A trip to the City of London is not complete without a visit to Leadenhall Market.
Walking amongst the high rise office buildings in the City of London it is easy to miss the ancient market of Leadenhall. It can be found in the triangle made up of Gracechurch Street, Fenchurch Street and Leadenhall Street at the heart of what we now know was the centre of Roman London. The Romans loved their market places and it is thought there has been a market in this position since the Romans settled here. What happened to the area when the Romans left is uncertain but the early new invaders may well have abandoned the area as they did in so many other places, letting the forum and basilica fall into ruin.
By 866 however the Anglo Saxons returned to London and the economy started to function again. Markets were vital to the community and growth of the economy and it is quite possible that the Anglo Saxons used the same location at Leadenhall which had been on an important Roman trading road to set up a new market. This is conjecture but we know that by the early 1300’s there is mention of a thriving market established within the grounds of a lead roofed manor house owned by Sir Hugh Neville. He was first Lord Neville, although that didn’t happen until 1311 and was born in Essex in 1276 and in 1298 had writs for livery which allowed him to sue for possession of land under the feudal system. This delivery of land was important under the feudal system and could well have been how he acquired the ‘Leadenhall’ manor. He was kept very busy fighting for King Edward I in the Scottish Wars of King Edward I and Edward II between 1300 and 1319 including the Battle of Bannockburn on 24 June 1314.
The manor that he had acquired therefore would probably have meant little to him as a place to live, it was tenanted and he would have wanted it to give him the best financial return possible. He therefore opened up the grounds of the manor so that his tenants could use it as a market place. This small market place became popular with poulterers and cheese mongers.
Eventually the ‘Leadenhall’ manor came into the possession of that most famous Lord Mayor of the City of London, Richard Whittington, and in 1411 he gifted it to the city and this is when the market started to grow. By 1440, another Lord Mayor, Simon Eyre redeveloped the manor hall using the skills of master mason John Croxton who had designed and built the nearby Guildhall and within its bounds there was a school, a granary and a chapel. It took nearly ten years to build and by the time it was completed, had become a community in itself.
Medieval markets were critical to the English economy.
The market place was a critical part of the economy of Medieval society and the redevelopment of Leadenhall Market clearly shows this. Coxton took the original manor house, lifted it to two stories and created a large rectangular space complete with a public granary and massive storage rooms. Maybe this was a necessary precaution against attack and siege. The building was capable of being defended as it included battlements and turrets.
Such a building meant that all trade, which had previously taken place outside in the streets, was now brought inside the building. These were unsettled times, civil unrest was never far away and failure of harvests threatened food security. In this period, King Henry VI became the focus of discontent in the nation, as population, agricultural production, prices, wool trade and credit declined.
The Great Slump.
The Great Slump was a turn down in the economy which took place against a wider trading crisis in Northern Europe. Money supply was threatened driven by shortages of silver and this caused a breakdown in trade. It was also driven by multiple harvest failures in the 1430s and disease amongst livestock, that drove up the price of food and damaged the wider economy. The fortification of Leadenhall Market in the City of London should be seen against these economic conditions and it seems to have a very prudent step to take. In 1450 Jack Cade led a popular revolt against the King and marched on London.
Leadenhall Market survived.
Leadenhall Market survived these troubled times and through prudent measures saw growth not just in the size of the market but in the range of products being sold. By 1600, all manner of dairy products, cheese, milk, butter, eggs were being sold alongside poultry, meats, grains, leather and metal ware. In terms of status it had become one of the most important markets in Medieval London. The rise in population and the development of the Port of London brought trade from all over.
Such a medley of life would have made Leadenhall Market a focus for much more than just market opportunities and performers of all kinds would have appeared alongside the crowds of traders and customers. In later centuries the market was the venue for festivals and shows. It operated on many levels and was an important and integral part of the surrounding community.
