Smithfield was originally the Smooth Field just outside the city walls and was used over the centuries as London's main livestock market. As a large open space close to the City it was used for jousting and gatherings such as executions and was used as a meeting place for the peasants in the Peasants' Revolt of 1381.
William Wallace was executed here in 1296. Smithfield was the main site for the execution of heretics. About 50 Protestants were executed here in the reign of Mary I. Coin forgers were boiled in oil here in the 16th Century.
St Bartholomew's Hospital was established by the monastery in 1123.
Smithfield meat market from the south
The livestock market was moved in the 1860's and the present Smithfield meat market was set up. It is a large market with permanent buildings, and one of the few of the great London markets not to have moved from its central site to a location further out with cheaper land, better transport links and more modern facilities (cf Covent Garden and Billingsgate). Instead Smithfield Market has modernised on the existing site: its imposing Victorian buildings have had modern lorry access etc added. The market building sits on top of a veritable warren of tunnels: in earlier times live animals were brought to the market on foot and later by rail and slaughtered on site. This no longer takes place and the tunnels are used for storage, parking and as basements. An impressive cobbled ramp spirals down round the public park now known as West Smithfield, on the south side of the market, to give access to part of this area: some of the buildings on Charterhouse Street on the north side have access into the tunnels from their basements.
The former Central Cold Store at Smithfield is now a power station
Some of the buildings formerly associated with the meat market have now been put to other uses. For example the former Central Cold Store is now, most unusually, a city centre power station operated by Citigen.
The public park comprises the centre of the only part of Smithfield which is still open space - this is in effect a large square with the market making one side and mostly older buildings the other three. The south side is occupied by St Bartholomew's Hospital (frequently known as Barts), and part of the east side by the church of St Bartholomew-the-Great.