1902 Encyclopedia > London > Markets and Food Supply - Provision Markets. Old Smithfield Market. Central Meat Market. Leadenhall Market. Billingsgate. Covent Garden. Tattersall's. Costermongers.

(Part 15)


Provision Markets. Old Smithfield Market. Central Meat Market. Leadenhall Market. Billingsgate. Covent Garden. Tattersall's. Costermongers.

A regulation passed in 127 ordained that no market should be kept on London Bridge or elsewhere except in places specially appointed for the purpose, and that no person should buy wares in Southwark that were to be bought in the City. In 1322 a decree was issued by the mayor that none should sell fish or flesh "out of the markets appointed, to wit, Bridge Street, East Cheap, Old Fish Street, St Nicholas shambles, and Stocks market"; and in 1328 a charter was granted to the corporation by Edward III., conveying to it the sole right to establish markets within 7 miles circuit of the city. In 1345 a proclamation was passed that poultry instead of being sold in lanes or hostels should be brought to Leaden Hall, and in the same year it was decreed that butchers and fishmongers should sell in the enclosed place called the "Stokkes," and not in the king’s highway. After Acts passed in 1351 and 1382 on behalf of aliens and foreigners, all regulations formerly made in reference to the sale of provisions in London were repealed, and the dealers placed under the control of the mayor and aldermen, thus confirming a system of public markets and bazaars even for the retail trade, which remained almost inviolate till the time of Edward VI., up to whose reign there was, according to Stow, scarcely such a thing as a shop between Westminster and St Paul’s. The system, though now broken up even in regard to provisions so far as the retail trade is concerned, remains intact in regard to the vending of certain provisions wholesale, and still exercises a considerable influence on general retail. The principal markets mentioned by Stow are Smithfield, Bartholomew Fair, Leaden Hall, Grass Church (Grace Church) market, chiefly for corn, meal, and cheese; East Cheap flesh market, the adjoining alley to which, Red Lane, had by this time received the less idyllic of Pudding Lane, on account of the butches making use of it for the disposal of the offal before transferring it to their dung-boats on the Thames; Newgate market for corn, afterwards for meat; St Nicholas shambles; Stocks market, established in 1282 on a place occupied by public stocks, and rebuilt in 1410, for flesh, fish, poultry; and the fish market in Old Fish Street. He also states that in 1302 bread was sold in Bread Street in the open market. Before the great fire Stocks market was occupied by greengrocers, the important vegetable market at Honey Lane had also been established, and markets, chiefly for meat and fowls, were held at Holborn Bars and outside Temple Bars. The increase of the population led in 1657 to the establishment by Lord Clare of Clre market, which, though now frequented only by a very humble class of buyers, was declared a free market by a special Act of Cromwell’s parliament, and was for long time one of the principal markets for all kinds of provisions. Other markets subsequently established were those of St James by the earl of St Albans, Bloomsbury by the earl of Southampton, Brook market by Lord Brook, Hungerford market, Newport market, Haymarket, and Mayfair. Newport market for meat still exists, but the others have been gradually superseded. The principal markets now existing are Smithfield (central meat market and poultry market), Leadenhall (poultry and game), Billingsgate (fish), Covent Garden (fruit and vegetables), the cattle markets at Copenhagen Fields and Deptford, the Bermondsey leather market, and the Cumberland, Smithfield, and Whitechapel hay markets.

A market for horses and cattle was held as Smithfield (Smoothfield) in the time of Fitzstephen, and doubtless long anterior to this. The priory of St Bartholomew in Smithfield obtained from Henry II. the privilege of a fair for drapers, which was kept three days yearly, originally in the churchyard at a considerable distance from the place occupied by the cattle market, and latterly became a scene of great riot, until it was abolished in 1853. A year later the cattle market was removed to Copenhagen Fields. There were 80 butchers in London and suburbs in 1533, each of whom killed 9 oxen weekly, which in forty-six weeks, none being killed in Lent, would amount to 33,120 yearly. In John Erswick’s Brief Note of the Benefits of Fish Days (1593), it is estimated that 60 butchers, freemen of the city, killed each 5 oxen weekly, or altogether 300 per week, and that the foreigners or non-freemen killed four times as many, or 1200 weekly, the total number of cattle annually killed being thus 69,000. By Richard II. a law was passed enacting that no flesh should be killed in London but at Knightsbridge or such like distance from the city, but in the time of Stow the slaughter-houses of the freemen butchers were in Pentecost Lane adjoining St Nicholas shambles and near the Butcher’s Hall. Probably the arrangements in regard to slaughter-houses were then more advanced in London than they are now, for although sufficient slaughter-houses to dispose of all the cattle sold at Copenhagen Fields have been erected adjoining the market, a very large number of cattle are still killed in underground cellars, which, notwithstanding the superintendence of the Board Works under the Slaughter-Houses Act of 1874, are in the majority of cases totally unsuited for the purpose. The number of these slaughter-houses before the passing of the Act, when they were licensed by the justices, was 1429; but they have now been reduced to a little over 900. The following table (XIII) gives the average number of sheep and cattle sold at Smithfield at various periods from 1731 to 1854, when the market was removed: -


The market at Copenhagen Fields, Holloway, covers upwards of 20 acres, and was erected at a cost of 441,000 pounds, with accommodation for 6616 bullocks, 34,980 sheep, 1425 calves, and 900 pigs. Deptford foreign market, which occupies the site of Deptford dockyard, and was bought for 100,000 pounds, has an area of 33 acres. The following table (XIV), gives the number of cattle, sheep, and pigs sold at the metropolitan markets since 1870:-


