All it takes is one quick stroll through Leadenhall Market to see why it’s become one of the most iconic and recognizable markets in London. Because Leadenhall Market isn’t just any other market: With its stunning interior details and cobbled floors, not to mention the shimmering skylights that run along the entire length of the building, Leadenhall is the type of place that will leave you speechless as soon as you pass through its entrance.
And although today many locals and tourists head to Leadenhall Market to check out its many food stalls, shops, restaurants and pubs, it’s its stunning Victorian architecture that has helped it become one of the most popular places to visit in London.
But besides being one of the most beautiful (and famous!) markets London has to offer, it’s also one of the oldest as well – and because of this its history is just as detailed and complex as the design which has helped make it so famous over the years:
The scene where Harry Potter and Hagrid go shopping for wands (and where Hagrid buys Hedwig as a late birthday gift for Harry) is one of the most memorable scenes in the first Harry Potter film…and it all happened outside Leadenhall Market.
And not only was Leadenhall Market used to represent the one area of London which secretly leads magical folk to Diagon Alley (in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone), Potterheads should be able to immediately recognize the entrance to the Leaky Cauldron at 42 Bull’s Head Passage (which is now an opticians office), as its blue door was used to film scenes in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire as well.
Not just limited to Harry Potter, Leadenhall Market has also been used as a filming location for a handful of other movies over the years, such as Hereafter, Love Aaj Kal, The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus and Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, as well as for Erasure’s 1991 music video “Love To Hate You.”
Since as far back as the 1300s, local poulterers would venture to Leadenhall Market to sell their produce to the locals, and as a result countless geese and chickens were slaughtered on a regular basis inside the market.
But during the early 1800s, there was one clever little goose who managed to escape his fate of being killed along with 34,000 other geese, after he somehow managing to make a “dash for freedom” when it was his turn for execution. (Word on the street was that the goose actually managed to escape capture not just once, but countless times over the course of several days).
Because he was such a hard goose to catch, the market workers eventually gave up and decided to let the goose (who was eventually named Old Tom) live a life of peace and happiness inside the market, and he soon became one of Leadenhall’s most beloved residents; (so much so that market employees would often save a few scraps of food for him as well!)
Old Tom managed to live to the ripe old age of 38; and after his death in 1835, he was featured in the obituary section of a local newspaper, and was even given the proper burial he deserved inside the market.
Today Old Tom’s burial spot is marked by none other than the Old Tom’s Bar (at 10-12 Leadenhall Market) where visitors can enjoy traditional British cuisine and craft beers, but if you’re interested you can also check out two different representations of Old Tom on top of the old Midland Bank building, which is just near the Bank of England by the Bank tube station.
Leadenhall Market is perhaps best known as being one of the most stunning Victorian markets in London (and perhaps even the world), but turns out its history stretches well beyond the Victorian era.
During the Roman times, Leadenhall served an important role in the Roman settlement of Londinium, and apparently the eastern portion of the area where the market now stands once held the basilica and forum of Londinium. Not only that, the area was also an important meeting place and civic administration centre, and even once had a market place with stalls lining the walls of an open-air square.
However, even though Rome destroyed the buildings in 300 AD as a punishment to London for supporting Carausius (who had declared himself the Emperor of Britain), the Romans didn’t leave the area until the early 5th century after Britain was declared independent from Rome.
But surprisingly enough, Leadenhall’s Roman roots weren’t discovered until the early 1800s when the market was being remodelled, after workers discovered a section of Roman mosaic artwork about nine feet below street level. It was after this when historians were able to pinpoint that the Roman settlement around Leadenhall was established sometime around 70 AD, and was perhaps expanded to two hectares around 120 AD.
Visitors can see the original Roman mosaic artwork (which features a Bacchus riding a tiger with serpents, drinking cups and a cornucopia) in the British Museum, as well as one of the Roman Basilica arches which was discovered in the market’s north-western foundations in the basement of the Nicholson & Griffin Barber Shop in the market’s Central Avenue.
Leadenhall Market’s Victorian design may be famous all around the world, but what Leadenhall Market looks like today is actually a stark contrast from what it looked like before its redesign during the Victorian ages.
Originally, the market building was a lead-roofed manor house (hence its name), which was once located within London’s Lime Street Ward. Nobody knows the exact date the manor was built, but it is known that by 1309, the owner of the manor (Sir Hugh Neville) opened up the grounds to be used as a market place for locals.
This market place was eventually redesigned by John Croxton in 1449, when it was decided to expand the market into a large rectangular quadrangle shape with two stories, a small side chapel, and various storage rooms to prepare for food shortages or other types of “social unrest.”
This original Leadenhall Market building was sadly demolished in 1881 before being redesigned yet again by Sir Horace Jones, an English architect who also designed the Smithfield Market, the Billingsgate Fish Market and even the Tower Bridge; (although the bridge wasn’t completed until eight years after his death).
Horace was responsible for designing Leadenhall’s iconic wrought iron and glass roof details, and the project cost a whopping £99,000 to build, with its additional entrances costing another £148,000. It’s thanks to Jones’ redesign that helped Leadenhall Market earn its Grade II heritage-listed status in 1972, and ultimately making it one of the most recognizable architectural structures in London today.
Want to learn more fascinating facts about Leadenhall Market? Our Free Harry Potter Tour, Free London Landmarks (East) Tour, and Free London In A Day Tour all include a stop inside this world-famous Victorian market!