Leadenhall Market is a covered market in the City of London, located on Gracechurch Street but with vehicular access also available via Whittington Avenue, and additional pedestrian access via a number of narrow passageways.
It is one of the oldest markets in London, dating from the 14th century, though the current building is much newer.
In the 19th century, the hide and meat market with its ‘crowded and unruly’ stalls were incompatible with the financial city and the City Architect, Sir Horace Jones, was instructed to design a ‘respectable arcade’ for the poultry market. Jones also designed Smithfield Market, Billingsgate Market and Tower Bridge. His designs replaced the earlier stone structure with wrought iron and glass – this is the building which stands today and was given Grade II listed status in 1972.
The current ornate glass roofed building was constructed in 1881 at a cost of £99,000, though infrastructure works to the surrounding approaches cost a further £148,000. Jones was influenced by Mengoni’s Victor Emmanuel Galleria in Milan for the design of the new Leadenhall arcade. Its crooked ground plan reflects the constraint of the medieval rights of way within which Jones had to work.
The new designs removed the itinerant salesmen who were now unable to rent the new, permanent stands. Though the character and atmosphere of the new market diverged from its previous incarnations, it enjoyed a similar level of success. This resulted in a necessity for additional space, with simpler brick extensions made to both side of Lime Street Passage, and new glazed passages in the south-west quadrant, both in 1885.
The wide entrance was built in a Queen Anne Revival style, supported to each side by Dutch-style houses. At the centre of the market is an octagonal crossing rising to an impressive dome and lantern supported by giant Ionic cast-iron columns with dragons.
Pevsner, in his ‘Buildings of England’ comments on the lettering at the entrances “as gloriously commercial as a circus poster” and of the City’s “dragons cheekily squeezed in”. There is a wealth of stamped and carved detail picked out in rich colours and many of the shops retain the spiked racks for hanging game.
The Legend of Old Tom (1797-1835)
During the 19th century, ‘Old Tom’ was a celebrated character in Leadenhall. He was a gander from Ostend who came to England by chance, due to his fascination with one of the female members of his flock. It is recorded that over two consecutive days 34,000 geese were slaughtered in the Market – but Old Tom managed to escape execution. He became a great favourite in the market, even being fed at the local inns. After his death in 1835 at the age of 38, he lay in state in the market and was buried on site.
Charles Dickens & A Christmas Carol (1843)
On Christmas Day, Scrooge awakens transformed and asks a passing boy to fetch him a prize turkey and have it delivered to the Cratchits. It’s very likely this would have been purchased in Leadenhall Market, which was London’s go-to place for buying fowl.
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