Meat has been traded at Smithfield Market for more than 800 years, making it one of the oldest markets in London. A livestock market occupied the site as early as the 10th century.
The buildings stand above a warren of tunnels: previously, live animals were brought to market by hoof (from the mid-19th century onwards they arrived by rail) and were slaughtered on site. The former railway tunnels are now used for storage, parking and as basements.
For much of its history, Smithfield was a livestock market; now all the stock is dead, but the variety of animals is just as diverse — from prime fillet beef steaks to pork chops, lambs legs and offal (the latter has some exotic names, like honeycomb tripe). Smithfield is a wholesale market, and customers come here to buy in bulk.
Smithfield Market is one of just a handful of wholesale markets in London, including Billingsgate fish market and New Covent Garden. Over the years, the Victorian building has had various uses other than the trading of fresh meat. During the second world war, cold stores beneath Smithfield were used in an intriguing attempt to construct an aircraft carrier made out of ice.