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Database: Spitalfields Market

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ACS DB Spitalfields Market

Spitalfields, an old neighbourhood in London's East End, took its name from the hospital that was built there in 1197, St. Mary's Spittle. And by spittle, they didn't mean there was a saint called Mary who liked to spit when she talked. The word is an abbreviation of "hospital" and was generally used to mean hospitality in Middle English. Which is the very opposite of spitting in someone's face.

As Spitalfields became less of a field and more of a developed neighbourhood in the late seventeenth century, a silk-thrower named John Balch acquired the rights to hold a market in the area every Thursday and Saturday. The market, which sold only fruits and vegetables, was a quick success.

Spitalfields, like most of the East End, was populated by immigrants to England, and shortly after the market opened, London experienced a wave of incoming French Huguenots who had just been expelled from France for their religious beliefs. Many of the French Huguenots who settles in Spitalfields were skilled silkweavers, and sold their wares at the Spitalfields Market. It wasn't long before the market became synonymous with its luxurious silk, and all of Spitalfields gained a very positive reputation as a result.

In 1875, the market's lease passed to a developer named Robert Horner. Horner fought regularly with the Whitechapel District Board of Works over how the market could be expanded without disturbing traffic around the market. An iron and glass roof was built in 1883, and the surrounding shops were built over the next century.

Spitalfields, and the East End in general, fell in esteem as time went on. By the nineteenth century, the silkmakers had long moved on, and overpopulation and poverty led to a rise in crime. The market remained an important fixture, providing the food needed to get through the day to those who could afford it.

It's still there today, though in recent years it's fallen to corporate chains and to stalls that think charging two hundred quid for a pillow with a cat drawn on it by an art student is good business.

Oh - and if you're a Ripper fan, it's directly opposite the Ten Bells pub, where various of Jack's victims enjoyed a quiet pint while they still could... raise a glass to them sometime.

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