As a vegetarian it might seem quite ironic that this morning I went down to Smithfield Meat Market to see the legendary Christmas Eve Auction. However as a City of London Tour Guide I had heard about the amazing atmosphere and I was curious to check this out for myself.
Smithfield is London’s oldest meat market. The Christmas Eve auction has a tradition that goes back many years to before refrigeration, when surplus supplies of meat were sold off just before the market closed for Christmas. Today Harts of Smithfield are the only butchers who maintain this tradition.
The auction was scheduled to start at 10.30am and when I arrived there was already a sizable crowd. Some people attend every year and use it as an opportunity to fill up their chest freezers with good quality joins of meat at below supermarket prices, while others have come to buy a specific item. However everyone appears to have come along to grab a bargain and the crowd wait patiently for the sale to commence.
The auctioneer introduces the sale. First on offer were turkeys for £20 each. This is followed by other meats beef, lamb, pork, etc. This is strictly a cash only event. Would be customers hold up their money in a style reminiscent of Harry Enfield’s Loads of Money character.
The auction is fast and furious but also very good natured with lots of banter both from the butchers and people in the crowd. Cuts of meat are passed to and in some cases thrown into the crowd to the customers.
The sale is all over in 90 minutes. This year the auction took place as usual in the Old General Market. However there are plans for it to be re-located nearby for next Christmas Eve.
The author of this blog is a qualified City of London and City of Westminster Tour Guide who leads guided walks combining world famous landmarks with hidden treasures often missed by the crowds.