A History of Smithfield Market | Keevil and Keevil Online Butchers

Smithfield Market


Smithfield Market is the UK’s oldest, biggest and best meat market. So you can always find the meat you want, subject to hunting restrictions and seasonal availability.

Here at Keevils we're well known for our beef and steaks. We also have a large range of poultry and game. Other butchers have great reputations for their pork and lamb. When you place an order, we find the best available source of the cut you’re after. This guarantees that the meat you’ll get in your Keevils box is outstanding quality and therefore represents the best value.

A history of the market

The word Smithfield originates from the Saxon for ‘smooth field’ and, indeed, was originally a flat grassy area just outside the city walls of London. Before the Saxons, the Romans used it as a burial ground.

By the time of the Norman invasion it had evolved for agricultural use and became well known in medieval England for horse trading.  Flanked by Elm trees, Smithfield was also notoriously used for public executions until the 18th Century; two of the most notable historical figures who died here being Scottish rebel William Wallace, in 1305, and Wat Tyler during the Peasants Revolt of 1381.

 Smithfield 1100s


Henry I granted permission for a priory to be built at Smithfield. The resulting St Bartholomew-the-Great is the oldest parish church in London.


Horses, cattle, pigs and pheasant are first recorded as being traded at Smithfield.


The Corporation of London banned animal slaughter within the City walls, this saw the development of the livestock trade at Smithfield.

1666 - 2nd September 

Because of their proximity to the City wall, and a fortunate change in wind direction, buildings in the Smithfield area survived the Great Fire of London. The fire stopped at Pye Corner, just 200 metres from the current market.

 Smithfield 1700s


The New Road was built to ease congestion; previously Oxford Street and Piccadilly were the only two roads from the West into London on which cattle could be driven. Today the New Road has become Marylebone Road which in turn leads into Euston Road, Pentonville Road and City Road. Over time, tracks that were used as ‘drovers’ ways’ - taking stock into and out of Smithfield - formed a framework for other roads that now surround the market.


Annual meat sales at Smithfield total £8 million.

 Old Smithfield in Islington


The Smithfield Removal Act was passed by Parliament, as the location of the open-air market had become a public nuisance.

1855 - June

The Metropolitan Cattle Market was established at Copenhagen Fields, Islington, and was opened by the Prince Consort. However this soon became unsuitable as it wasn’t central or large enough.

 The new Central Meat Market

1868 - 24th November

The new Central Meat Market was opened at Smithfield. Designed by Horace Jones, who was also responsible for Tower Bridge, it was a huge building covering 8 acres and was typical of the brilliance and boldness of Victorian Architecture. It included an underground area linked to railway lines, so livestock and butchered meat could be transported via train. Constructed with stone, slate, cast iron and glass it cost £993,816 - a staggeringly large sum for the time.

1875 - 30th November 

The Poultry Market – which was built in the same style as the Central Meat Market opened. Today it is the only one of the original buildings still in use.

1941 - 11th May

In the last major night raid of WWII on London, a Keevils employee named Mears was killed while on fire-watching duty.

1945 - 8th March

Just two weeks before the end of the V2 strikes, one of the fearsome rockets hit Smithfield at 11.30am causing 110 deaths.

 Aftermath of a V2 rocket strike

1958 - 22nd January

The whole of the poultry and general markets were destroyed by a fire which burned for four days, spreading through 2.5 acres of underground tunnels and storerooms. Over 1000 fire-fighters, from 58 London fire stations, fought the blaze. Keevils who had warehouses nearby, and the use of other market premises, were able to continue trading. Other less fortunate traders had who had lost their shops were forced to move to a temporary adjoining market named ‘The Village’, where they would sometimes have to share stalls with competitors.

1963 - 5th July

The newly re-built market was opened. It was designed by Sir Thomas Bennett at a cost of £2 million, and incorporated a new domed roof. With a span of 225 feet it was, until recently, Europe’s largest unsupported domed roof and earned the building its Grade II listing.


The market buildings were renovated throughout the 90s to bring them up-to-date and in line with hygiene standards, at a cost of over £70 million.

 New market roof

There’s been a Keevil at Smithfield Market for over 160 years

Keevil & Best was founded by Job Keevil in 1850. Two years later, his brother opened Peter Keevil & Sons and, in 1872, their younger brother Clement formed Keevil & Weston. The companies were merged in 1908 to become Keevil and Keevil.

In 1946 Keevils became part of Fitch Lovell, a large Smithfield supply group, although the company remained controlled by the Keevil family until 1970. In 1991 Keevils was bought by George Abrahams, a Smithfield Market trader who incorporated it into his group, which specialises in importing meat from across the world.

Keevil and Keevil now enjoys just as good a reputation for sourcing the more unusual, gourmet cuts of meat, as it does for purveying more locally sourced meat, poultry and game of the highest quality.

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A great deliVery everytime

Only the finest Quality of cuts

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