Under a dull, grey, damp and miserable London sky last week, London Shoes took the short train journey from its base – into the City’s ‘Square Mile’, for the purpose of exploring a historic London landmark that’s been a ‘constant’ since the 1300’s and quite possibly since Roman times………..the structurally magnificent and splendid:-
“Leadenhall Market”-London EC3
Maps and records indicate that there may well been a form of market area where Leadenhall Market is today, since early Roman times – where there was a building that was designed in a basilica and forum style.
Way back in the 1300’s the land was part of the Manor of Leadenhall and was a designated meeting place for poultry sellers.
In 1411, records show that the Lord Mayor of London at the time “Richard Whittington” (yes ‘Dick Whittington’, he of the panto fame – he really did exist) bought the lease of the Leadenhall Manor land and its buildings and ‘gifted’ it to the City of London – and subsequently the market was expanded and converted it into a place where meat, game, poultry & fish could be traded and bought.
In 1463 a huge wooden beam was erected in the middle of the market place – which large weighing scales were hung from, so that wool could be traded there.
By the early 1600’s, cutlery and leather were added to the now extensive list of produce & products sold at Leadenhall Market, which now included dairy produce such as cheese – milk – butter – eggs – making Leadenhall Market the biggest location of business commerce in London, and the City’s largest and most important market.
At that time, the market area was surrounded by a solid stone wall – mainly for protection against unwanted attacks, theft & vandalism. It was a good job the market was walled, because when the Great Fire of London ravaged the City in 1666, the stone walls of Leadenhall Market helped prevent the sort of damage and destruction that the other buildings surrounding it suffered.
The development of the Port of London on the nearby River Thames, just a little further down the road from the market site – meant that traders from all over the world came to London to trade at Leadenhall Market.
The Leadenhall Market site was now so big, it was a popular area for street performers and street musicians, and many outdoor festival events were held there.
The late 1700’s saw Leadenhall Market adopt a legendary character – a goose named ‘Old Tom’.
Roughly 35,000 geese were slaughtered at Leadenhall Market every year – and for some reason, a goose nicknamed ‘Old Tom’, managed to continually dodge ‘execution’.
Old Tom became a ‘celebrity’ within the confines of Leadenhall Market and all its traders – and on a daily basis, he could be seen waddling around from stall to stall & pub to pub – where he would always be fed and pampered.
Old Tom the goose eventually died in 1835 at the grand old age of 38, and was ‘laid-in-state’ before being buried at the Market.
Today – there can be seen a number of references to Old Tom at the Leadenhall Market site – and in fact, down some steps in the Market area, there is now an “Old Tom’s Bar”.
In 1881 ‘Sir Horace Jones’ was commissioned by the authorities to redesign and rebuild, what was now a bit of a run down market site.
Jones was chosen for this project because he had been responsible for designing and building London’s other huge market sites at Billingsgate and Smithfield.
All the long standing stone walls and stone features were replaced, and Leadenhall Market was redesigned and rebuilt in wrought iron and glass, with a huge roof – in typical Victorian fashion – and it is this structure that exists today.
Although Leadenhall Market has had a few ‘clean-up’ jobs throughout the past century, many of its Victorian fixtures & fittings and shop fronts still exist.
Right up until the mid to late 1980’s, Leadenhall Market was knocking out poultry, fish & cheese to the masses – in fact, during the 80’s and the early years of my marriage, my good-lady-wife Angela used to work at a Barclays Bank head-office building in St. Mary Axe – right nearby to Leadenhall Market – and she always used to buy my ‘fish’ and her ‘cheese’ from the Leadenhall Market.
By the 1990’s the trend in shopping habits had changed, and so to stay-alive, Leadenhall Market started to move away from its produce culture of poultry other stuff, and it diversified into an enclosed shopping area that had up-market cafés – bar – restaurants – delicatessens – wine shops – exotic take-away food outlets – high end clothes shops etc – mostly frequented by the City workers, particularly those working at the iconic London Stock Exchange building right next door to the Market.
Because of its unique design and its historical importance – Leadenhall Market has, many times, been the chosen location for photographic shoots, music videos and film scenes. In fact some scenes from ‘Harry Potter & the Philosophers Stone’ were filmed at Leadenhall Market – where, in the film, it was the fictional area of London that lead to the popular wizarding pub ‘The Leaky Cauldron’ and the magical shopping street of ‘Diagon Alley’ (by the way – I’ve never watched a ‘Potter’ film – so I haven’t got a ‘scoobie’ what any of that means)!!
Obviously – Leadenhall Market as a building and an area is protected by its Grade II Listed status, and long may it remain so. However – as with all the blogs London Shoes has published over the past couple of months – there is a very sad and very worrying aspect to unique historic London landmarks such as Leadenhall Market – and that is the impact the Covid19 virus has had on this magnificent capital City, its people and its culture.
Like all other historic landmarks, Leadenhall Market is usually a hive of activity – almost 24/7 the place is crammed full of people, either shopping or socialising throughout its outlets – but since ‘lockdown’ in March early this year, the site is now like an old closed-down abandoned movie set.
It was almost completely empty for the couple hours I spent there last week, and is most probably like that every day now.
So many of the retail outlets under the Market’s roof, are now closed-down, never to return – its bars and cafes are empty, and the only folk around were sightseers like myself, taking advantage of the unique photo opportunity.
To think – a market has been on the current Leadenhall Market site, as far back as the 1300’s – and in all that subsequent time, it would have never seen what it is witnessing in today’s world.
It’s not just the Market itself – as directly outside its entrances are the historically famous roads of Gracechurch Street – Threadneedle Street – Cornhill -& Bishopsgate – the hub of the ‘Square Mile’ – streets that are normally totally gridlocked with vehicles and pedestrians 24/7 – but, the reality is that (on the day of my visit), I was able to actually stand in the middle of these roads (not on a traffic island) and take photos, without any fear of cars hitting me!!!
Without meaning to sound too negative, I’m afraid I don’t know what the answer is – but, in retrospect, at least my London Shoes website will hopefully always be around to tell the story ‘as it once was’.
Hope you enjoyed the photos accompanying this Leadenhall Market blog.
See below the entire gallery of photos accompanying this blog