Early this morning, like every year, the Smithfield Christmas auction takes place outside Hart’s Of Smithfield in London’s meat market.
⚠︎ Please read carefully before proceeding!
The Christmas auction was a butcher shop sale. If you’re vegetarian/vegan or get offended or upset by the view of raw meat, I heartily recommend you go back to the home page and read a different article.
I would never want to trouble you and trust me when I say I’m not even publishing the most cruel photos here.
This is merely a document of a regular Xmas event in London, UK.
I had heard about the event but had never attended it before.
I read online that sellers have been trading in the market since the 12th Century. And this is now a sort of cult event for those in the know.
The Smithfield Christmas auction
For more than 800 years, a market has existed on the Smithfield site in some form. It closed in 1855 but was rebuilt and reopened thirteen years later.
Until 50 years ago, there were at least 3-4 auctions in the market, but this is the only one still running.
The fortnight before Christmas is the busiest time of the year for butchers (while January is the leanest month). So it’s vital that they sell every surplus of meat before the holiday: anything left behind might spoil by the New Year.
Customers queue here from the early morning for the best position to secure a bargain. Later in the day, BBC reported more than 1,500 visitors at the Smithfield Christmas auction this year.
And some lucky ones can leave without spending a dime: host Greg Lawrence tosses a coin every now and then. If punters get it right, they get the meat for free. Otherwise, they pay the (low) price of the item.
Frankly, this is nowhere near as cut-throat as a butcher’s auction ought to be. The atmosphere is lighthearted and festive (it’s Christmas, after all). And even kids participate and try to get the chairman’s attention (see photo below).
For the most part, it’s not even really an auction. Greg will announce the fixed price of a lot, and punters then wave their money in the air. If they attract his attention, he’ll grab their wrist, take their money and wait until one of his runners hands the meat in question to the buyer.
It works. Even when the winner is not at arm’s distance, the crowd politely passes the prize back to him.
I spent 2 hours at the Smithfield Christmas auction. There were a few photographers, including one from Reuters, but not as many as I thought. But it’s probably the kind of event you only go to document once in a while.
Those who had been here before had a stool to raise above the crowd. I wish I’d known…
Here are some of my shots. I tried to leave out the more “cruel” ones.
– update Jan 2020:
This might have been one of the last events to take place on this specific site after so many years. The City of London has just awarded a design contract to renovate the whole of Smithfield. It might happen after the completion of the new Museum Of London in 2024, but it seems the ball is rolling…
So this gallery might be the last document of the Smithfield auction on this site.