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Peter Murray

Based on his site investigations and knowledge built up through his career – with involvement in such major developments as Camden Lock market, Gabriel Wharf, Spitalfields Market and Trinity Buoy Wharf – Eric Reynolds of Urban Space Ltd. continued our look at London’s markets with an illustrated talk at Allies & Morrison’s offices in Southwark Street. Brian Whiteley reports.

Eric’s theme was that railways radically altered all London’s produce markets, with their long distance speedy supply removing the old requirement for cows to be kept close to the city in order to provide fresh milk as it had to be produced and consumed without refridgeration (e.g.right up to the 1890’s cows were kept in basement dairies in Spitalfields); fish could come from Aberdeen without being smoked or smelly; potatoes from Lincolnshire without wearing out teams of horses.

Once the major railway termini arrived on central London’s outskirts in the nineteenth century its traditional central markets gravitated out to them. The Great Northern Railway Company took a major first step in developing a series of warehouses and markets on land at King’s Cross. By the 1860’s the “Ten O’Clock Road” siding to the north of the station saw 39 warehouses located along it, each with its own branch line to take individual types of produce. In 1865 it handled such traffic as 85,000 tons of potatoes and 400 trucks of celery daily – and in the 1920’s recorded seasonal deliveries of 50 tons of rhubarb and 300 trucks of green peas.

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Peter Murray

Thanks to Studio Egret West for hosting Alec Forshaw’s talk on Smithfield. Brian Whiteley reports on the evening’s talk.

Historical Background / Evolution – Smithfield (originally “smooth field” in old English) started out as a Friday livestock market outside the Roman city walls – probably around 1000 years ago – making it the oldest surviving London market still trading in its original location. By the Tudor period, it started to expand to eventually trade five days per week, dealing in livestock, meat and vegetables. The land for the market was given to the City Corporation by the Crown in a Royal Charter of 1638. Today the land could still revert to Crown ownership if a market ceased to permanently operate there.

Its location outside the original city walls probably saved the market from the 1666 Great Fire and by the early 19th century, it found itself at the centre of a rebuilt and rapidly expanding city. Such was demand from London’s growing population that animals were being driven increasingly great distances (e.g. Scottish cattle) to be marketed there and then slaughtered and butchered. At the time, a common sight on the suburbs’ main routes was of cattle, horses, geese, etc. being herded down, e.g. along Edgware Road or Holloway Road en route to Smithfield.

By the mid 19th century writers such as Charles Dickens were highlighting the market’s ramshackle buildings, the dirty and dangerous conditions there for animals and humans and in particular the unsanitary conditions the meat slaughtering was having at the heart of the city in Newgate Street – with waste going directly into the Fleet and Thames. The noise and bustle of livestock and traders assembling there, together with the associated streams of animals coming through the suburbs was causing widespread concern. A major public gathering – St Bartholomew’s Fair every August – was also held at Smithfield. The noise, drunkenness and misbehaviour it brought merely added to public concern about the need to take action.

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