Markets of London

Smithfield Market

Markets .—London contains nearly 40 markets for cattle, meat, corn, coal, hay, vegetables, fish, and other principal articles of consumption.  The meat-markets are of various kinds—one for live animals, others for carcases in bulk, and others for the retail of meat; some, also, are for pork, and others principally for fowls.  The New Cattle Market, Copenhagen Fields, near Pentonville, built, in 1854, to replace old Smithfield Market, covers nearly 30 acres, and, with outbuildings, slaughterhouses, &c., cost the City Corporation about £400,000.  It is the finest live stock market in the kingdom.  The present Smithfield Market, near the Holborn Viaduct, for dead meat and poultry, is a splendid building, 625 feet long, 240 feet wide, and 30 feet high.  Wide roads on its north, east, and west sides, accommodate its special traffic.  A carriage road runs right through it from north to south, with spacious and well ventilating avenues radiating from it.  There are in this market no less than 100,000 feet of available space.  It has cost upwards of £180,000 already.  There are underground communication with several railways, to bring in, right under the market, meat and poultry from the country, and meat from the slaughterhouses of the Copenhagen Fields Cattle Market.  Newgate Market, as a market, no longer exists.  Leadenhall Market  is a depôt  for meat and poultry.  At Whitechapel there is a meat market also.  The minor meat markets require no special note here.  Billingsgate, the principal fish market of London, near the Custom House, was greatly extended and improved in 1849.  It is well worth visiting any morning throughout the year, save Sunday, at five o'clock.  Ladies, however, will not care to encounter its noise, bustle, and unsavoury odours.  The fish arriving in steamers, smacks, and boats from the coast or more distant seas, are consigned to salesmen who, during the early market hours, deal extensively with the retail fishmongers from all parts of London.  The inferior fish are bought by the costermongers, or street-dealers.  When particular fish are in a prime state, or very scarce, there are wealthy persons who will pay enormously for the rarity; hence a struggle between the boats to reach the market early.  At times, so many boats come laden with the same kind of fish as to produce a glut; and instead of being sold at a high price, as is usually the case, the fish are then retailed for a mere trifle.  Fish is now brought largely to London by railway, from various ports on the east and south coasts.  The yearly sale of fish at Billingsgate has been estimated at so high a sum as £2,000,000.

Covent Garden Market  (connected by Southampton Street with the Strand) is the great vegetable, fruit, and flower market.  This spot, which is exceedingly central to the metropolis, was once the garden to the abbey and convent of Westminster: hence the name Convent  or Covent.  At the suppression of the religious houses in Henry VIII.'s reign, it devolved to the Crown.  Edward VI. gave it to the Duke of Somerset; on his attainder it was granted to the Earl of Bedford; and in the Russell family it has since remained.  From a design of Inigo Jones, it was intended to have surrounded it with a colonnade; but the north and a part of the east sides only were completed.  The fruit and vegetable markets were rebuilt in 1829–30.  The west side is occupied by the parish church of St. Paul's, noticeable for its massive roof and portico.  Butler, author of Hudibras, lies in its graveyard, without a stone to mark the spot.  In 1721, however, a cenotaph was erected in his honour in Westminster Abbey.  The election of members to serve in Parliament for the city of Westminster was held in front of this church: the hustings for receiving the votes being temporary buildings.  The south side is occupied by a row of brick dwellings.  Within the square thus enclosed fruit and vegetables of the best quality are exposed for sale.  A large paved space surrounding the interior square is occupied by the market-gardeners, who, as early as four or five in the morning, have carted the produce of their grounds, and wait to dispose of it to dealers in fruit and vegetables residing in different parts of London; any remainder is sold to persons who have standings in the market, and they retail it to such individuals as choose to attend to purchase in smaller quantities.  Within this paved space rows of shops are conveniently arranged for the display of the choicest fruits of the season: the productions of the forcing-house, and the results of horticultural skill, appear in all their beauty.  There are also conservatories, in which every beauty of the flower-garden may be obtained, from the rare exotic to the simplest native flower.  The Floral Hall, close to Covent Garden Opera House, has an entrance from the north-east corner of the market, to which it is a sort of appendage as a Flower Market.  Balls, concerts, &c., are occasionally given here.  The FarringdonBoroughPortmanSpitalfields, and other vegetable markets, are small imitations of that at Covent Garden.

The cultivation of vegetables in the open ground within ten miles surrounding London, has arrived at great perfection; and so certain is the demand, that the whole is regularly conveyed by land or water to the metropolis; insomuch that persons residing in the neighbourhood of those well-arranged gardens are really less readily accommodated than the inhabitants of the metropolis, and have no supply of vegetables but such as have already been sent to London, and thence back to retailers in their own locality.  There are also large supplies of foreign fruit and vegetables.  The annual produce of the garden-grounds cultivated to supply the London markets with fruit and vegetables has been estimated at the enormous weight of 360,000 tons, or 1,000 tons per day.