A brief history of James Burden and Smithfield Market

Smithfield Market in London is one of the most famous meat markets in the world and James Burden Ltd is proud to be one of the most significant companies operating from this top quality location, which acts as the hub for our local, national and international business.

Smithfield was described by a clerk of Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, as ‘a smooth field where every Friday there is a celebrated rendezvous of fine horses to be sold, and in another quarter are placed vendibles of the peasant, swine with their deep flanks, and cows and oxen of immense bulk’.

Smithfield was granted market rights by Edward III.

Writer Daniel Defoe boasted that Smithfield was ‘without question, the greatest in the world’.

Early 1800s
Dealing with 220,000 cattle and 1.5 million sheep annually, Smithfield faced closure because of complaints about hygiene and animal welfare. Charles Dickens was one of the notable complainants.

1850s and ’60s
Smithfield was closed for a decade and the market moved to Islington. Modernisation, including an iron roof and four huge statues representing Liverpool, Dublin, Edinburgh and London, was carried out. Today, Smithfield’s Sir Horace Walpole-designed architecture is Grade II listed.

Late 1800s
A poultry market was added in 1876, a fruit and veg market in 1883 and a fish market in 1889. A cold storage unit – one of the first outside London Docks – was built in 1899, allowing Smithfield to import meat from around the globe.

20th Century
Smithfield was damaged during World War II and the original poultry market burned down in 1958. In 1963, a new concrete dome was erected over the market – the biggest of its type in Europe.

James Burden Limited started trading at Smithfield.

EC regulations led to major improvements including the creation of an automated overhead meat rail system, new stalls and chiller rooms and sealed loading bays.

Smithfield today
Standing on a 10 acre site, trading between 1am and 8am and setting the trade prices for meat across the UK, Smithfield Market is the only ‘great’ London market still at the heart of the capital.

James Burden Limited today
James Burden currently trades from 5 outlets within Smithfield Market from where it satisfies a diverse range of customers needs; direct customers, Butchers, Hotels, Restaurants, and other wholesalers. A further two wholesale offices independent of Smithfield trade in large volumes of Red Meat and Poultry. Together, as part of The Burden Group, the business has grown dramatically and has an annual turnover in excess of £120M.