; Historical Context the City of London Corporation
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Historical Context the City of London Corporation


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            West Smithfield Area Enhancement Strategy   35
     2.1        Historical Development

     The West Smithfield Area has a long established history and much of the fabric and street pattern
     span nine centuries. In the Middle Ages Smithfield was a broad grassy space known as Smooth
     Field, just outside the city wall, on the eastern bank of the River Fleet. Due to the flat nature of the
     site ideal for grazing and easy access to water, it was used as the City’s main livestock market for
     nearly 1000 years. Smithfield was at the centre of a number of medieval routes which retain their
     alignment to the present day in particular Long Lane, Giltspur Street and Little Britain. The space
     now known as the Rotunda was a principal open market space and an important events space for
     fairs and royal tournaments. The area escaped extensive destruction from The Great Fire and 2nd
     World War and as a result has not been extensively redeveloped.

     Early Developments *

     The few traces of Roman occupation that have been found point to a largely agricultural character.
     There seem to have been a good number of Roman burials on the site now occupied by St.
     Bartholomew’s Hospital, as burials within the city walls were not allowed.

     Far more important in terms of its above-ground physical legacy, therefore, was the twelfth
     century, when a new layer of institutions was added to West Smithfield, their location and
     boundaries exerting an influence on the nascent street plan that remains visible today. Religious
     houses needing large areas of land congregated here, able to find unencumbered sites of a
     size that did not exist within the City itself. St. Bartholomew’s Priory slotted between Long Lane,
     Aldersgate Street, and Little Britain, the meandering line of which resulted from the adjacent city
     wall. Together, these institutions effectively defined the main block plan: development was drawn
     along and between them. The roads between the religious houses were among the principal
     routes north out of London.

     To the south of Clerkenwell was the open area of ground known as Smithfield, derived from
     ‘Smooth Field’. A three-day fair (Bartholomew Fair) was established by royal charter in 1133 and
     held annually until 1855. Its vivid, at times bawdy nature was immortalised in Ben Jonson’s play of
     1614. But it was the market for which Smithfield became especially known. Horse trading became
     associated with the area, and the tracks leading from the north to Smithfield became a series of
                                                                                                                            Figure 03 An Artist View of Smithfield Market circa 18th   Figure 04 Historic map of Smithfield - 1658
     droveways along which stock was moved to market. The meat market developed particularly in
     the fourteenth century, stimulated in part by a ban on slaughtering within the city walls in 1381.
     Smithfield also became known for tournaments, pageants, and executions. A diamond- shaped
     space, it tapered to the south: this form is characteristic of market entrances. Improvements in
     agriculture meant that, by the start of the eighteenth century, the market was open all year round.
     The field was paved and drained for the first time in 1614.

     Yet although Farringdon was in the medieval period dominated by its large institutions, the area
     was in fact home to a varied mix of uses, at least some of which existed to support the market and
     religious houses. St John Street, in existence by 1170, was the prime route for drovers bringing
     animals to market, and its tenements provided accommodation for them. Between Smithfield and
     the City, St. Bartholomew’s Hospital survived the Dissolution of the medieval monastery (founded
     in 1123) to which it had been attached. In 1546, both it and Bethlem Hospital were granted to the
     City Corporation, and the hospital grew in both stature and physical presence.

     Post Medieval Development*

     Much post-medieval building was residential, initially at least, generally being conceived for the
     middle classes, though many industries were attracted to the area as a result of the Fleet, the
     proximity of the City, and the market.

