Smithfield Market has existed for hundreds of years and is the oldest wholesale meat market in the country. In the late 12th century, the medieval writer William Fitz Stephen described it as a “smooth field, both in fact and in name” where weekly horse markets were held. Horses were shown off to potential buyers by making them race. Sheep, cows and pigs were also for sale, a tradition that has continued to the present day, though 12th century Smithfield Market was for livestock rather than cut meat. The current market is held inside an impressive building, which first opened in 1868.
The area of Smithfield Market has been associated with several famous and sometimes grisly events over its long history. In 1381 (more than 600 years ago this week) it was the setting for the confrontation between the rebels of the Peasants’ Revolt and King Richard II’s army. On 15 June, the rebels and their leader Wat Tyler met the king’s army at Smithfield to present their demands. It is uncertain what exactly happened next but the negotiations turned violent and Tyler was killed. Afterwards the revolt collapsed. You can find out more about medieval London and the Peasants’ Revolt in the Museum of London’s Medieval Gallery.