Of all London’s famous markets, Leadenhall is surely the most stunning. Located in the heart of London’s “Square Mile”, the site dates all the way back to Roman times. The beautiful Victorian building that now stands there, with its glass ceiling and graceful arches, has attracted plenty of shoppers, tourists and even filmmakers over the years. It still functions as a market for premium quality groceries and flower arrangements, but ironically it’s also one of the best free attractions around the city of London. We’ve put together a tourist guide to Leadenhall Market with ten fun facts to keep in mind as you stroll through this exquisite building.
1. When London hosted the Olympic Games in 2012, Leadenhall Market formed part of the route for the Marathon. Hundreds of runners from all over the world ran through the market on their loop around the city, entering at Whittington Avenue and leaving through Lime Street. They followed a very picturesque route through London; perhaps they were among the luckiest of the competitors that year.
2. Leadenhall’s beauty has a tendency to inspire those who see the world from behind a camera. It doubled as Diagon Alley in the Harry Potter movies, but time marches on; the empty storefront that was used as the Leaky Cauldron pub is now occupied by an optometrist. You can also see Leadenhall appearing in Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, Hereafter and The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus – all visually stunning films that called for striking sets.
3. Many of London’s historical buildings are protected by different grades of heritage listing. Leadenhall Market is listed as Grade II, meaning that it is a building of special interest and every effort should be made to preserve it. It was added to the listings in 1972 – it takes a long time to achieve proper heritage status.
4. The market was founded in the 1300s, and its original building was actually a manor belonging to a Sir Hugh Neville. Eventually, the famous Lord Mayor Dick Whittington bought the building in 1411 because it had been used as a market for so long. Whittington Avenue, one of the entrances to the market, is named after him as a tribute.
5. By the mid-15th century, Leadenhall was such a major hub for commerce that it was here that the tronage for wool was determined. “Tronage” meant the tax that traders had to pay to have their goods weighed officially at the market, and it showed just how important wool was to London’s economy at the time. Nowadays London depends much less on wool and much more on the slightly less tangible products of the Silicon Roundabout, the brokers in Canary Wharf skyscrapers and tourists drawn in by London Heathrow hotel deals.
6. Settlement at Leadenhall dates back to Roman times, when London was an unfashionable backwater known as Londinium. We often forget just how old London is until we need to dig down into it. In 1803, excavations in the Leadenhall area found a stunning example of Roman mosaic artwork, 9 feet 6 inches below street level. The subject of the mosaic was Bacchus, riding on a tiger and surrounded by drinking cups, cornucopia, serpents and other symbolic objects. Sadly, some of it had already been destroyed to build a sewer, but what remains now resides in the British Museum.
7. The butchers of Leadenhall have no doubt slaughtered thousands of geese in their time, but one plucky fowl survived. Old Tom escaped a fate as someone’s dinner and used to hang around Leadenhall Market during the 1800s. Shop owners and innkeepers used to feed him and he became quite a famous figure. He eventually died in 1835 at the astonishing age of 38, and was buried with all due respect and tradition in the market.
8. Sadly, all things come to an end, and the original market building was demolished in 1881. So although the building we know and love today is definitely old and beautiful, it doesn’t quite cover the entire history of the market. The current building was designed by Sir Horace Jones, who also designed the Smithfield and Billingsgate markets. It was made with wrought iron and glass, much like contemporary icon the Crystal Palace.
9. If you’re looking for a place to sit down and have a pint, try the Counting House Pub. It was originally a 19th century banking hall and it still retains the grand interior, with a domed ceiling, chandelier and marble walls. It’s known for being one of the most beautiful places to enjoy a pint in all of London.
10. Leadenhall was always a busy place but its denizens still had time for fun. In 1766, the poulterers played cricket against the butchers for “a considerable sum of money and a fine whole lamb for supper”. No one wrote down what the score was, but history does record that the poulterers won. We hope they enjoyed their bounty.