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Smithfield, London

From Academic Kids

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.

Smithfield meat market
Smithfield meat market from the south
Larger version

The livestock market was moved in the 1860s and 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 (cf Covent Garden and Billingsgate).

Instead Smithfield market has been modernised on its existing site; for instance, its imposing Victorian buildings have had access points added for lorry loading/unloading purposes. The buildings sit on top of a veritable warren of tunnels: initially, live animals were brought to the market on foot (from the mid 19th century onwards they arrived by rail) and were slaughtered on site. This no longer takes place and the former railway tunnels are now used for storage, parking and as basements. An impressive cobbled ramp spirals down round the public park now known as West Smithfield, on the south side of the market, to give access to part of this area: some of the buildings on Charterhouse Street on the north side have access into the tunnels from their basements.

Smithfield former cold store
The former Central Cold Store at Smithfield is now a power station
Larger version

Some of the buildings formerly associated with the meat market have now been put to other uses. For example the former Central Cold Store is now, most unusually, a city centre power station operated by Citigen.

The public park comprises the centre of the only part of Smithfield which is still open space - this is in effect a large square with the market making one side and mostly older buildings the other three. The south side is occupied by St Bartholomew's Hospital (frequently known as Barts), and part of the east side by the church of St Bartholomew the Great.

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