Smithfield is the site of London’s ancient meat market, just north of the old city walls. It was an open air market for centuries. The massive Victorian structure occupying the site today dates from the 1860s. It is soon to be closed and redeveloped.
Cattle, sheep, poultry, swine, fish, and horses were brought from all across Britain to feed and transport London. The name of a nearby street, Cowcross, proclaims the final path that many a beast took to its place of execution.
After slaughter, their carcasses were tossed into the nearby Fleet River, or Fleet Ditch as it became known, as the river congealed into a gooey, foul-smelling mass of animal remains and human wastes, an open sewer.
The River Fleet was covered over in the 18th and 19th centuries and now runs below ground under Farringdon Rd. and Farringdon St., exiting into the Thames at Blackfiars Bridge.
Smithfield was not only a place for animal slaughter. People were chopped up and otherwise disposed of there as well. The most famous, thanks to Mel Gibson, was William Wallace, AKA “Braveheart” who was hung, drawn, and quartered at Smithfield for having had the balls to defend his country from the rapacious Edward I.
In the 1550's, “Bloody Mary” Tudor had several hundred Protestants burned here for some silly little dispute over the interpretation of Scripture.
In 1381, the leader of the Peasants’ Revolt, Wat Tyler, was treacherously killed here by the mayor of London while parleying over the peasant’s demands. The peasants were aroused by a new tax, a poll (head) tax, to pay for an imperialistic war against France. Although Tyler was killed and the revolt subsided, the government abolished the tax. Six hundred years later, Margaret Thatcher, who had learned nothing and forgotten nothing, tried to introduce a poll tax, and the people revolted again, a revolt that helped lead to her ultimate downfall.