently a part of the basilica wall in the basement of one of the Leadenhall shops).

This fell into disuse following the Roman period, however, and the origins of the current market are generally agreed upon as emerging in the 14th century when it occupied the site of a lead-roofed manor (hence “leaden hall) which was at one stage leased by the famous Lord Mayor Richard “Dick” Whittington before it burnt down in the late 1400s. The subsequent market was initially associated with poultry and then with cheese and other foodstuffs (it remained known for game and poultry) and separate areas were later developed for trade in wool, leather and cutlery.

In 1666, a small section of the market was destroyed in the Great Fire of London but it was rebuilt shortly after – for the first time under cover – and was divided into three sections: the Beef Market, the Green Yard and the Herb Market.

In 1881, after the existing building was demolished, a new structure boasting wrought iron and glass was designed by Sir Horace Jones (architect for the Corporation of the City of London, he also designed Billingsgate and Smithfield Markets – see our earlier entries here and here). The market is now one of the City’s five principal shopping centres and, as well as fresh food and flowers, hosts a variety of specialty shops, restaurants, cafes and pubs.

The Grade II* listed building was extensively restored in 1991. It has since starred in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone as well as other films including The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus and the recent Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.

Before we finish, we would be remiss not to mention Old Tom. A celebrated gander, he managed to avoid the axe for years and became a favorite of traders and customers (even being fed by local innkeepers) – so much so, that when he died at the age of 38 in 1835, his body lay in state before he was buried on site. There’s a bar in the market named for him.

WHERE: Gracechurch Street, City of London (nearest Tube stations are Monument, Bank and Cannon Street); WHEN: Public areas are generally open 24 hours a day with core trading hours between 10am and 5pm weekdays (check with individual shops for opening hours); COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.leadenhallmarket.co.uk

PICTURE: DAVID ILIFF. Licence CC-BY-SA 3.0. Via Wikipedia.

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Now the UK’s largest inland fish market (and located in Poplar, east London), the history of Billingsgate Market goes back centuries.

Known originally by various spellings including Blynesgate and Byllynsgate, Billingsgate may have been named for watergate on the north bank of the Thames near where the market was originally established (an alternate theory is that it was named for a man named Biling or an mythological British king, Belin).

The right to collect tolls and customs at Billingsgate, along with Cheap and Smithfield, was granted by King Henry IV in 1400.

Billingsgate only became particularly associated with fish in the 1500s and in 1699, an Act of Parliament was passed making it “a free and open market for all sorts of fish whatsoever” (this was with the exception of eels, restricted to being sold by Dutchmen from boats in the river – a reward for the help they provided after the Great Fire of 1666).

While for much of the market’s history, fish was sold for stalls and sheds around the ‘hythe’ or dock at the site known as Billingsgate, in 1850 the first purpose-built market building was constructed in Lower Thames Street.

Deemed inadequate for the task at hand, however, it was demolished after slightly more than 20 years of service. A new building, designed by then City Architect Sir Horace Jones and constructed by John Mowlem, was opened in on the same site in 1876. In the late 19th century, it is said to have been the largest fish market in the world. The heritage listed former fish market building in Lower Thames Street (pictured above) is now used as a venue for corporate events, catwalk shows, post premiere parties and concerts (see the website for more www.oldbillingsgate.co.uk).

In 1982, the market was relocated to a 13 acre site on the Isle of Dogs, just to the north-east of Canary Wharf. The building contains a trading floor with some 98 stands and 30 shops as well as an 800 tonne freezer store. An average of 25,000 tonnes of fish and fish products are sold through its merchants every year and the market has an annual turnover of around £200 million.

The role of the fish porter – who traditionally have been the only people licensed to move fish around the market – was opened up to anyone following a fiercely fought battle between the porters, traders and the City of London Corporation earlier this year.

The market is open to the general public and tours can be arranged – head to the website for details.

WHERE: Billingsgate Market, Trafalgar Way, Poplar (nearest Tube Station is Canary Wharf); WHEN: 4am to 9.30am Tuesday to Saturday (children under 12 are not permitted on the market floor and non-slip shoes are advisable); COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/business/wholesale-food-markets/billingsgate/Pages/default.aspx.

