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Written by Ripe London on June 14, 2024

The History of London’s Fruit Markets

It’s time to embark on a journey through the storied past of London's fresh fruit and vegetable markets, where the vibrant history of the city unfolds amidst the hustle and bustle of trade. From medieval beginnings to online hubs of commerce, London farmer's markets have been integral to the fabric of life in the capital for centuries.

Join Ripe London as we peel back the layers of time to uncover the evolution and enduring legacy of these iconic marketplaces. Through tales of trade and exchange, discover how London's fruit markets have grown with the city and left marks on its rich history.

The History of London’s Fruit Markets

Medieval London’s Fruit Markets

We don't know when the first farmers market stalls began cropping up in Central London, but a great number of fruit markets in medieval times were already vibrant hubs. Borough Market began in the 12th century when a variety of produce from private gardens and public sources was sold to the bustling population!

Gardens owned by anyone from the clergy and the aristocracy to ordinary citizens played a massive role in supplying fruits and vegetables to these markets. Historical records tell us that gardeners from various social classes sold their goods in designated areas like the churchyard of St. Paul's church. By the mid-fourteenth century, these markets had grown to offer a wide range of produce to meet the demands of the growing city.

The most popular fruits sold in medieval London markets included a variety of fruits that were both locally grown and imported. Apples, pears, berries, and a variety of vegetables were commonly sold in these markets. Plus, imported fruits like plums, apricots, peaches, figs, and grapes were also for sale. The availability of these fruits varied based on seasonal factors and trade routes of the time.

The Birth of Covent Garden Market in Renaissance London

From the Black Death to black smoke stacks, fruit markets continued to thrive and grow in London after the Middle Ages.

During the 1600s, Covent Garden market was born. Spitalfields Market began running as early as 1666, and the Jubilee Market housed the first Punch and Judy show in 1662! These became, and continue to be, iconic symbols of London life.

These markets continued to thrive, offering a diverse array of fruits like apples, pears, plums, and nuts sourced from both commercial and non-commercial gardens. Potatoes first came to England in the late 1500s! It’s thought that gardeners from various backgrounds sold their goods in designated areas, contributing to a bustling market feel.

Exotic fruits began entering London fruit markets around this time, with the introduction of exotic fruits like pineapples, bananas, tomatoes and oranges to London markets due to the city's growing trade networks and colonial power in different regions of the world.

Now managed by the Covent Garden Market Authority, you can still explore the busy area, colourful characters, and vibrant atmosphere that defined this bustling marketplace as far back as 600 years ago. It's strange to think this icon of London life was once a brand-new market!

Farmer's Market Growth in Victorian London

As London transitioned into the Industrial era, the street food market scene evolved to meet the changing needs of a growing urban population. The rise of industry brought about shifts in culinary tastes and food offerings, boosting the availability of exotic fruits and modern staples like tea, reflecting a multicultural urban population.

The development of London's food markets during the Victorian era created the fusion of traditional farmer offerings with contemporary independent producers and street food operators that we see today!

Fresh fruit on a fruit stall at a market

Hand-selected fruit from London's fruit markets available here!

The World Wars and Fruit Markets in London

During the Second World War, London's fruit markets faced challenges due to food scarcity and violence.

While fruits and vegetables weren’t directly rationed during WWII, they were often in short supply, especially those shipped from overseas — like tomatoes and onions. Fruits like lemons and bananas were in short supply, and oranges were reserved for children and pregnant women. Even vegetables faced limited supplies — potatoes were rationed for a year after the war!

During the Blitz, the fish, fruit, and vegetable market at the corner of Farringdon Road and Charterhouse Street, was impacted by bombings. The market was hit during shopping hours on a March morning in 1945, resulting in significant destruction and casualties.

During this time, the government encouraged home gardening through initiatives like 'Dig For Victory' to address shortages.

London’s Fruit Markets in the 21st Century

Globalisation and online shopping have introduced new challenges and opportunities to London's fruit markets.

The rise of online sales, particularly in the fresh fruit and vegetable sector, has reshaped the traditional landscape. Today, we work with the local fruit and veg markets to provide hand-selected locally grown produce to workplaces and homes across the city via our online shop.

You can still visit London’s historic fruit markets today. They’ll be here for a long time yet, trading deliciously local fruits and vegetables and creating a busy, exciting atmosphere in the process!

How to Conveniently Enjoy London’s Fruit Markets

From bustling street markets to modern delivery services, the legacy of these markets lives on. From their humble origins to their modern-day hybrid iterations, these markets have woven themselves into the fabric of London's cultural landscape. Their vibrancy and vitality continue to inspire, ensuring their legacy lives on.

Through innovation and tradition, they continue to provide Londoners with access to fresh and flavourful produce!

As we celebrate their history, let's also embrace the convenience of Ripe London, bringing the essence of these markets directly to your doorstep. Join us in honouring London's fruit market heritage by indulging in the finest fruits delivered straight to your workplace or home — order one of our office fruit boxes today and taste the history!

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