Smithfield and London Wall

It was a rainy chilly day on January 7, 2016 so we warmed up with a full English breakfast of eggs, sausage, bacon, grilled tomatoes, black pudding, baked beans, toast and marmalade in a lovely place by Smithfield Market. Fully fueled we walked over to the British Museum. There is a piece of the old Roman London Wall visible from one of the windows.

Smithfield Market

Smithfield is best known for its meat market, dating from the 10th century, London’s only remaining wholesale market in continuous operation since medieval times. In the Middle Ages, it was a broad grassy area known as Smooth Field, located beyond London Wall to the River Fleet. Street names (such as Cow Cross Street and Cock Lane) remain, but many others (such as Chick Lane, Duck Lane, Cow Lane, Pheasant Court, Goose Alley) have disappeared. In 1174 William Fitzstephen described Smithfield as a smooth field where every Friday there is a celebrated rendezvous of fine horses to be traded, and in another quarter are placed vendibles of the peasant, swine with their deep flanks, and cows and oxen of immense bulk.

In 1710 the market was surrounded by a wooden fence containing the livestock within the market; and the Gate House at Cloth Fair (Fair Gate) used a chain (le cheyne) on market days. Between 1740 and 1750 the average yearly sales at Smithfield were reported to be around 74,000 cattle and 570,000 sheep. By the middle of the 19th century, 220,000 head of cattle and 1,500,000 sheep per year where forced into an area of five acres, in the heart of London, through its narrowest and most crowded thoroughfares. The numbers of cattle driven daily to Smithfield raised major concerns.

Smithfield Market’s Victorian building was designed by Sir Horace Jones in the late 19th century. Some of the buildings on Lindsey Street opposite the East Market were demolished in 2010 to allow the construction of the new Crossrail Station at Farringdon. In March of 2015, the Museum of London revealed plans to vacate its Barbican site and move into the General Market Building and, if funding can be achieved, would be complete by 2021.


London’s Roman Wall

The Roman wall was built in the late 2nd or early 3rd century, between 190 and 225. The reason for the wall’s construction is unknown, it may have been connected to the invasion of northern Britain by Picts who overran Hadrian’s Wall in the 180s. Many historians think the political clash between Septimius Severus, and the governor of Britain Clodius Albinus over the right to succession as emperor led to the wall’s creation. Albinus may have ordered the construction of the wall in the 190s. Septimius defeated his rival in 197.

The London Wall was one of the largest Roman construction projects in Britain; as were Hadrian’s Wall and the road network. It was constructed largely from Kentish ragstone brought by water from Maidstone. The wall was 3.2 kilometers (2 miles) long, enclosing an area of about 330 acres (130 ha), and was 6 to 9 feet (2 to 3 m) wide and about 20 feet (6 m) high. It had a ditch or fossa measuring 6 feet (2 m) deep and 9 to 15 feet (3 to 5 m) wide in front of the outer wall. It had at least twenty-two bastions spaced about 70 yards (64 m) apart, on the eastern section of the wall.

The economic stimulus provided by the wall and Septimius’s campaigns of conquest in Scotland revived Londinium’s fortunes somewhat in the 3rd century. In the late 3rd century (457) Londinium was raided on several occasions by Saxon pirates. This led to the construction of an additional riverside wall. The wall was redeveloped in the medieval period with the addition of crenellations, more gates and further bastions.

The original five gates to the Roman roads were Ludgate, Newgate, Cripplegate, Bishopsgate and Aldgate. Aldersgate, between Newgate and Cripplegate, was added around 350, and Moorgate, between Cripplegate and Bishopsgate, was built in the medieval period. The boundaries of the City of London went past the old city wall during the medieval era. The seven gates to the City of London, with many repairs and rebuilding over the years, stood until they were all demolished between 1760 and 1767.

The wall’s moat forms the line of the street of Houndsditch. Once London’s main rubbish disposal site and was notorious for its appalling odor. The moat was finally covered over and filled in at the end of the 16th century, becoming the present street.

During the Great Fire of London in September 1666, almost all of the medieval City of London inside the wall was destroyed.

In the late 18th and 19th centuries the wall underwent substantial demolition, although large portions of it survived by being incorporated into other structures. During the Blitz of WWII, some of the tallest ruins left standing were remnants of the Roman wall.

Today all that remains of the wall are a few fragments, some of which can be seen in the grounds of the Museum of London, in the Barbican Estate and around Tower Hill. A section near the Museum of London was revealed at Noble Street, after an air raid on 29 December 1940. Another section is at St Alphage Gardens, and other sections form parts of the walls or foundations of modern buildings. A large fragment of the wall is just outside Tower Hill tube station.


6 thoughts on “Smithfield and London Wall

  1. Indah Susanti 2016-02-10 / 9:14 am

    Impressive! So much history hold in one place. The images are adding to the mood and historic feels!


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