Thursday, 19 September 2013

Smithfield Market and Champagne Breakfast Wednesday 18th September

A very early start was required for this visit to Smithfield and at 6.30pm the first group was assembled outside Barbican Station.  Our guide, Peter Twist, marched us off via the winding passages of East Street and Cloth Fair to West Smithfield, past Saint Bartholomew the Great, one of London's oldest churches. Founded in 1123 as an Augustinian Priory, it has been in continuous use since 1143. The Smithfield area, which includes St Bartholomew's Hospital and what is now called the Central Markets, has at the heart of it all a church built when Henry I, son of William the Conqueror, was King. It survived the Great Fire of 1666 and both World Wars unscathed. The Church is noted for its wonderful architecture, traditional formal worship and marvellous music. It has also appeared in numerous films including Four Weddings and a Funeral, Shakespeare in Love, Amazing Grace, as well as in several television programmes, including The Hollow Crown.  Leaving this treasure behind we progressed across Long Lane to the Market itself which was founded in Victorian times, replete with railway systems beneath, now being restored to form part of Crossrail.  Entering the original Market (open to everyone), with its massive wrought iron gates, we met many friendly members of the Butchers' Company at the end of their working day (having commenced at 1am).  The fantastic range of meats on offer looked completely different to our supermarket purchases and the prices also seemed lower.  We progressed through to the Poultry market which had been rebuilt in 1962 after a fire had completely destroyed the original building.  A three-inch thick concrete roof sufficient to span an Olympic size swimming pool, invisible from the road outside, seemed to represent an attempt to be modern, in line with the Barbican buildings.  The many other Victorian buildings, including the fruit and fish markets, the coal store, the Gentlemen toilets and the enormous cold storage areas all showed signs of extreme disuse and neglect.   The lure of the property developer is putting marked time on potential restoration of these historic buildings to their former glory. We all retired to the local Hope Inn at 8am, in the hope that the Corporation of London will be wise enough to guard their precious heritage. A glass of champagne, a strong coffee and full English breakfast restored us to a more sanguine view. Many thanks to Jane Wharam and Lesley Wilson for their organisation of such a fascinating glimpse into the history of streets that are walked daily by so many of us, yet rarely noticed. On conclusion of the visit I imagined that I whizzed off to the IOD Annual Conference at the Albert Hall in my new car!  Two great brands in one day - Smithfield and Jaguar.


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