PRESS RELEASE: SAVE and Museum of London host Prince Charles on historic visit to Smithfield General Market

12th May 2021

The Prince of Wales yesterday visited the scene of one of SAVE Britain’s Heritage’s greatest battles – the General Market and the Fish Market in Smithfield. The Smithfield Conservation Area had been extended to protect these impressive Victorian iron and glass market halls, but they were not listed and two major attempts at demolition were fought off by SAVE at successive public inquiries in 2008 and 2014.

Working with Eric Reynolds, the champion of revived markets in London (including Camden Lock, Greenwich and Spitalfields), SAVE argued that the market buildings could be brought back into use and despite the scorn of the developers Henderson Global Investors, the inspector accepted that the SAVE alternatives were practical and were viable and fundable.

The Prince was welcomed to the General Market by Sharon Ament, director of the Museum of London, Henrietta Billings, director of SAVE Britain's Heritage, Clive Bannister chair of the Museum of London and Marcus Binney, executive president of SAVE Britain's Heritage and Eric Reynolds, chair of trustees, SAVE Britain's Heritage. He was shown the remarkable Victorian cocoa rooms which for nearly a century have stood forgotten and hidden with their remarkable arts and crafts tiled walls boarded over.

Happily, they escaped destruction and will be a major exhibit in the new Museum of London scheduled to open in 2025. The museum will be installed in the newly renovated General Market buildings, originally designed by city architect Sir Horace Jones in 1879-1883.

Both the General Market and Fish Market are currently shrouded in scaffolding both inside and out. The Prince was shown throughout the General Market, including its patent American phoenix columns which are noted for being stronger than typical Victorian cast iron columns, allowing much larger internal spans to be created. He was also taken onto the roof to admire the remarkable panorama of old and new London from the top of the market.

Finally, he became the first VIP visitor to inspect the newly revealed cocoa rooms. These are a counter part to the famous William Morris café rooms in the Victoria and Albert museum. They are the sole survivor of some 60 cocoa halls established by Robert Lockhart across the country in the 1870s, intended to wean Smithfield porters away from pubs and gin palaces, and were a mainstay of the temperance movement. With cocoa rooms falling out of fashion in the 1920s, Smithfield is now considered the most complete surviving example in Britain.

The architects for the transformation of the new museum are Paul Williams (of Stanton Williams Architects), Asif Khan and Julian Harrap Architects.



Notes to editors:

1. For more information contact Ben Oakley, conservation officer at SAVE Britain's Heritage – / 07388 181 181.

2. SAVE Britain's Heritage is a strong, independent voice in conservation that has been fighting for threatened historic buildings and sustainable reuses since 1975. We stand apart from other organisations by bringing together architects, engineers, planners and investors to offer viable alternative proposals. Where necessary, and with expert advice, we take legal action to prevent major and needless losses. 

3. See here for details on our current campaigns.