Sitting next to Smithfield meat market is a circular pocket park that was created to provide rest for the market workers. The space has been an open space forever, as it sits right in the middle of the old West Smithfield Market Place, which was later turned into the open-air meat market.
However, there was growing pressure from the 1830s onwards to move the meat market out of London, and in 1860, it was decided that it was time to enclose the meat market into a building, which is the Smithfield Meat Markets today. The buildings were erected above a set of railway sidings to deliver meat, and next to the market buildings, a circular ramp was built to let vehicles get between street level and the railway sidings.
Today, as it happens, the railways have long since stopped dropping meat off at the market, so the basement space is now a car park, and also the standby headquarters for MI6, according to James Bond’s Skyfall, and although the ramp is at Smithfield, the space underneath was actually filmed at Waterloo.
Back to the 1860s, and in the middle of the circular ramp, they built a Smithfield Recreation Ground — later renamed the Smithfield Rotunda Garden.
This was formally opened to the public in 1872, although it wasn’t technically complete, as there was a space in the middle for a statue which didn’t arrive until the following year.
The large statue represents Peace, and was created by Francis Butler following a public competition to design a drinking fountain for the park. The design was approved on 17th March 1871
The bronze statue of Peace is crowned with a wheaten garland, with an olive branch in the left hand and a raised right hand. Around the base are four — no longer working — drinking basins that would have once provided clean water for the thirsty visitors. The original plan was for the statue to have a huge stone canopy, but that was never added, and the four plinths that would have supported it are now topped with planters instead.
What’s interesting is how it was paid for.
When Sir Martin Bowes, a former Lord Mayor of London, died in 1566, he left money in his will to a number of charities, including one to fund the repair of conduits that brought fresh water into the city. As these fell into disuse thanks to more modern water supplies, the trust fund administering the money grew in size until it reached over £1,200 in the 1870s. It was decided that they could use the money instead for the drinking fountain, as it served a related function – the provision of clean drinking water.
So a 300+ year old trust fund paid for a sculpture of Peace.
In 1924, the statue gained a real gold ring on her hand, which was found in the garden, and the chap who found it, Bill Briggenham thought it was high time the lady was married, so proposed to the statue and popped the ring on her finger.
Sadly though, it seems that the ring is no longer there – at least I couldn’t see the outline of a ring on any of her fingers, even if badly tarnished.
This year is her 150th anniversary of being created, and next year marks her 100th anniversary of being married to Bill. It would be nice to give her a replacement gold ring for the centenary of her betrothment.
The rest of the park today is very much a resting space, as it has just one entrance, so unlike most other pocket parks that can often feel more like a shortcut than a place of peace, this one is very much only used by people who want to have a sit down and rest.
Quite a lot of benches are dotted around the edges, including some more modern metal benches in the style of an old Smithfield meat barrow.
Around the back of the statue is a very geometrical set of stone shapes to form a bench that was added in December 2006. However, it does look more like a sculpture than a bench, which is probably why I’ve rarely seen anyone sit on it, even when other benches are busy.
Inscribed into the stone are some quotes from Charles Dickens and Sir Christopher Wren.
There’s also some fun here, a number of wobbly structures that you can stand on and bounce around a fair bit. They still work, as I can confirm from diligent testing, to the apparent considerable amusement of people watching