                                                                                                               Figure 05 An Artist’s Depiction of Bartholomew Fair by Rudolph
                                                                                                               Ackerman 1808                                                           Figure 06 Historic map of Smithfield - 1827

36            West Smithfield Area Enhancement Strategy
Figure 07 Historic map of Smithfield - 1746

     Although the Fire of London progressed no further than the junction of Pye Street and Giltspur           In the latter half of the twentieth century, continuity has been balanced with change. Continuity is
     Street, the conflagration’s repercussions meant that housing laid out along subsequent new                perhaps most evident in Hatton Garden, still the home of many small-scale jewellery workshops
     routes such as Red Lion Street (aka. Britton Street, 1718-24) and Great Sutton Street (1680’s)           and dealers, and around Smithfield Market, now essentially consolidated into Jones’ original
     was of brick: examples of late seventeenth- century date survive at Charterhouse Square.                 buildings refurbished in the late 1990’s. The Poultry Market, originally designed by Jones was
                                                                                                              damaged by fire and rebuilt by Thomas Bennett of Ove Arup in 1958 with an impressive concrete
     By the middle of the century, the population density had reached some 230 persons per acre.              shell vault, has become relatively little-used, while proposals to demolish the General Market,
     Victorian missionaries wrote of crowding. Cloth Fair was the location of run-down post-Dissolution       vacant since 1999 (at the western end of the site) have recently been rejected in favour of a
     houses that were eventually cleared in the early twentieth century                                       ‘conservation-led’ scheme.
     Victorian additions*                                                                                     Barts Hospital, after a period of piecemeal expansion across Little Britain in Bartholomew Close,                                                                          Smithfield / St. Barts area is
     The arrival in 1863 of the Metropolitan Railway at Farringdon Street, providing a City terminus for      is now consolidating its activities on its original site. At first glance, it might seem that Clerkenwell                                                                   not defined as a district itself
                                                                                                              has changed to a greater degree, and indeed its present appearance belies the substantial                                                                                  but included within the distinct
     trains arriving from the west and north made Farringdon an important railway junction, not only                                                                                                                                                                                     ‘blue’ band to the north of ‘The
     used by Metropolitan Railway services but also goods services that crossed London. After 1865,           dereliction which had taken root by the end of the 1970’s. The 1950’s and 1960’s were marked by
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         City’. Sandwiched between
     the line was extended east to Moorgate (and, later, beyond) and south to join with the London &          a presumption that the area was to remain in industrial use: ‘use class’ restrictions were rigidly                                                                         the City, Press / Fleet Street,
     Chatham Railway’s termini at Blackfriars and Snow Hill.                                                  applied, and most new buildings of the 1950’s and 1960’s were for light industry and commerce.                                                                             Finsbury and Shoreditch the
                                                                                                              The easing of these restrictions in the 1970’s, the impact of ‘clean air’ legislation, plus the decline                                                                    area formed a mix of general
     Similar in its impact was new road building. The Victorian means of dealing with slum areas was                                                                                                                                                                                     business and industry.
                                                                                                              in meat retailing/smoking and closure of the gin distillery behind Britton Street, have all promoted
     often by means of clearance and road construction, and so another layer was added to Farringdon                                                                                                                     Figure 08 London’s social & functional analysis, Abercrombie
                                                                                                              the recasting of Clerkenwell as a vibrant area much favoured by the design professions, the
     as Holborn Viaduct (1865-9), Farringdon Road and Clerkenwell Road/Rosebery Avenue (1878)                 media, and the leisure/ entertainment sector. Nineteenth- century warehouses and cold stores,
     were driven through some of the worst parts of the district.                                             with flexible floor-plates and low rents, have been put to imaginative new uses, while a number
                                                                                                              of new buildings have made distinguished additions to the streetscape. Transport links have
     Mid _Victorian Developments*
                                                                                                              already improved dramatically: the creation of Thameslink in 1990 added a valuable new route at
     The final component of the mid- Victorian ‘layer’ of Farringdon was that of the new Smithfield             Farringdon, serving the new office and leisure uses arriving in the area. The Thameslink upgrade
     Market. Just as the new roads and railways were laid over the area, the buildings and their              and Crossrail will continue this process, fully transforming Farringdon into an important destination
     associated roads cut a swathe through Smithfield. Horace Jones’ grand market halls (1864-8)               in its own right.
     took up much of the open ‘smooth field’, serviced by such new roads as Charterhouse Street.
                                                                                                              But what is notable about Farringdon in the years since 1945 is the extent to which the area has
     They were soon supplemented by the Poultry and General Markets (1873-83). The new market
                                                                                                              not only retained its historic street layout, but also a considerable number of its historic buildings:
     was intended purely for the sale of butchered meat: the sale of live animals had been banished
                                                                                                              churches, houses, and warehouse/industrial premises as a testament to its varied past. Although
     north to Islington in 1852, and indeed as a London-based trade gradually declined in the face
                                                                                                              numerous additions have been made to the area, these buildings have generally necessitated
     of technological advances which allowed chilled meat to be rapidly transported to the capital by
                                                                                                              smaller-scale interventions in the urban fabric than their Victorian predecessors. 1940’s proposals
     railway. Thus the location of the new market at Smithfield directly responded to the presence of
                                                                                                              to drive multi- level new roads through the area on a scale even greater than those provided in
     the railway. The railway permitted meat to be unloaded and taken straight to the market above
                                                                                                              the 1860’s have remained largely unexecuted, while large-scale office blocks have been largely
     for sale. The two-level nature of the market is one of its most distinctive features, yet perhaps
                                                                                                              confined to the southern fringes of the area, around Snow Hill on the borders of the City. A
     one of the least known. In the present day, the lower level is predominantly used for car parking:
                                                                                                              local group successfully campaigned for the preservation of Clerkenwell Green, which the London                                   Figure 09 Smithfield Market circa 1896
     a partition divides the space from the railway tracks beyond, and a mezzanine level has been
                                                                                                              County Council had long proposed to expand by demolishing the buildings along its northern side.
                                                                                                              *extracted from The Farringdon Urban Design Study 2010
     The presence of the market had a key effect on neighbouring streets, with butchers, bacon-smokers
     and similar functions joining the publishers, gin distillery, furniture works and watchmakers that                                                                                                                     A.
     had long occupied the area.

