Smithfield Meat Market - a history and a nomination for the Pink Lady Food photography award!

Dear readers, the above image from Smithfield market has been shortlisted in the prestigious Pink Lady Food Photography Awards in the category 'Food For Sale' for the People's choice award. If you like my work, I would be super grateful if you would vote for my photograph! 
You can vote HERE > and scroll down to 'Food for sale'
Thanks so much xx

Smithfield Market, 865 years of notorious history of meat, bloodshed, crime and uprising.

Turning down Sun Street and Crown Street, and crossing Finsbury square, Mr. Sikes struck, by way of Chiswell Street, into Barbican: thence into Long Lane, and so into Smithfield; from which latter place arose a tumult of discordant sounds that filled Oliver Twist with amazement. It was market-morning. The ground was covered, nearly ankle-deep, with filth and mire; a thick steam, perpetually rising from the reeking bodies of the cattle, and mingling with the fog, which seemd to rest upon the chimney-tops, hung heavily above. All the pens in the centre of the large area, and as many temporary pens as could be crowded into the vacant space, were filled with sheep; tied up to posts by the gutter side were long lines of beasts and oxen, three or four deep. Countrymen, butchers, drovers, hawkers, boys, thieves, idlers, and vagabonds of every low grade, were mingled together in a mass; the whistling of drovers, the barking dogs, the bellowing and plunging of the oxen, the bleating of sheep, the grunting and squeaking of pigs, the cries of hawkers, the shouts, oaths, and quarrelling on all sides; the ringing of bells and roar of voices, that issued from every public-house; the crowding, pushing, driving, beating, whooping and yelling; the hideous and discordant dim that resounded from every corner of the market; and the unwashed, unshaven, squalid, and dirty figues constantly running to and fro, and bursting in and out of the throng; rendered it a stunning and bewildering scene, which quite confounded the senses.
Charles Dickens - Oliver Twist, 1838

And so were the words of Charles Dickens about Smithfield meat market in his marvellous work Oliver Twist.
England has always been famed for the outstanding quality of its meat. In the 19th century, Smithfield meat market was notorious for its wild cattle that was hazardously driven through the streets of London. The drovers and butchers were apparently as savage as their cattle and murder and rape were no exceptions in these quarters.
Reports of cattle stirred up by drunk herdsmen killing men, woman and children on their way were frequent. Cattle was slaughtered at the site and the streets coloured red with blood.

Surrounded by dirty streets, lanes, courts, and alleys, the haunts of poverty and crime, Smithfield is infested not only with fierce and savage cattle, but also with the still fiercer and more savage tribes of drivers and butchers. On market-days the passengers are in danger of being run over, trampled down, or tossed up by the drivers or “beasts”; at night, rapine and murder prowl in the lanes and alleys in the vicinity; and the police have more trouble with this part of the town than with the whole of Brompton, Kensington, and Bayswater. The crowd­ing of cattle in the centre of the town is an inexhaustible source of accidents.Max Schlesinger, Saunterings in and about London, 1853
From 1150, 

Smithfield has been used as a market for live stock. It was a large open space on the outskirts of town, it had small open spaces and wooden pens and a broad open street market.

In 1174 Smithfield was described by William Fitzstephen, clerk to Thomas à Becket in his 'Description of London', one of my favourite works to learn about Ancient London and its people.

'In a suburb immediately outside one of the gates there is a field that is smooth, both in name and in fact. Every Friday (unless it is an important holy day requiring solemnity) crowds are drawn to the show and sale of fine horses. This attracts the earls, barons and knights who are then in the city, along with many citizens, whether to buy or just to watch.'
A description of London, ca.1174/1183, translated from Latin.

The Irish Midlands

Leap Castle, Ireland's most haunted castle
Last week Bruno and I were invited by Mid-Ireland tourism to come over for a weekend to explore what the Irish Midlands has to offer. It was going to be our first visit to Ireland and we were looking forward to it for a month. We both had one of the busiest times since a very long time, for me it was finishing the English manuscript of my book, for him it were hundred and one things.
It was a relief to step on that airplane - though with the disaster of the German plane crash from a week earlier in the back of our heads - knowing that we were able to take these four days away from our work. We came back revived and full of creative energy. Let me share our highlights with you.

Bellefield Gardens

The first day of our trip we visited the Birr Theatre where regular plays are offered but also workshops for kids, when we were there to assemble for tea, kids were learning to do stop-motion films. So great to get the kids to do creative things.

Home away from home

We then drove off to go and see the beautiful gardens by Garden designer Angela Jupe at Bellefield Gardens. Angela is a garden designer after my own heart. The gardens look very rustic and not at all staged. She works with salvaged materials and creates new things with it. She restored the farmhouse and all the cottages surrounding its courtyard. You can hire them, they each have a cosy log burner, a kitchen and a private little garden. A real treat if you want to get away from the rat race and spend some time walking around the beautiful surroundings and cooking up amazing food to enjoy by the fireplace. I wish I had just 1% of Angela Jupe's gardening talent. The whole estate is truly enchanting.

Fairytale garden

Back in the buss we went to see Fancroft Mill just over the border in Tipperary. The owners bought this derelict mill, garden and millhouse from Angela Jupe who had designed the garden and then sold it because the derelict mill was an enormous project to take on. The new owners restored the watermill, which is housed in a very tall building than can be seen from a distance in the rolling countryside. They accidentally became millers with it. The gardens are - like Bellefield Gardens - immaculately rustic and the little tower makes it look like a fairytale setting. I could sit in this garden for hours, and in fact the owners tell me that that is what they tell visitors, to take their time exploring and sitting in the garden. 

Haunted as hell

The next stop is Ireland's most haunted castle - a real treat for Bruno who is a fan of horror movies and other gothic things. Leap Castle is a ruin, but it is lived in by Sean Ryan and his family. It must have looked imposing in its heyday, and scary too because if you committed a crime on these lands, which could have been poaching a rabbit, you were read your last prayer on the top floor of the castle where the 'Bloody chapel' is - or was - and then thrown into a hole which was lined with spikes on the bottom - yikes.
The castle was built in the 1500's and originally named 'Leim Ui Bhanain' meaning ’Leap of the O’Bannons’. The O’Carrolls, the clan who owned the castle, were a fierce and brutal people.  They were known for their cruel tactics,  killing those that came on their path. The 'Bloody chapel' has an 'oubliette', a narrow room, more like a hole where people where in the 1930's three cartloads of human bones were removed. The grandfather of our bus driver was one of the workmen on the job. Sean, the owner of the castle told us about the spirits in his home but ensures us they are not evil, but that they are there. Constant murdering had been going on in the castle up until the 18th century. And at one time one of the owners was so involved with the occult that she summoned a dark spirit that thankfully has remained quiet but is still in the castle. Leap castle was looted and burnt by IRA militants in 1922 during an uprising when it was owned by English aristocracy. Stories say that the villagers from the surroundings stood there laughing when the castle went up in flames. But they did spare the life of the caretaker and his wife and child. The English family who owned was not present when the castle got reduced to the ruin it is today. Did I see a ghost? No, but I can't help but wander what I felt as you go into the cold castle knowing it is haunted, and aware of all the monstrous murders that have happened there.