Smithfield Market: Street theatre revives 19th century architect to help save threatened buildings
Dressed in white and wearing towering hats, a group of actors put on a show in front of Smithfield Market this week to launch an alternative planning application for the market’s century-old buildings.
Organised by SAVE Britain’s Heritage, the event on Wednesday evening regaled passers-by with short tales of the market’s history. The organisation is campaigning together with the Victorian Society against a scheme to redevelop the General Market, Fish Market and Red House buildings at the western site of Smithfield into space for restaurants, retailers and offices.
- Listen to the history of Smithfield Market:
Stationed on either side of the Grand Avenue that runs through the Central Market, as well as on Holborn Viaduct, actors of the 3rdthought Arts Collective performed the one-on-one historic tales as part of the interactive project Invisible People, which also put on performances during the 2012 Olympic Festival.
The market’s original architect City Surveyor Sir Horace Jones – who also built Tower Bridge and died in 1887 – was brought to life to educate home-bound office workers about the value of his buildings.
Watch ‘Sir Horace Jones’, the architect of Smithfield Market, rally support for his buildings:
The City of London Corporation, the owner of the market buildings, approved redevelopment plans proposed by architects McAslan + Partners in July, prompting a prominent petition against the scheme. In September, communities secretary Eric Pickles “called in” the planning application for an inquiry set to start in February 2014.
It will attempt to find the most appropriate way of bringing the buildings back into use after they have been empty for years. Campaigners fear that the £160m scheme, backed by Henderson Global Investors, will lead to more destruction of original market fabric than necessary.
English Heritage has made it clear that it will support the government’s decision if the plans are approved, even though it opposed another scheme for the market’s development in 2008. The organisation argues that this time round the propositions are far from total demolition and would mean much less substantial loss of historic buildings at the site.
A statement on the organisation’s website reads: “We have emphasised that an appropriate balance between restoration and new development must be found to ensure the long-term, economically viable regeneration of the Western Market Buildings.”
However, SAVE proposes a different approach and has just submitted a planning application to the City of London in cooperation with Urban Space Management, the organisation founded by market entrepreneur Eric Reynolds that was also behind the revival of Spitalfields Market and Camden Lock.
Clem Cecil, the director of SAVE, sees the Henderson plans as essentially “the same scheme with a bit of historic frill” and emphasises that a more sustainable approach focusing on reviving the buildings as market halls would be more beneficial to both campaigners who want to preserve the buildings and the market traders who want to see the buildings brought back into use.
SAVE is hosting a public exhibition of its alternative plans on 17 December at its offices in Cowcross Street, adjacent to the market. The event will take place in the basement gallery and run from 2-6pm.
Henderson Global Investors has published a summary of its plans for the market here.
The planning applications are available to search here, using these application numbers:
For more about the history of Smithfield read about our early morning visit to the wholesale meat market (which would not be affected by the development plans) and listen to an interview with the chairman of the market’s tenants’ association.