Leadenhall Market at Christmas

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Above: Photograph taken about 1910 of the interior of Leadenhall Market at Christmas. Copyright Bishopsgate Institute.

Among all the modern ‘high tech’ buildings of the 20th and 21st centuries, the City still retains equally ‘high tech’ buildings from the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. Calling the latter ‘high tech’ is stretching a point because the architectural term was not invented until probably the 1990s. However, the older buildings were equally ahead of their time when they were erected. Wren, in the 17th century, with his remarkable City churches and — most remarkable of all — St Paul’s Cathedral — is a case in point. George Dance the Elder designed the 18th century Palladian style Mansion House. In the 19th century came the genre of buildings that tended to have the same look but served very different purposes — examples of which in the City are Liverpool Street Station and Leadenhall Market. By that time the building medium was steel and Victorian architects were not afraid to leave it on show, with dramatic effect.

Leadenhall Market is wonderful to walk through — by day, by night and particularly at Christmas. There were various markets held in the narrow streets surrounding the original Leaden Hall, so-called because it had a large lead-covered roof, indicating its expensive construction. Many commodities have been sold there over the centuries including linen and cloth; nails, lead and iron-work; meat, then called ‘flesh’; wool; cutlery; hides; poultry; and even herbs.

By Victorian times the market was probably most famous for poultry, although meat, fish, fruit and vegetables were also to be found. This last collection of groceries was still on sale in smaller quantities right up to the 1980s. Sadly, today all of those shops have been converted into coffee bars, restaurants and even mobile phone shops. Things are not like they used to be!

The present buildings at Leadenhall Market were erected in 1881, designed by Horace Jones, the famous architect and Surveyor to the City of London. Jones was also responsible for the design of Tower Bridge, along with his engineer John Wolfe Barry.

After Leadenhall Market had been completed the market returned. Christmas was the time to see it. No homes had a refrigerator and so all poultry was sold fresh. Under the long roof are to be seen endless rows of steel hooks where chicken, ducks and turkeys, along with other game birds, were hung outside the shops, on show to the public and awaiting a customer. If only we had more photographs of those days! Well, we must be grateful for the few that there are, including the one at the top of this article. We see customers waiting around, looking at the poultry hanging from the large hooks, deciding what to buy.

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Above: A photograph taken from roughly the same position as the top photograph just a few years ago.

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Above: Close-up from the same photograph showing the hooks which are still in place after about 100 years.

The market is still decorated for the festive season but thereares no seasonal food-stuffs to be purchased because all those shops closed down many years ago. Due to market forces, the shops have been replaced by the highly efficient — but rather boring and unimaginative — supermarket chains. Leadenhall Market was the ‘supermarket’ of the Victorian and Edwardian City of London. An era has passed and all that remains are those long rows of metal hooks as a reminder! Happy Christmas and don’t forget to buy the goose!

-ENDS-

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