From Roman times to Harry Potter: Leadenhall Market turns 700

A fact guaranteed to make you feel young in both human and dog years, City of London’s Leadenhall Market marks its 700th anniversary this year

Lead image: © Lucy Young 2021

Once known for selling poultry but now home to boutique retailers, restaurants, wine bars and pubs, Leadenhall Market, has had many chapters in its long history. 

To celebrate the market’s birthday, here are eight more facts that might surprise you about one of London’s oldest and grandest markets.  

1 Its history dates back to the first century AD

The market stands in the very centre of Roman Londinium – underneath its arches and cobblestones lie the remains of the forum (market) and basilica (courts), which were uncovered when the new market was built in the late 1800s. 

2 The first market was recorded in 1321

In 1309 the Manor of Leaden Hall was first listed as belonging to Sir Hugh Neville. Neville opened up the grounds of the manor to his tenants so that they could use it as a market place, and the first market was recorded in 1321. 

It became a popular meeting place for poulterers, and in 1377 traders were given permission to sell cheese and butter.  

3 It was gifted to the City of London by former Lord Mayor

Former Lord Mayor Richard ‘Dick’ Whittington acquired the lease of the building in 1408, gifting it to the City of London in 1411.  It quickly became one of the best places in London to buy eggs, meat, game, grain, poultry and fish.  

 

Leadenhall Market, circa 1883
(Photo: London Met Archives)

4 Visitors nowadays still follow the footsteps of the market’s medieval guests 

By 1600, the market included sellers of poultry, grain, eggs, butter, cheese, foodstuffs, wool, leather, and cutlery. It was the most important market in medieval and early modern London, especially for meat and poultry. The market would have been very similar to markets today: noisy, full of activity, and packed with people. The medieval street plan was preserved when the market was rebuilt in the 1800s, meaning visitors today can experience the same historic thoroughfares as medieval customers.  

5 It survived the Great Fire 

The Great Fire of 1666 destroyed much of the City of London, including parts of the market. When the market was rebuilt not long after, it became a covered structure for the first time and was divided into the Beef Market, the Green Yard and the Herb Market. 

 

6 The building is Grade II listed 

Tasked with cleaning up the market’s mess of stalls, the City Architect, Sir Horace Jones (who designed Smithfield Market, Billingsgate Market and Tower Bridge), was instructed to design a ‘respectable arcade’ for the poultry market in the late 1800s.  

His designs replaced the earlier stone structure with wrought iron and glass and this is the building which stands today and was given Grade II listed status in 1972. 

7 A really old goose was laid to rest there 

During the 19th century ‘Old Tom’ was a celebrated character in Leadenhall. He was a gander from Ostend who came to England by chance, due to his fascination with one of the female members of his flock.

It is recorded that over two consecutive days 34,000 geese were slaughtered in the market – but Old Tom managed to escape execution. He became a great favourite in the market, even being fed at the local inns. After his death in 1835 at the age of 38, he lay in state in the market and was buried on site. 

8 It’s not far from The Leaky Cauldron 

Harry Potter fans might recognise the market from The Philosopher’s Stone, where it was used as the area of London that led to the wizarding pub The Leaky Cauldron and was the inspiration for the magical shopping street Diagon Alley. 

Leadenhall Market has also featured in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, Hearafter and Love Aaj Kal.