Originally known as Smoothfield, it was a large open space just outside the city boundaries on the edge of St Bartholomew’s Priory. (The name meant a smooth plain – but the word eventually became known as smith, a corruption of the Saxon word smeth, which meant smooth).
In the Twelfth Century it was used as a vast recreational area where jousts and tournaments took place. By the late Middle Ages the area had become the most famous livestock market in the country.
There was also a murkier side to the area, because from the early Thirteenth Century it was used as a place of execution for criminals. Wat Tyler, the leader of the Peasants’ Revolt, was executed here, as was Scottish hero William Wallace and of course, it was the location of Bartholomew Fair – three days of merrymaking, dancing, selling and music which over the centuries became the most debauched and drunken holiday in the calendar. Even so, it lasted almost 700 years before it was eventually closed in 1855.
MONDAY to FRIDAY from 2am (visitors and buyers should arrive by 7am to find full range of stalls open) Closed on Saturday, Sunday and Bank Holidays.
The Market will be closed on
27 August for Bank Holiday