London – Markets – Provision Consumption

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 This is the first part of our article on the early provision consumption of London – the article is from the book London – Volume 3 published in 1824 by Sholto and Reuben Percy – Brothers of the Benedictine Monastery

Read other posts in this series

Read other posts in the London series

London – Markets – Provision Consumption

Great as the population of London is, there is no city “so drained and so supplied” with all the necessaries, comforts, and even luxuries of life. In Paris, where the population and the consequent consumption is much less, the supply of provisions is regulated by the government, and there are greniers de reserve for storing up grain, in order that bread may be kept at a moderate price: a rather necessary policy on the part of a government which has to pay a certain sum annually, in order to keep the price of bread lower in Paris than in the provinces. In London, freedom of trade and the spirit of competition render the interference of government as unnecessary as it would be considered unconstitutional, and without any regulation, the metropolis has a constant and an abundant supply.

Although there is scarcely a street, with the exception of those occupied by persons of fortune at the west end of the town, that is without a dealer in some article of provisions, yet there are large markets for the more general sale. Smithfield is the grand mart for the sale of live stock, which is held on Mondays and Fridays. Newgate and Leadenhall markets take the lead for butcher’s meat, poultry, etc. although there are several other markets in various parts of the metropolis, where the business is equally respectable though not so extensive. Covent Garden market is celebrated for the early and abundant supply of fruits, vegetables, herbs, and flowers. The only fish market in London is that of Billingsgate, which is supposed to have derived its name from Belinus, the son of Dunwallo, who built a gate here, which he ordered to be surmounted with an urn containing his ashes, after his death. It has long been a matter of regret that the sale of fish should be confined to one market, as, owing to the monopoly thus established, the supply of that article is neither so abundant nor so reasonable as it would otherwise be. In the mackarel season, if that fish is very plentiful, the dealers will rather throw their cargo over-board, or sell it for manure, than, by bringing it to town, reduce the price.

Salmon, which is often very plentiful and sold as cheap as at Berwick, or in Yorkshire, and Durham, whence it is supplied, is brought to London packed in ice. Turbot, though caught in great quantities on the Yorkshire coast, and sold there at about fourpence a lb., is always extravagantly dear in London;  so dear, indeed, as to render it a luxury attainable only to the wealthy.

Excerpt from London Volume 3 1824 by Sholto and Reuben Percy – Brothers of the Benedictine Monastery

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Further reading and external links

Cheapside and London Retail Trade in the 18th Century

Sholto and Reuben Percy