The controversial £160 million makeover of Smithfield Market will create the City of London's hottest neighbourhood with sensational new homes ready for the 2018 opening of Crossrail, says David Spittles
- Historic Smithfield Market is to become a new 'artisan food quarter', similar to Spitalfields and Borough
- The £160 million makeover will restore the market's listed Victorian exterior but sweep away the interior halls, replacing them with an internal public piazza below glass-clad office blocks
- The 2018 opening of Crossrail brings another advantage to new homes in the area with several station entrances to be built around the market
The halls of Smithfield market will become a new public piazza with food
courts, aimed at attracting crowds of Londoners and tourists, as has been
the experience at revamped Borough and Spitalfields markets
Historic Smithfield Market is set to follow the markets at Spitalfields and Borough as the Hart's Corner western end of the complex is set for a spectacular modern makeover that will bring a new “artisan” food quarter, boutiques and offices, and boost a central district that was hitherto off the radar of homebuyers and tourists.
Despite the passionate battle fought by conservation groups with big-name stars joining in, City planners have given approval for a £160 million revamp that will restore the market’s listed Victorian perimeter buildings but sweep away its market halls with their prized ironwork and vaulted roofs, replacing them with an internal public piazza below glass-clad office blocks - described as “pavilions”.
Known as Smithfield Quarter, the scheme is expected to be complete by 2018 to coincide with the opening of the neighbouring Crossrail station at Farringdon, which will be one of the capital’s key transport hubs and is due for a dramatic sevenfold increase in passengers.
The two projects are tipped to transform a commercial zone that has been part-derelict for at least a decade, yet which has been urban since the Middle Ages, with a colourful and lively history of supplying food to Londoners for 1,000 years.
Part of Smithfield Market's Victorian exterior
will survive the £160 million makeover
The run-down Victorian buildings occupy the Hart’s Corner western end of the market complex. While the battle for conservation still rages among many campaigners who oppose the changes, English Heritage is backing developer Henderson Global Investors, saying the scheme strikes “an appropriate balance between restoration and new development” and it welcomes the regeneration.
Similar controversy surrounded redevelopment of Spitalfields Market, where the offices for lawyers and bankers and a new shopping precinct dovetail with retained listed buildings. At Borough Market, now a thriving and much-visited area, a new viaduct for Thameslink trains cut through the site and entailed demolition of some original structures.
Smithfield has been supplying food to London for 1,000 years,
a tradition being reinvented by the new food quarter
But the quirky character and charm of these centuries-old sites endures through humanscale architecture, sensitive design and a mix of independent shops and stall holders. Both Borough and Spitalfields are among London’s top-10 visitor attractions and local homes have leapt in value.
Crossrail brings another dimension to Smithfield. There will be several new station entrances around the market and at least eight big mixed-use schemes are in the pipeline, including one above the listed station. An influx of office workers is likely to trigger demand for housing in an area that has been starved of new homes.
Estate agent Iain Currie was ahead of the game, opening a Thomson Currie branch in Smithfield two years ago. “There’s huge unsatisfied demand for homes in the area, and the redevelopment of the market is a big opportunity,” he says. “Smithfield is the only large wholesale market left in central London. Billingsgate and Covent Garden have moved.”
The market is surrounded by ancient St Bart’s Hospital, handsome Georgian townhouses and an open square that used to be the main site in London for the public execution of heretics and dissidents - Scottish nationalist William Wallace was hanged, drawn and quartered there in 1305.
The square is now lined with fashionable bars and bistros (some serving breakfasts from 4am when the market is alive with activity), while a few nightclubs offer an alternative to Soho. Lengendary club Turnmills, the first in the UK to win a 24-hour dance licence, has been bought for designer offices, a sign of the area’s changing profile. Smithfield’s boundary is part of the City’s “ring of steel” security cordon, which ensures a low crime rate.
The Green Boulevard
Architect Terry Farrell has designed a “public realm” masterplan for the area stretching from Farringdon to Tottenham Court Road, linking the two Crossrail stations with a “green boulevard”.
Sir Terry has also been commissioned by Royal Mail for the 12-acre Mount Pleasant depot, which will include a large number of homes, while Guardian Newspapers’ former headquarters in Farringdon Road is another likely residential conversion.
Analysis by Knight Frank suggests this changing City-fringe area, which includes Clerkenwell, could reach more than £1,700 a square foot by 2016, up from about £1,200 now, or at least £500,000 for a one-bedroom flat.
Spurred by Crossrail, developers are building boutique homes. “Smithfield is no longer under the influence of Clerkenwell - it is acquiring its own identity as a proper neighbourhood and people want to put down roots,” adds Iain Currie. With its medieval bones still showing and the promise of a fresh new retail quarter, it is certainly one of the City’s hottest addresses.