Eight geotag journalists exploring your city. This week: Creative London.

Feeding London, fighting for business

By Alex Bath

Three am, Monday morning. The streets around London's Barbican are silent.

The only life on the streets are two or three tube maintenance workers on a break and a taxi driver parked up, asleep.

A van slowly rumbles up the street, apologetically stopping at the lights. The van rolls round to the left and accelerates towards a glowing hive of activity.

A few hundred metres from the Barbican one of Europe's best markets is in full swing. Traders and customers are bustling from stall to stall, orders are being taken and huge deliveries are being sent out. A line of vans are queuing for a spot to stop and load up.

London Central Markets, or Smithfield as it is more commonly known, is the start of London's food chain. Wholesalers, restauranteurs and the general public all get their meat from the vast halls in the City of London. "You can get everything from a pigeon to a side of beef," one stall holder explains.

Every year 120,000 tonnes of meat move through the market. The prices bartered across the counters of Smithfield dictate the price of meat across the country. Despite this, the once pivotal market now competes with the huge supermarkets for business.

Questions hang over the market. How to stay competent? How to keep customers coming in? Can the market last in the modern food industry?

Built in 1860, the Market shares the same architect as Tower Bridge - Horace Jones. Built on the site of an old cattle market, the cavernous halls host huge refrigerated store rooms as well as shop fronts.

The market has resisted the pull of moving out of the capital's centre. While Billingsgate fish market is now in Canary Wharf and Covent Garden flower Market is now based in Vauxhall, London's meat market has modernised and diversified.

A £70m refurbishment brought the market to the forefront of Europe's food trade network. Parts of the market were converted to new uses, world-famous night club Fabric is housed in an old storage area.

A nocturnal society exists around Smithfields. Whether it is cafes, pubs or even a stationery store, a raft of stores operate parallel hours to the rest of society as hundreds of butchers spend the night preparing meat for London and large parts of southern England.

Unknown and undervalued by most Londoners this vital cog in the food supply is a great example of the many parts of the city that keep the people moving.
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