London Food and Markets in 1731
The following information is taken from London in 1731 by Don Manoel Gonzales. The complete text of this work is available at Project Gutenburg.
The invaluable Don Manoel Gonzales provides us via ‘London in 1731’ with some good information on the London markets and food supplies.
The main markets markets mentioned are:
- Fish: Billingsgate
- Meat: Leadenhall; West Smithfield
- Vegetables: Leadenhall Herb Market
- Malt and grain: Bear Quay; Queenhithe
- Leather: Leadenhall Market: Tuesdays
- Baize and Wool: Leadenhall Market: Thursdays
- Raw hides: Leadenhall Market: Fridays
- Live cattle: West Smithfield: Mondays and Fridays
- Horses: West Smithfield: Fridays
Don Manoel notes the following prices in his discourse:
- Piped water: 20s. per year
- Loaf of Bread: 1 1/2d. - 2d.
- Strong Beer: 2d. per quart at the brewery or 3d. per quart at the alehouse
- Port Wine: 2s. per quart retail; £18 - £20 per hogshead
- Hay: 40s. per load
- Oats: 20d. - 2s. per bushel
Don Manoel's Account
Supplies of Food and Drink
I proceed in the next place to show how well London is supplied with water, firing, bread-corn, flesh, fish, beer, wine, and other provisions.
And as to water, no city was ever better furnished with it, for every man has a pipe or fountain of good fresh water brought into his house, for less than twenty shillings a year, unless brewhouses, and some other great houses and places that require more water than an ordinary family consumes, and these pay in proportion to the quantity they spend; many houses have several pipes laid in, and may have one in every room, if they think fit, which is a much greater convenience than two or three fountains in a street, for which some towns in other countries are so much admired.
These pipes of water are chiefly supplied from the waterworks at London Bridge, Westminster, Chelsea, and the New River.
Besides the water brought from the Thames and the New River, there are a great many good springs, pumps, and conduits about the town, which afford excellent water for drinking. There are also mineral waters on the side of Islington and Pancras.
This capital also is well supplied with firing, particularly coals from Newcastle, and pit-coals from Scotland, and other parts; but wood is excessively dear, and used by nobody for firing, unless bakers, and some few persons of quality in their chambers and drawing-rooms.
As for bread-corn, it is for the most part brought to London after it is converted into flour, and both bread and flour are extremely reasonable: we here buy as much good white bread for three- halfpence or twopence, as will serve an Englishman a whole day, and flour in proportion. Good strong beer also may be had of the brewer, for about twopence a quart, and of the alehouses that retail it for threepence a quart. Bear Quay, below bridge, is a great market for malt, wheat, and horse-corn; and Queenhithe, above the bridge, for malt, wheat, flour, and other grain.
The butchers here compute that there are about one thousand oxen sold in Smithfield Market one week with another the year round; besides many thousand sheep, hogs, calves, pigs, and lambs, in this and other parts of the town; and a great variety of venison, game, and poultry. Fruit, roots, herbs, and other garden stuff are very cheap and good.
Fish also are plentiful, such as fresh cod, plaice, flounders, soles, whitings, smelts, sturgeon, oysters, lobsters, crabs, shrimps, mackerel, and herrings in the season; but it must be confessed that salmon, turbot, and some other sea-fish are dear, as well as fresh-water fish.
Wine is imported from foreign countries, and is dear. The port wine which is usually drunk, and is the cheapest, is two shillings a quart, retailed in taverns, and not much less than eighteen or twenty pounds the hogshead, when purchased at the best hand; and as to French wines, the duties are so high upon them that they are double the price of the other at least. White wine is about the same price as red port, and canary about a third dearer.
It is computed that there are in London some part of the year, when the nobility and gentry are in town, 15,000 or 16,000 large horses for draught, used in coaches, carts, or drays, besides some thousands of saddle-horses; and yet is the town so well supplied with hay, straw, and corn, that there is seldom any want of them. Hay generally is not more than forty shillings the load, and from twenty pence to two shillings the bushel is the usual price of oats.
Billingsgate Fish Market
Billingsgate Ward is bounded by Langbourn Ward towards the north, by Tower Street Ward on the east, by the River Thames on the south, and by Bridge Ward Within on the west. The principal streets and places in this ward are, Thames Street, Little East Cheap, Pudding Lane, Botolph Lane, Love Lane, St. Mary Hill, and Rood Lane.
The wharves, or quays, as they lie on the Thames side from east to west, are:
- Smart's Quay
- Billings gate
- Little Somer's Quay
- Great Somer's Quay
- Botolph Wharf
- Cox's Quay
- Fresh Wharf
The last is the next quay to the bridge; of which Billingsgate is much the most resorted to. It is a kind of square dock, or inlet, having quays on three sides of it, to which the vessels lie close while they are unloading.
