It’s not every day that a heritage group gets behind a poultry market, but it’s not every poultry market that has the Sydney Opera house as a distant cousin.

London’s Smithfield Poultry Market, however, is no ordinary poultry market.

Built between 1961 and 1963, it was designed by T P Bennett and Sons, working in partnership with Arups -- the engineers behind the Sydney Opera House. At the time of construction, its roof was said to be the largest concrete shell structure ever built, and the largest clear spanning dome roof in Europe.

The establishment is not simply an architectural marvel. Like its Australian cousin, the Smithfield Poultry Market continues to function – albeit with a very different clientele.

On completion, The Architects Journal hailed the building as the “the most efficiently equipped center for the exchange of dead meat in Europe.”

Redevelopment threat

Smithfield Poultry Market is already listed -- the UK system for recognizing a building’s special architectural and historic value. However, it is  only classified as Grade II. Campaign group The Twentieth Century Society (C20) is arguing that it should be redesignated as Grade II*, which is awarded to “particularly important buildings of more than special interest.”

C20 points to the building’s remarkable long-span roof structure – the “most architecturally ambitious element of the entire Smithfield Market complex and a foremost example of post-war British thin-shell engineering.”

Director of SAVE Britain’s Heritage Henrietta Billings says: “The Poultry Market is a stunning, pioneering feat of structural engineering and one of the most important and innovative post-war structures in England. Its significance should be celebrated and recognized.”

The market, with an exterior described as “a remarkable piece of ‘pop architecture’ that is absolutely of its time, contains all the mod cons of the era and is even home to its own public house, appropriately called The Cock Tavern.

Designed to replace an earlier market building destroyed by fire in 1958, now, however, the entire Smithfield complex is under threat from redevelopment, as demand for retail residential and office space intensifies.

The Smithfield complex has been under the greedy eye of developers for some years, and as a new rail line opens nearby, this pressure can only be expected to increase.

The upgraded listing would help to ensure that the Smithfield Poultry Market is not about to sing its last swan song before developers move in, and prevent not only the loss of thriving businesses, but help to protect a piece of poultry industry history.