Smithfield, London

area in the City of London

Smithfield is an area of the City of London, in the ward of Farringdon Without situated in the north-west part of the City. The core street of the area is West Smithfield. There are a group of important institutions located in the area, St Bartholomew's Hospital, the London Charterhouse, the Livery Halls of the Butchers' Hall and the Haberdashers' Hall, but is mainly known for its centuries-old meat market, today the last surviving historical wholesale market in Central London.

Smithfield Market from Charterhouse Street


  • It was market morning. The ground was covered nearly ankle deep with filth and mire; and a thick steam perpetually rising from the reeking bodies of the cattle, and mingling with the fog, which seemed to rest upon the chimney tops, hung heavily above … Countrymen, butchers, drovers, hawkers, boys , thieves, idlers, and vagabonds of every low grade, were mingled together in a dense mass: the whistling of drovers, the barking of dogs, the bellowing and plunging of beasts, the bleating of sheep, and the grunting and squealing of pigs; the cries of hawkers, the shouts, oaths, and quarrelling on all sides, the ringing of bells, and the roar of voices that issued from every public house; the crowding, pushing, driving, beating, whooping and yelling; the hideous and discordant din that resounded from every corner of the market; and the unwashed, unshaven, squalid, and dirty figures constantly running to and fro, and bursting in and out of the throng, rendered it a stunning and bewildering scene which quite confused the senses.
  • If the stranger can make his way through the crowd … and can manage to raise himself a few feet above the general level, he sees before him in one direction, by the dim light of hundreds of torches, a writhing party-coloured mass, surmounted by twisting horns, some in rows, tied to rails which run along the whole length of the open space, some gathered in one struggling knot.
    In another quarter, the moving torches reveal to him, now and then, through the misty light, a couple of acres of living wool, or roods of pigs' skins. If he ventures into this closely wedged and labouring mass, he is enabled to watch more narrowly the reason of the universal ferment among the beasts.
    The drover with his goad is forcing the cattle into the smallest possible compass, and a little further on half a dozen men are making desperate efforts to drag refractory oxen up to the rails with ropes …
    The sheep, squeezed into hurdles like figs into a drum, lie down upon each other, and make no sign; the pigs, on the other hand, cry out before they are hurt.
    This scene, which has more the appearance of a hideous nightmare than a weekly exhibition in a civilized country, is accompanied by the barking of dogs, the bellowing of cattle, the cursing of men, and the dull blow of sticks … The hubbub generally abates from 12 o'clock at night, the time of opening, to its close at 3 p.m. the next day, although during the whole period as fresh lots are "headed up", individual acts of cruelty continue...
    Many of the drovers we doubt not are ruffians, but we believe the greater part of the cruelty is to be ascribed to the market's place itself which, considering the immense amount of business to be got through on Mondays and Fridays, is absurdly and disgracefully confined.

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