Leadenhall Market: A Victorian Gem & One of London’s Best kept Secret
Explore another side of London — the city’s best kept secret! Tucked away from the busy streets and the high-rises of the financial district of London, with a rich heritage and incredible architecture dating back 700 years is Leadenhall Market, a Victorian gem easily missed and less visited by occasional visitors to the city. This remarkable building is also Grade II listed, denoting its significant historic interest.
What to expect in this article on Leadenhall Market
In this article, you shall find top reasons that makes Leadenhall Market a notable place to visit in London, beginning with its rich history to the incredible things to do such as shopping, dining and getting your shoes shined at this Victorian marketplace. Practical tips are included on how to locate this marvellous destination as well as landmarks to visit which are located close by. You could skip ahead to a particular section by using the navigation below, if you prefer.
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1 | The origins and history of Leadenhall Market, London
The stunning Leadenhall Market has a rich history dating back to 1321, at the heart of what we now know to be Roman London. Underneath the arches and cobblestones of Leadenhall Market today are the remains of the Roman Forum and Basilica. As well, Bishopsgate, Cheapside and Leadenhall Street follow the Roman roads that once existed.
History tells us that the Romans loved their markets! It is thought that a market existed at this location since their settlement but not much is known about the market place after they left. Thereafter, the Anglo-Saxons returned and used the same location to set up a marketplace to boost the economy.
1.1 | Medieval history of Leadenhall Market
Eventually, the Leadenhall manor fell into the ownership of Lord Whittington, the Lord Mayor of the City of London. In 1411, he gifted the manor to the City of London.
1.2 | Leadenhall Market through the centuries
In 1440, Simon Eyre, the then Lord Mayor commissioned the skills of John Croxton, a master mason to redesign the manor house. The manor house was converted to two levels, and housed a large public granary along with lots of storage spaces. Trade was brought into the building, away from the streets nearby. The marketplace became the focal of medieval economy. By 1600s, trading involved cheese, milk, butter and eggs alongside poultry, meats, grains, leather and metal ware.
Following the Great Fire of London, Sir Horace Jones was commissioned to redesign the stone building. He designed and built Leadenhall Market in 1881 that continues to exist today. The nearby markets of Billingsgate and Smithfield were designed by Sir Jones also. The architecture embodies space, and light with wrought iron and glass. More recently, in 1991, Leadenhall Market underwent extensive renovations but the eye-catching Victorian architecture of brightly painted wrought iron beams of the main roof was preserved.
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2 | Leadenhall Market today
This large covered area of what was once a marketplace has evolved to be a modern retail hub. Set amidst a Victorian roof, cobbles and preserved buildings and architecture, Leadenhall Market provides a wide range of shopping and a variety of dining options. Located in the centre of the financial district of London also means that it is a busy hub for people in smart suits and the savvy financier.
The many entrances are decorated with stone carvings of dragons, swags and shields of varying sizes. The larger stone pediments reflect the main entrances to the market. Some have the market’s name and date inscribed upon them.
2.1 | Fashionable boutiques and Fine dining at Leadenhall Market, London
Housed within the Victorian architecture are upscale shops such as Barbour, Reiss, Hobbs, Waterstones and many more.
In addition, there is a selection of restaurants, cafes, bars and pubs offering unique dining experiences from fine dining, mid-range dining or to take-aways and sandwiches. There is Cheese of Leadenhall for cheese lovers and for wine lovers, the Brokers Wine Bar is an excellent choice.
The Lamb Tavern is highly recommended. It is a traditional pub, a restaurant and lately, popular as a wedding venue. Occupying three-floors of impressive decor, this grand old pub serves traditional British food and ales. The Lamb Tavern has been a public house since the Market buildings were completed in 1881.
Visiting this beautifully clean and vibrant Victorian setting ordinarily on a working day or at Christmas is highly encouraged. Truth be told that it is extraordinarily special at Christmas. It is lit-up bright with Christmas lights and a 20-foot high Christmas tree takes the centre-stage of this Victorian market setting. Shoppers with Christmas shopping bags, the vibrancy of modern dining, the bars and pubs overflowing with beer drinkers in smart attire amidst chatter and laughter. Added to this are the Christmas crafts, music and the aroma of mulled wine. It is hard to imagine the smell of meat and poultry that this Victorian market once was!
2.2 | The Shoe-shiners of Leadenhall Market
When I visited Leadenhall Market a couple of years ago, I was fascinated to discover that it was home to talented actors who run the London City Shoe Shine Co. in between their engagements at West End.
These actors have been shining shoes in this Victorian setting since 1991, come rain or shine! Although, if the leather shoes are wet on a rainy day, you will probably not find the shoe-shiners sitting at their station.
