Step Back In Time And Visit London's World-Famous Markets

By Zoe Craig Last edited 25 months ago
Step Back In Time And Visit London's World-Famous Markets

We've found another gem of a London video in the compelling Look at Life series.

Shopping By The Ton offers you an eight-minute tour London's world famous markets, from way back in the 1960s.

A cheery porter at Smithfield Market in the 1960s.

Covent Garden, Billingsgate and Smithfield all feature in this short homage to a lost world, when Covent Garden in central London was the only wholesale flower market in the country, and Smithfield boasted being the largest covered market in the world.

Covent Garden

Watch, and you'll see some fascinating footage from the time: gridlocked Covent Garden streets, completely blocked by the 1,500 heavy vehicles delivering goods to the area in the early mornings, serving 30 acres of stalls.

It seems impossible today, but the narrator tells us this was a time when '40% of all fresh fruit and vegetables sold in the whole country' went through Covent Garden. Interestingly, Wikipedia cites New Covent Garden as the source of 40% of all the fruit and veg eaten outside the home in London today.


Billingsgate, so says our narrator, handles 600 tons of fish daily.

A Billingsgate porter with his famous leather hat.

Look out for the famous leather hats associated with the porters at Billingsgate; these were handed down through generations. The porters at the fish market were paid by the box, which is why they're all in a bit of a hurry.


Finally, it's on to the cathedral-like Smithfield, where 400 thousand tons of meat are handled in an average year.

Inside Smithfield in the 1960s.

A Time of Change

It's a fascinating look into how these vital businesses used to be carried out in central London.

But this video has captured a moment of change too: both Covent Garden Market and Billingsgate were under threat at this time.

Indeed, New Covent Garden Market opened in November 1974, and the Covent Garden 'shopping centre' as we know it today opened to the public in 1980.

Billingsgate also moved to new premises, in 1982. Billingsgate Fish Market on the Isle of Dogs in Poplar now runs from 4am to 8.30am, Tuesday to Saturday.

Only Smithfield remains in its central London location, although its a very different beast to the one on show in this video.

Last Updated 23 January 2017