Londoners ring in Christmas with hunks of meat

Smithfield Market's annual auction is a bonanza for lovers of English beef and lamb.

Butchers auction off cuts of meat during the traditional pre-Christmas meat auction at Smithfield market in the city of London on 24 December 2018. Picture: AFP

LONDON - It's a Christmas Eve tradition cherished by Londoners since Victorian times: buying a hunk of meat at a massive discount in a sprawling market tucked away near St. Paul's Cathedral.

Smithfield Market's annual auction is a bonanza for lovers of English beef and lamb.

Sam Thompson joined hundreds of others on Monday outside the hangar-like building designed by Victorian architect Horace Jones in the 1800s in search of the freshest cut for a fraction of the supermarket price.

"That's the best quality," the 39-year-old plumber said.

"What you find in supermarkets is anything. Here you have good quality English meat."

Entire families - some wearing Christmas hats and others armed with sizable bags in which to bring home dinner - showed up on Monday morning to seep in the tradition and haggle.

"Get your money ready," auction organiser Greg Lawrence shouted to the gathering masses as heavy slabs of ribs and plump turkeys traded hands.

The market operates as a wholesaler for the top chefs of London and beyond.

Stall owners use Christmas to clear out their stock ahead of the new year.

But times may be about to change.

There is a plan to relocate Smithfield along with the Billingsgate fish market and the New Spitalfields fruit and vegetable market to a new site outside the city centre.

The City of London Corporation - the governing body for the central financial district where the meat is bought and sold - has already purchased a new space for the three.

This would open up a large area in the very heart of one of the most expensive property markets in the world.

The wholesale food market of Rungis near Paris is "a model that everybody in the world is beginning to follow," the corporation's markets director David Smith told AFP.

"But we have to get legislation through parliament so it will take a long time."

The final go-ahead and timeline for the move are expected in 2019.