The actors work in pairs and this beautiful advent afternoon was no different to any other. There was a steady flow of customers, mostly regulars, I suspect. As Leadenhall Market is situated in the centre of the banking industry and bankers were traditionally their most regular customers.
I saw a window of opportunity to steal a quick chat with them, with an assurance that they remain anonymous. It was an interesting chat, one of them have an upcoming role in a movie while the other is involved mainly in theatre performances. Soon, two customers arrived, and I stayed to watch briefly.
The shine-box method
I was captivated with the use of the old-fashioned shine-box method – where the customer raises one foot onto the footplate for it to be shined and then the other shoe gets done afterwards. These modest shoe shiners exuded a relaxed sense of style and their buoyant energy in a carefully crafted skill of vigorous hand-movement, first brush, then focusing on the toe for extra shine – a pair of shiny shoes will always set a man apart as a man that knows how to take care of himself – appearance matters! Definitely! Don’t you think so?
2.3 | Leadenhall Market is a popular filming location
For the ardent Harry Potter fans, you will be delighted to know that there were several scenes which were filmed at Leadenhall Market. One of the most memorable scene is when Hagrid and Harry Potter go shopping for wands. This scene was filmed outside of Leadenhall Market.
You may also recall the area of London which led to the wizarding pub, the magical shopping street of Diagon Alley (in the first Harry Potter film, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone) and the Leaky Couldron (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire). The highly recognisable blue door entrance to the Leaky Couldron at 42 Bull’s Head Passage is actually an opticians office at Leadenhall Market.
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Leadenhall Market has also been used as a filming location in other movies for example:
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy;
The Imaginarium of Doctor Pernassus;
Love Aaj Kal
3 | The Story of Old Tom at Leadenhall Market
As we know, Leadenhall Market was once a place for the sale of poultry, and this required for chickens and geese to be slaughtered in the market. However, Old Tom, the little goose had a different tale to tell.
One day, in early 1800s, thousands of geese were brought to the Market to be slaughtered but one little gander from Belgium managed to escape. The story goes that he was not only clever to escape his fate on one occasion but he did so over several occasions on a number of days. Eventually, he was allowed to live happily and was named “Old Tom”. Old Tom became a beloved resident of Leadenhall Market. He was fed by the market workers with scraps of food and lived to the age of 37. Old Tom passed of natural causes in 1835 and was given a proper burial. He is buried inside the Market.
Old Tom was much loved and his Obituary appeared in the Times Newspaper, on April 16, 1835:
In memory of Old Tom the Gander
Obit 19th March, 1835, aetat, 37 years, 9 months and 6 days
This famous gander, while in stubble,
Fed freely, without care or trouble;
Grew fat eating corn and sitting still,
And scarce could cross the barn-door sill;
And seldom waddle forth to cool,
His belly in the neighbouring pool;
Transplanted to another scene,
He stalk’d in state o’er Calais-green,
With full five hundred geese behind;
To his superior care consign’d;
Whom readily he would engage,
To lead in march ten miles a-stage,
Thus a decoy he lived and died,
The chief of geese, the poulterer’s pride.
You could always raise a glass to Old Tom when you visit Leadenhall Market. His burial spot is marked by the Old Tom’s Bar at 10-12 Leadenhall Market.
Old Tom’s Bar serves traditional British dishes and craft beers.
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4 | Best London attractions nearby to Leadenhall Market
While visiting Leadenhall Market, you may also wish to make a day of it by visiting other attractions in the financial district and nearby. The following attractions are located within a few minutes of each other and easily reached by foot. Click on the links to learn more.
5 | Practical tips and Useful information
If you plan to visit this part of London, you will note two entirely differing cultures depending on when you elect to sightsee. During the week, The City is abuzz with white collar workers hurrying along to get on with their business and at weekends, it becomes a quiet haven for visitors to explore.
5.1 | Where is Leadenhall Market located?
This prominent destination is located at the triangle that is made up of Gracechurch Street, Fenchurch Street and Leadenhall Street.
Address: Gracechurch Street, London, EC3V 1LT
5.2 | Opening hours
Public areas are open 24/7 for 7-days a week.
For shops and restaurants, opening hours varies, please check individual stores.
5.3 | Transport:
London Fenchurch Street Station (8-minute walk)
London Cannon Street Station (8-minute walk)
Liverpool Street Station (13-minute walk)
Moorgate Station (13-minute walk)
Monument Station (4-minute walk)
Bank Station (6-minute walk)
Aldgate Station (8-minute walk)
Moorgate Station (13-minute walk)