The district of Smithfield, London, England

In Cities, City of London, London, Mini Breaks, Our Journeys, Trip-Types, UK Travel by Janis8 Comments

A hop, skip and a jump around a corner of the City of London

If I were to mention “Smithfield” many people would automatically associate it to the iconic meat market, that is still in existence in London. And you’d be correct as there has been a livestock market on the same site since the 12th-century.

The southern entrance to the historic Smithfield meat market in the east of London

Main Avenue in Smithfield Meat Market

Back in the day, it was also used for jousting tournaments.

The unusual goings on..., Smithfield, London, England, UK

The unusual goings on...

However, this small Smithfield region of London has had a colourful past and on occasions quite sordid.

Just within a few streets and lanes of this area are some fascinating places to discover, incredibly interesting facts and memories of the past that should never be forgotten.

Quick Links

Red telephone boxes in Smithfield Market, Smithfield, London, England, UK

Red phone boxes in Smithfield Market

Roof in Smithfield Market, Smithfield, London, England, UK

The ornate roof in Smithfield Market

Remember the early bird catches the worm here. The market opens at 2am and closes at 10am, the best time to arrive to see it in full swing is around 7am.

Catering Meats (Smithfield), Smithfield, London, England, UK

Catering Meats (Smithfield)

Did you know?

The Smithfield market covers almost 10 acres of ground, six and a half of which are covered by buildings.

The after-work tipple

Due to the nature of the hours of the market porters, sometimes a refreshing pint was needed after a hard-long shift. To most people this was breakfast, but to these lads, it was a quick after work drink with your mates.

Due to how times have changed over the decades, there are now only a couple of pubs open early in the morning for these porters.  They are the Art Nouveau “Fox & Anchor” on Charterhouse Street and “The Hope” on Cowcross Street.

I know it’s not the most healthiest of past-times; however, it’s a shame to see some of these old traditions ebb-away.

Fox & Anchor, Smithfield, London, England, UK

Fox & Anchor, Smithfield,

The Hope, Smithfield, London, England, UK

The Hope, Smithfield

Also close to the market is the Bishop's Finger, a pub owned by Shepherd Neame, Britain's oldest brewer. 

Now this may keep regular hours but it's one to consider if you're in the area.

The Bishop's Finger, Smithfield, London, England, UK

The Bishop's Finger, Smithfield

Want to discover more than about London?

We have a little book on our shelves that we sometimes delve into when we're about to hit an area of London.

Packed full of historical facts, and broken down into the different regions of London, it's a great resource to help you see what's hidden in plain sight.

Available in Kindle & Hardback editions, it's an excellent addition to anyone's collection who loves London.

Giltspur Street

There are a few things to look out for along Giltspur Street. The first is the church of St. Sepulchre-without-Newgate on the corner with Holborn Viaduct. A church has been recorded on this site since c1137.

On the corner of the churchyard set in the railings, is London’s first ever drinking fountain dating from 1859. The cups are still there on chains.

St. Sepulchre-without-Newgate, Smithfield, London, England, UK

St. Sepulchre-without-Newgate

London’s first drinking fountain, Smithfield, London, England, UK

London’s first drinking fountain

Heading along Giltspur Street, behind the church is a Watch House.

This was initially built in 1791; however, it was re-erected in 1962 due to WWII bombing.

It is said to have been built to protect the churchyard from body snatchers. With the close vicinity of St. Bartholomew’s hospital, surgeons would pay for the corpses to be stolen so they could be used for medical studies. Urgghhhh 

The Watch House, Smithfield, London, England, UK

The Watch House

A little further along, on the corner with Cock Lane is the “Golden Boy of Pye Corner”. This golden memorial was erected in memory of the Great Fire of London in 1666. It is ascribed to the Sin of Gluttony. 

The Golden Boy once sat above the “Fortune of War” pub, which was pulled down in 1910.

The Golden Boy of Pye Corner, Smithfield, London, England, UK

The Golden Boy of Pye Corner

A Simple Tip

Keep looking up, as there are often quirky things and plaques on the sides of buildings.

St Bartholomew’s Hospital

Founded in 1123, England’s oldest continually running hospital “St. Barts”, can also be found here. Amazingly surviving the Great Fire of London and the Blitz. 

The hospital was granted to the City of London in 1546 by Henry VIII.

If you pass through the so-named Henry VIII gate, you’ll notice a stone statue of the King above the entrance.

This is believed to be the only remaining statue of him in the City of London.

Henry VIII gate at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital, Smithfield, London, England, UK

Henry VIII gate at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital

Once through the gate, you can stroll around the tranquil square.

