Hart’s Corner

On the 8th March 1945 at 11:30am one of the last V2 rockets to hit London landed at the corner of Charterhouse Street and Farringdon Rd, a part of Smithfield Market known as Hart’s corner. V2s were rockets which flew at 3,600mph, almost five times the speed of sound, loaded with a ton of explosives. They could not be seen or heard so any warnings were impossible. In all, 1,115 were to reach Britain, mainly around London and its suburbs as their range was about 215 miles and they were launched from Holland.

The Rocket penetrated to the railway tunnels which lie beneath this area and were originally used as sidings for the market. There was a huge explosion which was heard all over London and the market buildings then collapsed into the void below. A massive crater formed filled with the rubble of the devastated buildings. The market was very busy at this time with both market workers and those queuing for produce. Many of the victims of this V2 fell through the floor of the market into the railway below. In all 110 people were to die in this attack and many more were seriously injured. There were many women and children amongst the dead who had gone to the market to try and obtain one of a consignment of rabbits that had gone on sale.

Hart’s corner had been designed by Sir Horace Jones and originally was a general market for fruit and vegetables, then fish, and finally became part of the meat market. The original building was often known as the Japanese village due to the beauty of its lanterned roof and many shuttered windows. Jones had designed the general market with phoenix columns to support the roof, a new design from 1862 which allowed a bigger internal space to be constructed. The other feature was a large domed roof which allowed better natural light within the building.

Jones’s beautiful building was irretrievably damaged by the bomb. The surviving section of the Harts Corner was subsequently pulled down, and later the corner was rebuilt and Jones’ pavilion and entrance stairs were replaced with a modern concrete structure of modern, clean lines and uncluttered appearance. A further blight to the area was a fire in 1958 which destroyed the poultry market and the replacement building from 1963 disrupts the sense of continuity of the Victorian market buildings.

In recent years this part of Smithfield has suffered from planning blight. Several schemes have been proposed and either been rejected or withdrawn. It had proved difficult for developers to satisfy the requirements to preserve and provide sympathetic additions to the Victorian buildings and meet modern retail needs as well as providing a capital return on investment.

The latest plan is that this site will provide the new home for the Museum of London. The design competition has been won by Asif Khan and Stanford. Their plan is to have a large dome and the galleries to be underground using some of the Victorian railway tunnels and railway as exhibition space. It may even be possible to gaze at the long hidden river Fleet.

Dilys Cowan

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