     Functions associated with the departed live-meat market, such as horse- rendering, declined.
     In this respect, the characteristic pattern of large institutional uses around which were clustered
     smaller support functions was continued. In 1903, Charles Booth wrote of Clerkenwell that ‘almost
     every front door in certain streets has its brass plate stating its owner’s special occupation. By the
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         A significant change was made
     beginning of the twentieth century, the residential population of the area had declined dramatically,                                                                                                                                                                               during the 19th Century in the
     a trend which was to continue into the 1970s.                                                                                                                                                                                       D.                                              Smithfield area:
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         A. Farringdon St. extended.
     The decline and revival after 1945*                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 B. Market buildings developed
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         removing the small streets.
     Second World War bombing and rocket attacks caused particular devastation around Holborn
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         C. West Smithfield extended.
     Viaduct and Aldersgate and to a lesser extent at the markets.                                                                                                                                                                                       E.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         D. New road at Snow Hill.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                         Figure 10 Map of London’s street improvements in the 19th       E. Widening of Skinner St.
38           West Smithfield Area Enhancement Strategy
                                                  A significant change has been seen in the land use of the wider region however within the Smithfield
                                                  / St. Barts area the dominant land use of the Smithfield Market and Barts Hospital remain:

                                                  Significant changes:
                                                             - Change from Warehouses and Wharves to Commercial
                                                             - Development of the Barbican Centre in place of industrial and warehouses
                                                             - Introduction greater service industries
                                                             - Redevelopment of the General Post office to commercial offices
Figure 11 City of London Land Use Survey - 1936

                                                                                                 West Smithfield Area Enhancement Strategy               39
                                                                                                              River Àeet

     2.2       The River Fleet

     There are two springs on Hampstead Heath, directed into two 18th century reservoirs (Highgate
     and Hampstead Ponds) thereafter combine to form London’s largest underground river. The upper
     reaches were known as the hollow stream (‘Holborn’ in Anglo-Saxon, hence the name of that
     London area), its lower reaches as the Fleet (from Anglo-Saxon for ‘estuary’). The Fleet Àows
     under King’s Cross, which was originally known as Battle Bridge, after a place where Queen
     Boudicca is reputed to have fought the Romans. It ends in the Thames under Blackfriars Bridge.
     The river gave its name to Fleet Street, which in turn became a collective term for the British
     press, as most newspapers had their of¿ces there. It almost gave its name to a tube line, but
     since its opening coincided with the Queen’s silver jubilee, the Fleet Line was named the Jubilee
     Line. On a quiet moment in front of the Coach and Horses pub in Ray Street, Farringdon, you can
     still hear the Fleet’s Àow through the grating. Another slightly more dangerous location for Fleet-
     spotting is the grid in the centre of Charterhouse Street where it joins Farringdon Road.

