Meat on the hoof

in City of beasts
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Historians of the consumer revolution have largely ignored Georgian London’s livestock trade but it dwarfed contemporary boom markets in many luxury goods, as well as fostering advanced commercial practices. The city was the world’s largest and most advanced mart for cattle, sheep and pigs: by the 1820s, it was processing 1.7 million animals per year, all transported on the hoof through the streets. At the trade’s heart was Smithfield Market, a showcase of livestock from every corner of the British Isles and a living gallery of agricultural improvement. Its salesmen were considered Britain’s premier judges of livestock but meat was widely celebrated in metropolitan culture and the trade forced all Londoners to confront agricultural realities. The success of the livestock trade came at a serious price: once set in open countryside, by 1700, Smithfield lay deep within a heavily populated commercial hub. This compelled drovers to move animals through some of London’s busiest arteries, generating widespread nuisance, but also extreme human and animal suffering, including frequent fatal accidents.

City of beasts

How animals shaped Georgian London

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