An ancient village on the banks of the Thames, steeped in Royal history, Greenwich has long been home to a Royal Charter Market which was originally assigned to the Commissioners of Greenwich Hospital on the 19th December 1700 for 1,000 years. It was opened on 3 September 1737 with about 60 stallholders. Less than half were from Greenwich, some coming from as far away as London City. Over half were butchers, with only one grocer, one baker and one hatter. All paid rent to the hospital and evidently the project was a success at first. By the end of 1760s, rent had to be lowered to attract stallholders it was described as useless.
Originally housed on the site of the West Gate of the Old Royal Naval College, it began to spread into the neighbouring area in the 1800’s and its dark streets and alleys were difficult and dangerous to control.
As part of a drive to clean up the river frontage and to bring Greenwich's buildings up to standards more in keeping with the Royal Hospital (now the Old Royal Naval College), the market was moved to its current position and the first cobble stones laid. Three roofs were built to protect the market from the elements. In 1831 the market contained traders selling meat, fish, eggs, butter, poultry, fruit and vegetables. On its periphery lay peddlers selling goods such as china, glass and earthenware. Today you can still see some of the original slaughterhouses for cattle and stables for horses.
In 1845 the licensee of the Admiral Hardy pub was given permission to convert the large room over the newly built arch on College Approach into a small theatre with a tiered balcony at one end. The inscription on the arch still reads:
“A false balance is an abomination to the Lord but a just weight is his delight”
The Commissioners of Greenwich Hospital spent a considerable sum moving and building the new market, and so in 1849 Parliament passed an act that enabled the Hospital to regulate and manage the markets – adding to the power of the original charter. The new act enabled the Hospital to collect rent from tolls and for stalls as well as to create bye-laws:
CAP. XXVIII. An Act to enable the Commissioners of Greenwich Hospital to regulate and manage the Markets held at Greenwich in the County of Kent. (26th June 1849.)
“Whereas His Majesty King William the Third by His Letters Patent, dated at Westminster the Eighteenth day of July One thousand seven hundred, did give and grant to the Right Honourable Henry Earl of Romney, his Heirs and Assigns, free, lawful, and absolute Right, Power, Licence, and Authority, for him, his Heirs and Assigns, to have, keep, and enjoy, at the Villa of East Greenwich in the County of Kent, Two Markets upon Wednesday and Saturday in every Week forever.........”
By the 1900's the timber roof was in a dangerous state of disrepair and was replaced by the current steel trussed and glazed roof in 1908, when the slaughterhouses were also closed. In 1905 the market bye-laws were changed to enable trading six days a week with the exemption of Sundays, Christmas day and bank holidays.
At the end of World War I horse traffic declined and the stables were used for storage. After World War II the wholesale fruit, veg, meat and fish stalls of Greenwich Market went through a gradual period of decline until the 1980s.
The 1980s saw a revival in the fortunes of Greenwich Market; the first arts and crafts market opened on 14th May 1985, inspired by the flourishing example of Camden Lock, and from 1987 the shops around the markets periphery were let to new tenants largely in the craft business.