     2.2.1     The Course and Geography of the River Fleet

      The Fleet wriggles its way south, west of Clerkenwell, and along the Farringdon Road. Another
     tributary runs underground from near the Barbican, through Smith¿eld Market (meat and butchery)
     to join the Fleet at the south of Farringdon Road.

     The Fleet’s river valley is quite deep here, a real descent from Snow Hill in the east and Holborn in
     the west. The Victorian Holborn Viaduct crosses the river valley. At the bottom of the valley, over
     the now-buried river, is the main road going south to Blackfriars.

     The River Fleet emerges today, as it has done for centuries, near Blackfriars.

                                                                                                                                                                                  Figure 12 The Course of the Fleet River

                                                                                                             Figure 13 The Fleet River in Relation to The Study Area       Figure 14 Fleet River Shown on the Map of 1658

40           West Smithfield Area Enhancement Strategy
                                                                                                                                           2.3       The Great Fire of London

                                                                                                                                           The buildings in West Smithfield survived The Great Fire of London due to their proximity to the
                                                                                                                                           city wall which acted as a shield and a change in the direction of the wind. The fire stopped at
                                                                                                                                           the corner of Giltspur Street and Cock Lane, known as Pye Corner, and is marked by a small
                                                                                                                                           gilded statue known as the Fat Boy or the Golden Boy of Pye Corner, a reference to the theory
                                                                                                                                           expounded by a nonconformist preacher who said that had the cause of the fire been lewdness
                                                                                                                                           it would have started at Drury Lane, or had it been lying it would have been at Westminster, but
                                                                                                                                           since it started in Pudding Lane, it was caused by gluttony.

                                                                                                                                           Set high-up on the 1st floor of the building at the corner of Giltspur Street and Cock Lane, the
                                                                                                                                           statue of the Golden Boy marks the spot where the Great Fire of London (1666) finished. The
                                                                                                                                           Golden Boy, who hugs his belly, symbolises the sin of gluttony. He stands as a warning to future

                                                                                                                                           Previous to the fire, The Fortune of War tavern stood here, where the sign of the magpie stood and
                                                                                                                                           it was from this bird that this corner became known as Pie Corner.

                                                 H E F IR
                                          T OF T
                                      E EXT
                                    X IM AT

Figure 15 The Golden Boy Statue                               Figure 16 The Approximate Extent of the Great Fire within West Smithfield

                                                                                        Figure 17 The Extent of the Great Fire of London

                                                                                                                                                                                        West Smithfield Area Enhancement Strategy              41
     ‘It was market morning. The ground was covered nearly ankle deep
     with filth and mire; and a thick steam perpetually rising from the reeking
     bodies of the cattle, and mingling with the fog, which seemed to rest
     upon the chimney tops, hung heavily above ... Countrymen, butchers,
     drovers, hawkers, boys , thieves, idlers, and vagabonds of every low
     grade, were mingled together in a dense mass: the whistling of drovers,
     the barking of dogs, the bellowing and plunging of beasts, the bleating
     of sheep, and the grunting and squealing of pigs; the cries of hawkers,
     the shouts, oaths, and quarrelling on all sides, the ringing of bells, and
     the roar of voices that issued from every public house; the crowding,
     pushing, driving, beating, whooping and yelling; the hideous and
     discordant din that resounded from every corner of the market; and the
     unwashed, unshaven, squalid, and dirty figures constantly running to
     and fro, and bursting in and out of the throng, rendered it a stunning
     and bewildering scene which quite confused the senses.’
     Charles Dickens Oliver Twist 1838

42       West Smithfield Area Enhancement Strategy

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