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Things you only know if you run Smithfield Market’s Christmas meat auction

By Megan Carnegie

...according to Greg Lawrence, 68.

The Smithfield Market meat auction started as a clearance sale

‘December is a busy, lucrative month for Smithfield traders. The Christmas Eve auction started 150 years ago as a way of getting rid of leftover meat at the end of the year, but in the early ’70s it became about selling off incredible premium cuts for next to nothing: the best turkeys, lamb, pork and poultry from England and Scotland, which would otherwise go to the city’s top hotels and restaurants. It’s not a big earner for us, but it puts everything great about the market in the limelight.’

Lucky bidders can win a prime cut on a coin toss

‘I’ve been running the auction for 40 years now and we’ve built up a load of little gimmicks. For instance, when we’ve got everyone into a frenzy towards the end, we’ll hold up something like a leg of pork and offer it for 20 quid or a toss of the coin. If we win we sell it for that price and if we lose we give it away.’

Veganism hasn’t dented the trade

‘I started at Smithfield in 1966. Most of the traders had been officers in WWII and chain-smoked while selling. Now it’s the most disciplined place in the world, with vets and meat inspectors walking about the place. There’s huge demand for boneless cuts now, which is a lot more labour-intensive for us, and although veganism and vegetarianism are on the rise, we’re still turning over just under £1 billion a year.’

Smithfield isn’t going anywhere just yet

‘The tenants of Smithfield are here by royal charter, which means the site can only ever be used for a meat market. The Museum of London is moving in, but it’s to the derelict part of the market. Although there is talk of relocating traders, I think it’s just talk.’

The Hart’s of Smithfield Christmas Auction takes place at 10.30am on Monday December 24.

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