Smithfield Market

Smithfield is an area in the north-west part of the City of London (which is itself the historic core of a much larger London).

Smithfield was originally the Smooth Field just outside the city walls and was used over the centuries as London’s main livestock market. As a large open space close to the City it was used for jousting and gatherings such as public executions and was used as a meeting place for the peasants in the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381. Wat Tyler was killed here on June 15, 1381.

William Wallace was executed here in 1305. Smithfield was the main site for the execution of heretics. About 50 Protestants were executed here in the reign of Mary I. Coin forgers were boiled in oil here in the 16th century.

Smithfield was the site of two monasteries – St Bartholomew the Great and Charterhouse both of which were dissolved in the reformation but both of which have survived in part into the 21st century. St Bartholomew’s Hospital was established by the monastery in 1123.

Charles Dickens criticized the location of a livestock market in the heart of the capital in his 1850s essay A Monument of French Folly and compared it to the French market outside Paris at Poissy. The livestock market was moved to the Metropolitan Cattle Market in Islington in 1855. The present Smithfield meat market was established by an Act of Parliament: the 1860 Metropolitan Meat and Poultry Market Act. It is a large market with permanent buildings (designed by City architect Sir Horace Jones). Work on the eastern and western building began in 1866 and was completed in November 1868.

Smithfield is one of the few of the great London markets not to have moved from its central site to a location further out with cheaper land, better transport links and more modern facilities (compare with Covent Garden and Billingsgate).

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