up early to visit Smithfield market

20th January 2017

by Helen Parker

 

I decided to set my alarm for 4am and wander down the street from our new showroom to Smithfield Meat Market. It opens at 2am and is pretty much cleared away by 7am, so I guessed 4 O’Clock would be about right.

We had opened our wonderful new showroom on St Johns Square the day before so it was literally a 5 minute walk into the ‘square mile’ of the City of London and check out this ancient trading place. A livestock market has been on this site since the twelfth century. In 1174 it was described by William Fitzstephen, clerk to Thomas à Becket as “a smooth field where every Friday there is a celebrated rendezvous of fine horses to be sold, and in another corner are placed vendibles of the peasant, swine with their deep flanks and cows and oxen of immense bulk”.

It was dark and quiet but as I reached the beautiful buildings that make up the market it was buzzing. There were literally dozens and dozens of white vans and men dressed in white coats with hard hats on. All the local cafes were open, the newsagents too, everyone was milling around eating breakfast rolls and loading up vans, even a pub or two were serving beers.

I was a little apprehensive as I entered the walkway where all the business takes place, even though I knew I was allowed to wander around. I needn’t have worried, people didn’t seem to bother, they just got on with their work. Once in the walkway there are several entrances opposite each other, each one has a large warehouse area in the back and a smallish shop front displaying meats at the front. There are dozens of butchers cutting and moving meats around and people haggling for the best price. It wasn’t a frantic place with lots of shouting, just busy people working through the night to supply all the restaurants and food places in London with meat. It’s not all local meat, there were boxes pre-packed from Europe which surprised me, but I guess they cater to all needs and budgets.

I love markets but have never been to a meat one before, usually fish or fruit and vegetables are my favourite, in the summer I went to a wonderful fish market in Palma, Mallorca with Zoë and we had champagne and fish for breakfast!! This was a very different experience to the meat market, beautiful, fascinating, colourful and weird fish just waiting to be photographed.

This was not a visual feast for the eyes and I wasn’t blown away by the spectacle of it all, but it was real London history and that’s what I liked. Seeing all these people who work through the night, another little world that goes on while we sleep every night of the week. It wasn’t glamorous, but it was another piece of East London history that I really enjoyed a glimpse of.