(Click on image to enlarge to 800×1100).
“London in 1891”
The artist William Loftie (1838-1911) was born in Ireland but he lived most of his life in England and also in London. He had a keen interest in London, writing books on its history, producing many paintings of scenes in London and also maps. This picture shows the Leadenhall Market at Christmastime.
The view looks west – meaning that the view is from the eastern end of the market and looks west towards Gracechurch Street. The arches glimpsed in the distance must have been in Gracechurch Street at the time but they are not like that today. The only way to establish the position of the camera is by looking up at the word ‘ERECTED’ on the steelwork supporting the glass roof. Where the four ‘arms’ of the market roof meet there is an inscription in large gold letters. That particular word can only be seen when standing under the eastern ‘arm’ of the market and looking west. The four arms of the structure are so similar that, apart from recognising particular shops which are obviously not there any more, there are really no other clues in the picture.
The people to be seen in the picture are mainly ‘City gents’ who are wearing top hats or bowlers. That tradition has gone out of fashion completely today but City gents were still wearing bowler hats and carrying rolled umbrellas until the 1970s, maybe even later. The market and its large lamps have changed very little but the shops in Victorian times were mainly butchers and poulterers. Note that the City livery company is called the ‘Worshipful Company of Poulters’ (not Poulterers). There is also a ‘Worshipful Company of Butchers’.
The view portrays a time when no members of the public had a refrigerator and that meant buying whatever you intended to eat for Christmas lunch just a few days before the 25 December. Shops needed to time their delivery of chickens, geese, turkeys, other game and joints of meat just right so that they had plenty of supplies for their customers. With everyone buying at almost exactly the same time, there were many problems for the butchers and poulterers in having sufficient stocks. Many people ordered what they required in advance and usually agreed on a suitable date and time to pick up their request.
The rows of hooks outside the shops in Leadenhall Market remain to this day but few of them have any game hanging from them like we see in the picture. One shop in today’s market sells hams, each wrapped up in green cloth, and they are to be seen hanging outside the shop. In the foreground of the picture, a butcher is surveying his stalls which contain large cuts of meat with rabbits hanging above and probably turkeys – still with their feathers on.
It’s a busy scene and one that we shall never see again at Leadenhall. Refrigerated transport and the cold storage in supermarkets means that the public can buy what they want whenever they want it. Outside London, in small country towns and villages, it is possible to find a small butcher who still hangs game – like pheasant and partridge – on rails outside the shop but that is now quite a rare sight. A butcher in Dereham, in Norfolk, was still doing that in the 1990s.
Just behind where the butcher is standing is a hand-cart used for the local delivery of meat. It bears the name of John Fitter. That shop appears in a blog written about Leadenhall Market. It is just possible that the butcher shown in the picture is John Fitter himself!
See also: Leadenhall Market – Fitter & Son – SHOW_THE_WEBPAGE