Leadenhall Market: Shop in one of London’s oldest commercial hubs dating back to Roman times
Leadenhall Market is one of London’s oldest markets, dating back to the 14th century.
While the market dates back seven centuries, the site has actually been one of the city’s commercial hubs since the Roman invasion, when it was the location of the Basilica and Forum. Originally built in 70AD, it was expanded in 120AD, covering 2 hectares. The forum was a large open-air square and became a popular meeting place, with market stalls erected within the walls. However, the buildings were destroyed by Rome in 300AD as punishment for London supporting Carausius (d.293AD), who declared himself Emperor of Britain to the chagrin of Rome. It wasn’t until the early 5th century that the Romans finally left and Britain was independent from Rome.
In the early 14th century, the Manor of Leadenhall was owned by Sir Hugh Neville. Originally the local area was a meeting place for poulterers, then cheesemongers from 1397. The market sprung up in a series of courts beside Nevill House – known for its lead roof – on Leadenhall Street.
In 1411, the Corporation of London acquired the freehold of the land as a gift from former Mayor Richard ‘Dick’ Whittington (1354–1423). After the manor house was destroyed in a fire, it was replaced by a public granary, chapel and school as a gift to the public from Mayor at the time, Simon Eyre, Meanwhile, the market was expanded with traders selling poultry, grain, eggs, butter, cheese and herbs. Around this time, Leadenhall was considered the most important market in London and became quite the tourist attraction, with visitors coming to marvel over the bustling trade within the stalls. Over the 15th and 16th century, the market also offered wool, leather and cutlery for sale. The market was mentioned in Samuel Pepys’ diary in 1663 when he bought a leg of beef for six pence.
When the Great Fire ravaged London in 1666, the stone of Leadenhall Market actually prevented the flames from spreading north-east and escaped largely unscathed in comparison to most of the City. Leadenhall was subsequently rebuilt as a covered stone market with the stalls divided into sections; the Beef Market, The Green Yard and Herb Market. The Green Yard was listed as having 140 butchers stalls at one point, with fishmongers in the middle.
By the late 19th century, City bosses recognised the market in its then-form couldn’t sustain its success and popularity. Local businessmen and financiers complained the unruly market was reflecting negatively on the surrounding area. The Corporation tasked Sir Horace Jones (1819-1887) – who was architect and surveyor to the City from 1864 – to house the market in a tidy arcade. He was also responsible for designing Smithfield Market (1860s) and Billingsgate Fish Market (1870s), as well as Tower Bridge, which was completed eight years after his death. During re-building of Leadenhall in 1881, one of the Roman Basilica’s arches was discovered in the north-western foundations and has now been preserved in the basement of the Nicholson & Griffin Barber Shop in the Market’s Central Avenue. Sir Horace’s new market consisted of wrought iron, red brick, Portland stone and a glass roof in a neo-classical style. The centrepiece was a pitched roof – now painted sky blue with stars – supported by Ionic columns. The market cost £99,000 to build, with new approaches to it from different sides costing an additional £148,000. Although the market main entrance is on Gracechurch Street, it also has access on Whittington Avenue and Lime Street. The market is split into four main thoroughfares – Central Avenue, Leadenhall Place, Lime Street Passage and Whittington Avenue meeting in an octagonal crossing, with two pedestrianised walkways; Beehive Passage and Bull’s Head Passage.
In between World Wars I and II, the market became more of a destination for consumers rather than wholesale trade, with the latter business moving to Smithfield a mile away. In 1972, the market was given Grade II-listed status by Historic England. Between 1990-1991, the market was redecorated to enhance the architectural detail.
Within the centre of the market is the historic Lamb Tavern, which has stood on the site since 1309. The current design was built by Sir Horace along with the current market in the 19th century. A range of shops and eating establishments exist today – a combination of long-established businesses alongside more modern chains. Some of the shops still feature the original iron hooks where produce used to hang from.
- Leadenhall Market (access from Gracechurch Street, Lime Street and Whittington Avenue, EC3V 1LT. Nearest stations: Monument or Fenchurch Street. Shops generally open Mon-Fri 10am-6pm, although the market hall can be accessed 24/7.
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For a history of London’s Borough Market, click here.