Place in the narrative
Smithfield Market is alluded to several times during the narrative of Oliver Twist as it is a local landmark in the area Dickens sets Fagin's den. Noah Claypole and Charlotte pass through in their way through London but the most memorable moment is Bill Sikes' dragging Oliver through the market on market morning towards a burglary job. Sikes' roughly pulls Oliver behind him and it gives Dickens a perfect opportunity to describe all the senses that they feel through the market.
‘As they approached the City, the noise and traffic gradually increased; when they threaded the streets between Shoreditch and Smithfield, it had swelled to a roar of sound and bustle. It was as light as it was likely to be, till night came on again, and the busy morning of half the London population had begun.’
‘It was market-morning. The ground was covered, nearly ankle-deep, with filth and mire; 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. All the pens in the centre of the large area, and as many temporary pens as could be crowded into the vacant space, were filled with sheep; tied up to posts by the gutter side were long lines of beasts and oxen, three or four deep. Countrymen, butchers, drovers, hawkers, boys, thieves, idlers, and vagabonds of every low grade, were mingled together in a mass; the whistling of drovers, the barking of dogs, the bellowing and plunging of the oxen, the bleating of sheep, the grunting and squeaking of pigs, the cries of hawkers, the shouts, the oaths, and quarrelling on all sides; the ringing of bells and 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 confounded the senses.’
There has been a livestock market in the area where Smithfield Market is built since the 10th century which makes it one of the oldest markets in the City of London. Dickens paints a detailed picture of how the market would have been when he was writing giving a window on the past. However he was also using his writing to highlight problems like in the case of Mr Fang of 54 Hatton Garden. Dickens was one of many campaigning for an Act of Parliament to close the old cattle market in the West Market. Until 1852 when the Act of Parliament was passed, cattle were still driven through streets surrounding the market creating mayhem on the streets and increasing bad hygiene for the inhabitants of the local neighborhood. After the Act of Parliament was passed, the current building was built and is still in use today as a meat and poultry market by restaurants and butchers in the whole of London.
What I wrote in London
Smithfield Market is probably a lot cleaner now than it was when Dickens was campaigning to stop the use of the west side when he was alive. As we arrive through the Grand Avenue, the pavement has been has been washed with waterrecently and cleaners with hoses are pacing up and down where they sell the meat. The green and purple paint work looks relatively new and though the structure is quite old the system and plastic displays are very new. The history of the market is set out on the rails inside the Grand Avenue and city workers walk through the market on the way to other meetings around the city. Around the corner is a selection of upmarket cafes like Pret and Paul and the meat is sold so early in the morning that apart from the smell, there is little evidence of meat. Dickens describes in minute detail the amount of nasty mire and muck here and I am delighted that it's so clean now and that it's still in use as the oldest market in London.
On Reflection, I wish I had written my notes more clearly as it has taken me forever to decipher the simplest notes! Anyway, Smithfield is one of the locations that Dickens describes that you can get a flavour of today. The gaudy purple and green paintwork greets you from miles around and the unique shape of the length and white turrets make it stand out from the grey surroundings. Outside the market, there is another car park and surrounding it are lots of cafes and shops. Inside the Grand Avenue, the only part of the market you can access during the day, you are surrounded by the history on boards on every side and there are four entrances leading to the market. Peeping through the heavy plastic, you can see rows and rows of white display cabinets and cleaners cleaning the floor. It is very different to Dickens' description and rather nicely so as I wouldn't want to wade through the livestock and piles of mud. There is little evidence of the meat on sale early in the morning apart from the smell of meat in the air. I think Dickens would be delighted with the transformation of Smithfield and glad they are still using it in 2015 with changes he helped affect.