London’s 2nd Most Famous Landmark Vanishes
This vast edifice once came after Big Ben in the list of London’s most visited landmarks.
Everyone in the city knew it, and it was much loved. Its history has been almost entirely wiped away, except in the logbook of the London Fire Brigade. I cobbled together this photo from shots taken during its devastating destruction, filmed by a Pathe Newsreel team. So, a grand tower, but why did it mean so much?
One reason is that it marked one of the oldest continuously used sites in the city – Smithfield. A green space that went from knightly tournaments to public executions, and eventually a cattle market.
In 1958, Poultry Hall burned to the ground. The building was immense – an entire city block was topped with this ornate, elegant tower. Two and a half acres of labyrinthine basement had caught fire. The building’s linings were impregnated with decades of animal fat, and turned the flames into a relentless blowtorch of an inferno with only one escape channel, through the vast circular roof.
The meat lockers below were lined with flammable insulation, cork affixed by tar. It was as if the place had been built as a giant candle lined in tallow. Firefighters were sent in, and died. The underground parts were a maze that quickly got you lost, and they were cut off by the flames. The meat, fat and grease provided ample fuel that burned for three days. Flames eventually gutted the market floor and toppled the roof. Station Officer Jack Fort-Wells and Firefighter Dick Stocking from the Clerkenwell Fire Station died in the cold storage lockers in the early stages of the battle, which was ultimately waged by 1,700 firefighters and 389 appliances. Dozens were injured.
The ornate building was replaced with a concrete shell – the largest freestanding concrete structure in Britain – and it’s pretty ugly, although you can get an idea of the size when you stand beneath it.
Now the old market is to house the Museum of London, which is leaving its Barbican home, but it’s a massive project that will take a long time to finish, and the museum has gone mysteriously quiet on the project lately. They had a competition for the new design and selected (IMHO) the right design. But has anyone heard anything more about the plans?