The Great Fire of London and Leadenhall Market
It seems that the fire that raged at the City of London in 1666, did on the 5th September reach the walls of Leadenhall Market but as Thomas Vincent, an eye witness to the fire describes;
A check it had at Leadenhall by that great building.
The building must have suffered some damage but it escaped total destruction due to the massive masonry of its walls. During excavations carried out in the 1970’s part of the west face of the Medieval building was found still standing and this building continued to stand until the C19th redevelopments which began in the early C19th as the picture below from 1812 shows. The drawing shows a view of the chapel and the granary both of which obviously escaped the fire.
What came next for Leadenhall?
A writer called Don Manoel Gonzales wrote a description of London in 1731 and included this piece on Leadenhall Market which gives a very visual account of what life in and around the market must have been like.
Leadenhall Market, the finest shambles in Europe, lies between Leadenhall Street and Fenchurch Street. Of the three courts or yards which it consists of, the first is that at the north-east corner of Gracechurch Street, and opens into Leadenhall Street. This court or yard contains in length from north to south 164 feet, and in breadth from east to west eighty feet: within this court or yard, round about the same, are about 100 standing stalls for butchers, for the selling of beef only, and therefore this court is called the beef market. These stalls are either under warehouses, or sheltered from the weather by roofs over them.
This yard is on Tuesdays a market for leather, to which the tanners resort; on Thursdays the waggons from Colchester, and other parts, come with baize, &c., and the fellmongers with their wool; and on Fridays it is a market for raw hides; on Saturdays, for beef and other provisions.
The second market yard is called the Greenyard, as being once a green plot of ground; afterwards it was the City’s storeyard for materials for building and the like; but now a market only for veal, mutton, lamb, &c. This yard is 170 feet in length from east to west, and ninety feet broad from north to south; it hath in it 140 stalls for the butchers, all covered over.
In the middle of this Greenyard market from north to south is a row of shops, with rooms over them, for fishmongers: and on the south side and west end are houses and shops also for fishmongers.
Towards the east end of this yard is erected a fair market-house, standing upon columns, with vaults underneath, and rooms above, with a bell tower, and a clock, and under it are butchers’ stalls.
The tenements round about this yard are for the most part inhabited by cooks and victuallers; and in the passages leading out of the streets into this market are fishmongers, poulterers, cheesemongers, and other traders in provisions.
The third market belonging to Leadenhall is called the Herb Market, for that herbs, roots, fruits, &c., are only there sold. This market is about 140 feet square; the west, east, and north sides had walks round them, covered over for shelter, and standing upon columns; in which walks there were twenty-eight stalls for gardeners, with cellars under them.
By 1881, the Corporation of the City of London removed what remained of the original market and chose Sir Horace Jones to design and build the Leadenhall Market that stands today. He also designed the markets at Smithfield and Billingsgate. The original medieval layout of Leadenhall can be determined from the few bits of foundations that remain along with plans and maps that survive to show the old layout of the City of London.
The interesting bits.
The market had its own terms for those who traded in the market. A ‘Leadenhaller’ sold live foxes in bags for hunting. A ‘Leadenhall blade’ was a blunt knife.
Leadenhall’s most famous fowl was a gander called Old Tom, who would stroll his way from public house to public house demanding to be fed. He lived until he was 37 years old and lay in state in the market hall and was buried here. His obituary appeared in the Times on 19th March 1835 giving his age as 37 years, 9 months and 6 days.
‘This famous gander, while in stubble,
Fed freely, without care or trouble:
Grew fat with corn and sitting still,
And scarce could cross the barn-door sill:
And seldom waddled forth to cool
His belly in the neighbouring pool.
Transplanted to another scene,
He stalk’d in state o’er Calais-green,
With full five hundred geese behind,
To his superior care consign’d,
Whom readily he would engage
To lead in march ten miles a-stage.
Thus a decoy he lived and died,
The chief of geese, the poulterer’s pride.’