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.
Development of the railhead market at Somers Town alongside St Pancras was smaller in scale; it covered an acre of land between Ossulton Str / Phoenix Str / Midland Rd / Euston Rd at its peak by the 1920’s. It was notable more for its use of technology, with trains arriving at a higher level to access the station across the canal and then using hydraulic lifts to lower 40 trucks per hour down to the lower level storage and distribution depot. More exotic produce also tended to be handled by some of the firms based here – e.g. with bananas coming in from some major ports – Liverpool, Southampton and Avonmouth.
As London expanded eastwards in the late nineteenth century, wholesalers and retailers there still had to make long daily journeys to Billingsgate and Spitalfields for produce. This prompted the Great Eastern Railway Company to establish its own railhead market at Stratford Broadway in 1879. This traded through to the 1960’s and at its peak involved a network of over 80 miles of track.
Before Liverpool Street station was developed the main terminus was at Bishopsgate and this later developed as a railhead market – with sidings at three different levels to unload produce for the warehousing and market trading space there. It was most notable for deliveries of fish by high speed trains from the East Coast ports.
Increasing reliance on road traffic before and after World War Two gradually led to the decline and closure of all these markets. Interestingly, Nine Elms Market nevertheless opened in 1975 to succeed Covent Garden and still directly relies on rail transport for part of its traffic. Reminders of the original markets still survive, e.g. Kings Cross retains some of the (much modified) buildings such as the coal drops as well as some original lines being left in situ. Surprisingly, part of the Bishopsgate station frontage and warehousing arches still survive, awaiting eventual redevelopment of the whole tear-drop shaped site following the loss of much of the Goods Yard buildings in a fire.
Eric finished with some brief examples of other London markets which developed in close proximity to the railways: Borough Market and Shepherds Bush Market both use railway arches as their homes, whilst Maltby Street is now developing in a similar way.
Questions followed from the audience and covered a number of points:
There was keen competition between rival railway companies for trade for their railhead markets.
After World War One livestock being driven along London’s main roads was still a common site as they were transferred from railheads to abattoirs (e.g. as on the Old Kent Road or Caledonian Road).
The development history of Stratford merits greater publicity – both for the archaeology investigations which preceded the 2012 Olympics as well as its more recent history as a national railway engineering centre and one of London’s key railhead markets.