The Central London meat market, opened in Smithfield in 1868 at a cost of about 250,000 pounds, to supersede Newgate, market, is built in the Italian Renaissance style, with towers at the four corners, and occupies about 3 acres, its length being 625 feet and its breadth 240. below the market area there is a railway terminus. To the west of the meat market another one-third its size was opened in 1875 for poultry and provisions. From 1869 to 1875 the toll received from the meat market increased from 14,220 pounds to 18,272 pounds, or 28 _ per cent. and with the addition of the poultry and provision market it had increased in 1880 to 24,310 pounds, or 71 per cent. The total amount of meat sold in the market in 1879 was 213,614 tons; in 1880 the total amount was 221,448 tons, of which 107,326 tons were country-killed, 80,905 town-killed, 7381 foreign, and 25,836 American, the amount of American meat in 1876 being only 5513 tons. A large quantity of meat is conveyed to the butchers direct without entering the market, and several butchers also buy their cattle and get them killed privately. As, moreover, the cattle markets and the meat market supply towns and villages beyond the metropolitan area, there is double impossibility of forming from these sales an estimate of the actual amount of butcher’s meat consumed in London.

Leadenhall, which according to Stow belonged in 1309 to Sir Hugh Neville, and had been used as a market before it came into the possession of the city in 1411, was enlarged in 1444 by an addition for a granary in connection with the corn market which had been removed to it from Cornhill, the clothes market also following before 1503; and before 1553 the foreign butchers who formerly stood in the High Street off Lime Street had been ordered to take stalls in it. A great part of it in the time of Stow was used as a wool market, but afterwards it became the principal provision market in the city; and, according to Pennant, the Spanish ambassador told Charles II. that he believed there was more meat sold in that market than in all the kingdom of Spain. The Leadenhall underwent improvements in 1713 and 1815; and in 1881 a new structure of elegant design, with an area of 26,900 square feet, and erected at a cost of 50,000 pounds, was opened as a market for fowls and game, the principal commodities sold at Leadenhall for many years.

Billingsgate, the great fish market of the metropolis, was from an early period a harbor for small ships and boats, and in the time of Stow had almost superseded its great rival Queenhithe, which was in the possession of the Crown. As it grew in importance fish stalls were erected in its neighborhood, but the original market for fish was in Fish Street; and Friday Street, Cheapside, which received its name from being inhabited by fishmongers who served Friday’s market, is mentioned as early as 1303. The Act of 1699, which made Billingsgate a "free market for fish," to some extent interfered with the ancient control of the fishmongers, although the custom of selling fish there had been introduced long previously. Until 1846 Billingsgate was a mere assemblage of wooden sheds. The building erected in that year was succeeded by another in 1877, with an area of 39,000 feet instead of 20,000; but, an account of the deficiency of its communications and its defective internal accommodation and arrangements, the market is totally inadequate. Among several abortive efforts to establish other markets for fish was Columbia market, which was completed in 1869 by the Baroness Burdett Coutts for over 200,000 pounds, and presented as a fish market to the City, but failed to attract salesmen. The City authorities have the intention to utilize the vegetable market in course of erection at Smithfield as a fish market, and a scheme is also being promoted for a fish market in the parish of St Paul, Shadwell. A fish and vegetable market has been established by the Great Eastern Railway Company at Canning Town. The quantity of fish brought to London by rail is not given by the markets committee prior to 1866, but in 1848 the quantity brought by water alone 108,739 tons. In 1866 the total brought by water and rail was 132,004, in 1870 it was 117,193, in 1875 only 94,949, but since 1877m when the new market was opened, it has gradually increased from 107,168 to 130,629, or nearly 2000 tons less than in 1866, and scarcely 12,000 more than were brought in 1848 by water alone. There has of late years been a more rapid increase in the quantity or water-borne fish, but the amount brought by rail is at present about two-thirds of the whole. Thus, with a population which since 1851 has increased by two-fifths, the fish supply has practically remained stagnant, while, owing to delay in consequence of increased pressure of traffic, the fish often deteriorate so as to be unfit for human food.
Coven Garden market, for vegetables fruit, and flowers, which occupies the site of a convent garden belonging to Westminster Abbey, seems to have been used as a market very early in the 17th century, and it received a considerable impulse from the discontinuance of Stocks market on account of the building of the Mansion House and also of Honey Lane market, which in 1823 was superseded by the City of London school, while since the removal of Hungerford market to make way for Charing Cross station it has remained he only vegetable and flower market of importance in the metropolis, although vegetables of a cheap kind are sold at the Borough and Spitalfields markets, watercresses at Farringdon market, which superseded the Fleet vegetable market in 1824, and potatoes at the station of the Great Northern Railway. Until 1828 Covent Garden market consisted of an unsightly array of sheds. The present building, erected by the duke of Bedford, though lately much improved, is quite inadequate for its requirements, while the arrangements for the disposal of mud and refuse are very reprehensible.

Tattersall’s Knightsbridge, established by Richard Tattersal in 1780, is one of the principal marts in England for riding and carriage horses, and may be regarded as the headquarters of the turf.

One of the principal difficulties connected with the establishment of new markets in London lies in the inconvenient railway arrangements, which render it impossible to obtain a site that shall have sufficient and direct communication with the several districts of England and with the Continent. The poorer classes obtain cheap supply of vegetables and other provisions from costermongers and itinerant vendors, who either occupy stands in special localities, especially in the east End, and in High Street (Islinton), Hampstead Road, Edgeware Road, and York Road (Somers Town), or hawk them through the streets. The capital possessed in 1861 by these vendors, who then numbered 41,040, was estimated at 40,000 pounds, their gross amount of annual trade at 2,700,000 pounds, and their annual gains at 900,000 pounds. Since that period their numbers, capital, trade, and gains have probably increased at least one-third.

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