Peace within St. Barts, Smithfield, London, England, UK

Peace within St. Barts, Smithfield

As you head back out of the gate to the right, take a look at the stone wall arches. You’ll notice scars from First World War, these were created by Zeppelin raids on 8th September 1915 and on 7th July 1917.

Scars from the Great War, Smithfield, London, England, UK

Scars from the Great War, Smithfield

How to get there

The nearest underground stations around Smithfield are Barbican, Farringdon and St. Pauls.

The Murkier side of Smithfield

Well now comes the darker side of Smithfield, the hangings, stabbings and its sordid past.

One of the most well-known executions here was that of Sir William Wallace.

After his trial in August 1305, Wallace was dragged naked by a horse across the city, then horrifically hung, drawn and quartered.

A plaque marking the spot near where Sir William Wallace was executed, stands very modest on the side of St. Barts wall.

William Wallace Memoria, Smithfield, London, England, UK

William Wallace Memorial

On 15th June 1381, Wat Tyler the leader of the Great Rising (Peasants’ Revolt), believed he had come to an agreement with King Richard II to end the Rebellion.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be, he was then stabbed and also beheaded near this spot, by the then Mayor of London.

Like William Wallace, Tyler’s severed head was displayed on top of a pole on London Bridge. 

Wat Tyler and John Ball Memorial, Smithfield, London, England, UK

Wat Tyler and John Ball Memorial

Did you know?

That Smithfield wasn't just used on a few occasions for executions, huge crowds would gather for centuries to witness these horrors.

London’s oldest church

On a cheerier note, just opposite is London's oldest surviving church, St Bartholomew-the-Great, founded in 1123 AD. There is an incredible half-timbered gatehouse you pass through to arrive at the entrance of the church.

St Bartholomew-the-Great Gatehouse, Smithfield, London, England, UK

St Bartholomew-the-Great Gatehouse

St Bartholomew-the-Great church, Smithfield, London, England, UK

St Bartholomew-the-Great church

Once inside you may recognise it from the films, Four Weddings and a Funeral & Shakespeare in Love.

Cloth Fair

Parallel with the church is “Cloth Fair”, another lane in London oozing with history. Formerly an area for the annual Bartholomew Fair. The fair was established in 1133 and became three days of merrymaking, which over the centuries became very debauched and drunken, with plenty of ne’er-do-wells, it was eventually closed in 1855.

No. 41 & 42 Cloth Fair - oldest residential buildings in the City of London, Smithfield, London, England, UK

No. 41 & 42 Cloth Fair 

Cloth Fair, Smithfield, London, England, UK

Cloth Fair, Smithfield 

Along Cloth Fair, you’ll see numbers 41 and 42, these are the oldest residential buildings within the current boundaries of the City of London.

In no. 43 Cloth Fair, Sir John Betjeman the Poet Laureate lived for 20 years from 1954.

Sir John Betjeman the Poet Laureate – Blue Plaque, Smithfield, London, England, UK

Sir John Betjeman the Poet Laureate – Blue Plaque

Alehouse for 500 years 

A little further at the corner of Middle Street, you’ll arrive at The Hand & Shears public house. This pub was established in 1532, so, has been on this site for almost 500 years. 

Unfortunately, we didn’t get the opportunity to pop in. At the bottom of the sign, it proudly states that this pub is the “Last Ales before Newgate Public Executions” handy to know!!!

The Hand & Shears Est. 1532, Smithfield, London, England, UK

The Hand & Shears Est. 1532

You’ll love it

Just on our little jaunt around Smithfield, covering hardly any distance at all, we discovered centuries and centuries of history. We love strolling around London, and Smithfield for a history buff just keeps on giving.

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  1. What a great tour! I am not so sure about severed heads but the roof of the market looks amazing! #FarawayFiles

    1. It’s incredible that all of this history was just within a few streets of each other. I love it that Smithfield Market is sill busy, it’s good to see.

  2. Such a fascinating history! I had never heard of Smithfield, let alone about it being the place where William Wallace was executed.I love the photos of the traditional pubs, they are beautiful!#farawayfiles

    1. It’s amazing that we walk past some of these things everyday and don’t always realise whose footsteps we’re walking in.

  3. Never heard of Smithfield, but I’m definitely interested in checking it out now! Love the Smithfield Market’s pastel colors and the oldest church! I felt like I recognized the Tudor arch and then saw your movie appearances! Love Shakespeare in Love! #FarawayFiles

    1. Yes, this area is mostly known for the Smithfield meat market, but it wasn’t until I dug a little deeper, that more and more emerged. You just don’t realise how often some of these places are used in movies.

  4. Lovely!! I remember visiting Smithfield, but really didn’t take such beautiful photos like you did!!#FarawayFiles

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