This year marks the 700th anniversary of London’s Leadenhall Market, the ornate market in the City of London.
Well, sort of.
The earliest known reference to the market dates from 1321 — 700 years ago — but that refers to an existing market on the site, so while the exact date the market opened is unknown, this year can be argued to be the anniversary of the earliest reference to it. It’s also the year that the market itself puts as its birthday.
It’s been a sort of market space ever since Roman times though, as it — by sheer coincidence — was set up on the site of the forum and basilica, although they didn’t know that in the 14th century.
It’s unproven, but the name is thought to have come from the Manor of Leaden-Hall, a mansion house nearby notable for having a lead-covered roof, which granted permission for the market to be set up, probably when it belonged to Sir Hugh Neville.
By 1321, the area was well known as a market for poultry, and in 1397, a nearby cheese market opened.
In 1408, the former Lord Mayor of London, Richard ‘Dick’ Whittington buys the manor, and a few years later, the market as well. The market swiftly grew in scope, expanding into meat and fish, and later in 1439-55, the Hall was rebuilt as a grain store by the Lord Mayor of London, Simon Eyre.
It gained some legal powers in 1463, when the beam for the tronage and weighing of wool was set up in the market, and a few years later in 1488 gained a monopoly in the City for the sale of leathers.
In Tudor and Stuart times, the market was a hugely popular place in London and was even a sort of early tourist attraction, as travellers came to admire London’s industry and prosperity.
Not much seemed to happen until 1622, when the leather monopoly was joined by a monopoly on sale of cutlery in the City.
The market was destroyed in the Great Fire of London, and when it was rebuilt afterwards it became a covered structure for the first time, and made from stone to protect it from future fires. They also tidied up the layout, created three dedicated areas known as the Hide Market, the Green Yard and to the south, the Herb Market.
The Hide Market was the grandest of the three though, as it sat in what was effectively the back garden of the Leaden Hall, the former mansion house turned grain store that still dominated the entrance.
As the City moved towards more office-based trades, the presence of the market in the centre of the City started to become a problem, with its narrow streets and meat slaughtering going on around the site. The hide market was particularly notorious.
In September 1878, a special court of the Common Council was held to decide the fate of the market – to move it out of London or something else. In the end, it was decided that the Poultry market would be rebuilt, slightly to the south of its previous location, so that it would remain close to the fish market in Billingsgate – which was seen as important for some reason.
Moving the markets took an Act of Parliament, the Leadenhall Market Act, passed in 1879 for the works to be allowed.
A legal oddity is that an act passed in 1871 pretty much allowed what they wanted, but it was updated in 1879, and the new act would repeal the older one on the day the new market opened, which was to be announced by a notice in the London Gazette. It seems they forgot to publish the notice, and it wasn’t until 2008 that the 1871 act was formally repealed – 120 years after it was supposed to have been.
Back to the 19th century though, and the City of London agreed to borrow the large sum of £48,700 to fund the £250,000 cost of the project (the debt was paid off in 1906), and demolition of the old market started in the middle of 1880, with the first stone laid by Sir Horace Jones on 28th June 1881.
The new market opened on Friday 16th December 1881.
The old market site, and of the original Leaden Hall is now an office block.
There is little left of the original market but part of the south wall remains hidden behind Nos.16-19 Leadenhall Market.
The meat and poultry business finally moved out and relocated to Smithfield between the wars, and the market became a mix of remaining food suppliers and new tenants moving in.
The market buildings were restored in 1991, and is now less to do with butchering meats on site and is more of an upmarket shopping mall.
And yes, of course, it’s featured in lots of movies.