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London: A fight between tradition and tourism


One of London's ancient markets, the Smithfield meat market that has served the city for nearly a thousand years, is fighting to keep its historic location while the City of London wants their site for a major new museum and tourism attraction.

And the butchers believe they have an ace up their sleeves: A centuries-old Royal Charter that can only be revoked by an act of Parliament—and they've made clear that they'll not let that happen quietly.

The City of London Corporation, the authority over the 'Square Mile,' wants the old market buildings, along with those belonging to two other markets, as a new home for the Museum of London, which has never had room to store and display its hundreds of thousands of objects (including 20,000 skeletons).

The project for the museum, which could cost up to $350 million is seen as making the museum a much more significant attraction in general, and as a way to reverse a trend of fewer workers and businesses in the core area as more work is done electronically or remotely, and other areas, such as Canary Wharf, absorb many corporate headquarters.

Smithfield Market, 1968

The markets would be relocated to a new facility being built 14 miles away at Dagenham Docks, reflecting similar moves that have happened in other cities, such as the move of wholesale food markets in Paris from Les Halles and New York's shifting of markets to Hunts Point.

But the butchers are not convinced, and some of them even feel that they are the attraction. One of them told reporters that “It’s a wonderful place for us to be. People come and visit. We’re in the right place — in the middle of everything.”

The Smithfield Market, and the adjoining Poultry Market have over 900 years of history, although their buildings are much newer, and have direct access to rail lines.


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