Last year a client contacted me to paint an anniversary present for his husband who he married in 2019.
The wedding reception was at The Lamb Tavern in London’s covered Leadenhall Market and he wanted an interior scene of the market showing the pub exterior with him, his husband and their families and friends. A real treat of a commission.
Leadenhall Market and I go back a long time
I first came across London Leadenhall Market in about 1988 when I first moved to London. It was just by pure chance whilst waking through The City one Sunday afternoon. For such a large structure, it is difficult to find as it is tucked away off Lime Street. It was empty of people and very run down in those days. That said, it had an atmosphere all of its own, what with wrought iron flying in all directions to hold up the glass roof.
About a year later I tried to give it another look over and could not find the place. It seemed to have totally disappeared, I searched all over and simply could not locate it in the place I thought it was. There was much demolition going on at the time and assumed they had knocked it down to build another big glass box.
A few years later I was in The City meeting a client and I was delighted to come across it again, it had survived the wrecking ball. No longer a rather dilapidated old lady but a newly renovated gem. All the surfaces had been repaired, cleaned, and given a fresh coat of paint in a luxurious red and gold.
I stopped to do a painting of it.
Since that time, I often visit the market if I am in town. It is always a treat, even if I’m not shopping.
This was bittersweet commission really, sweet, because I love Leadenhall Market, it’s a splendid location, a real challenge for an artist. And bitter too because this commission came in right in the middle of the Covid Lockdown.
I found I missed the pre-Covid days – people dressed in their finest, laughing and drinking, all wrapped up in each other without a care in the world.
History of Leadenhall Market
Like many markets in London, Leadenhall Market has an exceptionally long history. The archaeology tells us that this site has been used for market trading since Romans times.
It did not however have the name Leadenhall Market until the 14th century when it came to be named after The Manor of Leadenhall (a Hall with a lead roof)
In 1321 the area began to be expanded into a poultry market and later expanded to cheesemongers. In 1411 the famous ‘Dick’ Whittington the Lord Mayor of London, gifted Leadenhall to the City Corporation.
As time went on the site began to expand along with the growth of The City of London, and in 1445 Simon Eyre, another Lord Mayor funded a building programme around the site which included a School, Chapel, and a granary to serve the market.
The great Fire of 1666 destroyed part of the market and it became a covered market when it was rebuilt. It has been covered ever since.
The current sumptuous wrought iron structure was designed by Sir Horace Jones in 1881. Jones was one of the great architect’s beloved of the Victorians with his use of iron, stone and brick, with lashings of gothic revival on top. He also designed Billingsgate Market and Smithfield Market, though he is most famous for the design of Tower Bridge which spans the River Thames.
Today the market mainly serves city slickers and the shops, now all swanky, sell luxury goods and high-quality lunches with the finest wines and beers. It also occasionally serves as a film location. You can see Leadenhall Market in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy; The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus; Hearafter; and Love Aaj Kal.
Painting Leadenhall Market
Obviously, I could not go on site as I would normally, so I had to work exclusively from photographs sent by the client and good old Google. How did artists get by in the days before Google I wonder?
Thankfully, there are plenty of images of the market and I had a good idea in my head of the overall shape of the space. Once I was happy with it, I could begin drawing the characters.
My challenge here is to make them recognisable while maintaining my style. I certainly did not want them to be anatomically perfect. If that where the case, I might as well’ve traced them from photographs, rinsing the life out of them.
Once these were complete, and the client approved of them I moved onto the final painting. I was careful to add the correct number of arches and pillars as I moved around the structure, ensuring that I did not work too tightly.
Once I had finished, I was really pleased with the result and thankfully the client was too. Again, a bit of a bittersweet commission. The next time I get to London in any kind of relaxed safety I shall visit the Lamb Tavern and have a pint or two. Can’t wait.