By a statute of the 10th and 11th of William III. it was enacted:
- That Billingsgate should be a free market for fish every day in the week, except Sundays." That a fishing-vessel should pay no other toll or duty than the Act prescribes, viz.,
- every salt-fish vessel, for groundage, 8d. per day, and 20d. per voyage
- a lobster boat 2d. per day groundage, and 13d. the voyage
- every dogger boat, or smack with sea-fish, 2d. per day groundage, and 13d. the voyage
- every oyster vessel, 2d. per day groundage, and a halfpenny per bushel metage
- And that it should be lawful for any person who should buy fish in the said market to sell the same in any other market or place in London, or elsewhere, by retail
And because the fishmongers used to buy up great part of the fish at Billingsgate, and then divide the same among themselves, in order to set an extravagant price upon them, it was enacted:
- That no person should buy, or cause to be bought, in the said market of Billingsgate, any quantity of fish, to be divided by lot among the fishmongers, or other persons, with an intent to sell them afterwards by retail; and that no fishmonger should buy any more than for his own use, on pain of 20 pounds
And by the 6th Annae it was enacted:
- That no person should buy fish at Billingsgate to sell again in the same market; and that none but fishermen, their wives, or servants, should sell fish by retail at Billingsgate; and that none should buy or sell fish there before the ringing of the market bell
[ The official version of the Act can be found at british-history.ac.uk ]
The names of the quays or wharves lying on the Thames side in this ward between the Tower and Billingsgate, are Brewer's Quay, Chester Quay, Galley Quay, Wool Quay, Porter's Quay, Custom-House Quay, Great Bear Quay, Little Bear Quay, Wigging's Quay, Ralph's Quay, Little Dice Quay, Great Dice Quay, and Smart's Quay, of which, next to the Custom-House Quay, Bear Quays are the most considerable, there being one of the greatest markets in England for wheat and other kinds of grain, brought hither by coasting vessels.
Leadenhall Market, the finest shambles in Europe, lies between Leadenhall Street and Fenchurch Street. Of the three courts or yards which it consists of, the first is that at the north-east corner of Gracechurch Street, and opens into Leadenhall Street. This court or yard contains in length from north to south 164 feet, and in breadth from east to west eighty feet: within this court or yard, round about the same, are about 100 standing stalls for butchers, for the selling of beef only, and therefore this court is called the beef market. These stalls are either under warehouses, or sheltered from the weather by roofs over them.
This yard is on Tuesdays a market for leather, to which the tanners resort; on Thursdays the waggons from Colchester, and other parts, come with baize, &c., and the fellmongers with their wool; and on Fridays it is a market for raw hides; on Saturdays, for beef and other provisions.
The second market yard is called the Greenyard, as being once a green plot of ground; afterwards it was the City's storeyard for materials for building and the like; but now a market only for veal, mutton, lamb, &c. This yard is 170 feet in length from east to west, and ninety feet broad from north to south; it hath in it 140 stalls for the butchers, all covered over.
In the middle of this Greenyard market from north to south is a row of shops, with rooms over them, for fishmongers: and on the south side and west end are houses and shops also for fishmongers.
Towards the east end of this yard is erected a fair market-house, standing upon columns, with vaults underneath, and rooms above, with a bell tower, and a clock, and under it are butchers' stalls.
The tenements round about this yard are for the most part inhabited by cooks and victuallers; and in the passages leading out of the streets into this market are fishmongers, poulterers, cheesemongers, and other traders in provisions.
The third market belonging to Leadenhall is called the Herb Market, for that herbs, roots, fruits, &c., are only there sold. This market is about 140 feet square; the west, east, and north sides had walks round them, covered over for shelter, and standing upon columns; in which walks there were twenty-eight stalls for gardeners, with cellars under them.
Queenhithe Ward includes part of Thames Street, Queenhithe, with the several lanes running southward to the Thames, Lambeth Hill, Fish Street Hill, Five Foot Lane, Little Trinity Lane, Bread Street Hill, Huggin Lane, with the south side of Great Trinity Lane, and part of Old Fish Streets.
Queenhithe lies to the westward of the Three Cranes, and is a harbour for barges, lighters, and other vessels, that bring meal, malt, and other provisions down the Thames; being a square inlet, with wharves on three sides of it, where the greatest market in England for meal, malt, &c., is held every day in the week, but chiefly on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. It received the name of Queenhithe, or harbour, from the duties anciently paid here to the Queens of England.
West Smithfield Market
West Smithfield--or, rather, Smoothfield, according to Stow--is an open place, containing little more than three acres of ground at present, of an irregular figure, surrounded with buildings of various kinds.
Here is held one of the greatest markets of oxen and sheep in Europe, as may easily be imagined when it appears to be the only market for live cattle in this great city, which is held on Mondays and Fridays.
There is also a market for horses on Fridays; nor is there anywhere better riding-horses to be purchased, if the buyer has skill, though it must be confessed there is a great deal of jockeying and sharping used by the dealers in horseflesh. As for coach-horses, and those fit for troopers, they are usually purchased in the counties to the northward of the town.
The famous fair on the feast of St. Bartholomew also is held in this place, which lasts three days, and, by the indulgence of the City magistrates, sometimes a fortnight. The first three days were heretofore assigned for business, as the sale of cattle, leather, &c., but now only for diversion, the players filling the area of the field with their booths, whither the young citizens resort in crowds.
Whitechapel is a handsome broad street, by which we enter the town from the east. The south side, or great part of it, is taken up by butchers who deal in the wholesale way, selling whole carcases of veal, mutton, and lamb (which come chiefly out of Essex) to the town butchers. On the north side are a great many good inns, and several considerable tradesmen's houses, who serve the east part of England with such goods and merchandise as London affords. On the south side is a great market for hay three times a week.