Now the largest wholesale meat market in the UK and one of the biggest in Europe, the connections between the site of Smithfield Market, officially known as the London Central Markets, and livestock go back to at least 800 years.

Since the 12th century animals were routinely traded here thanks to the site’s position on what was then the northern edge of the city. Smithfield was also known for being an area for jousting and tournaments and was the location of the (in)famous St Barthlomew Fair (this closed in 1855) as well as an execution ground – among those executed here were Wat Tyler, leader of the Peasant’s Revolt, and ‘Braveheart’, Sir William Wallace (1305).

Skip ahead several hundred years and, by the the mid-1800s, traffic congestion led to the livestock trade being relocated to a new site north of Islington. Plans were soon launched to locate a cut meat market on the Smithfield site.

Following the passing of an Act of Parliament, work on the new market began in 1866 with Sir Horace Jones (he of Tower Bridge fame), the City Architect, overseeing the design. Constructed of ornamental cast iron, stone, Welsh slate and glass, the initial market buildings were completed in 1868 with the result being two vast buildings, separated by a grand central avenue, but linked under a single roof. The new market was opened amid much pomp by the Lord Mayor of London on 24th November, 1868.

Four further buildings were soon added – only one, the Poultry Market, which opened in 1875, is still in use – and in the 1870s the market began to see the arrival of frozen meat imported from as far afield as Australia and South America.

Closed briefly during World War II – when the site was used for storage and an army butcher’s school – it reopened afterwards. The main poultry building was destroyed in a fire in 1958 and a replacement featuring a domed roof – the largest clear spanning dome roof in Europe at the time – was completed by 1963.

More recently, the market underwent a major upgrade in the 1990s. Queen Elizabeth II opened the refurbished East Market Building in June, 1997.

WHERE: London Central Markets, Charterhouse Street and West Smithfield (nearest Tube Stations are Barbican, St Paul’s and Moorgate); WHEN: From 3am Monday to Friday (visitors are told to arrive by 7am to see the market in full swing) (There are walking tours available – see www.cityoflondontouristguides.com for details); COST: Free entry; WEBSITE: www.smithfieldmarket.com.

PICTURE: Rossella De Berti/www.istockphoto.com

Where is it? #31…

June 1, 2012

The latest in the series in which we ask you to identify where in London this picture was taken and, importantly in this case, what it’s of. If you think you can identify this picture, leave a comment below. We’ll reveal the answer early next week. Good luck!

Well done to Jameson Tucker, this is indeed a relief on the Temple Bar Memorial, which stands where the Strand turns into Fleet Street. It depicts Queen Victoria on a royal progress to the Guildhall in 1837, a few months after her accession, when she was met at this spot by the Lord Mayor and Aldermen and presented with the sword of state and keys to the city.

According to a tradition said to date back to 1215, the Temple Bar is the only place where the monarch may enter London after first seeking permission from the Lord Mayor and being presented with the City’s Pearl Sword (one of five City swords, this is said to have been first given to the City by Queen Elizabeth I).

The monument itself was designed by Sir Horace Jones and erected in 1880 to mark the location where the Temple Bar – the ceremonial entrance to the City of London – originally stood (the last incarnation of the Temple Bar, designed by Sir Christopher Wren, is now located near in Paternoster Square near St Paul’s – see our earlier post for more on Wren’s Temple Bar).

On top of the granite and bronze monument stands a rearing griffin (actually it’s supposed to be a dragon), one of the city’s official boundary markers, sculpted by Charles Birch while on either side are bronze statues, by Sir Joseph Edgar Boehm, of Queen Victoria and Edward, Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII), who in 1872 were the last of the Royal family to pass through the Temple Bar gateway before its demolition in 1878 (they were on their way to St Paul’s to attend a thanksgiving service following the prince’s recovery from typhoid).

This is depicted in a relief on the north side of the monument by Charles Kelsey. Charles Mabey’s relief showing the Queen’s progress is located on the south side of the monument; he also designed one on the east side which shows a curtain being drawn over the old Temple Bar.