Smithfield’s Poultry Market dome restoration signals progress for new London Museum

Today (6 December) marks the successful completion of Smithfield’s Poultry Market dome roof restoration, marking a significant milestone in the ongoing transformation of the historic Smithfield Markets site into a state-of-the-art new museum.

A ceremony unfolded today to commemorate the installation of the last copper sheet circle. Chris Johnson (83yrs), who once apprenticed with the original roofing team in the 1960s, carried out this significant task. Notably, Full Metal Jacket, the adept copper roofing subcontractors overseeing the recent meticulous repair works, operate under the overarching management of Equans, the project's main contractor.

In 2016, an international design competition paved the way for the Museum of London's relocation to the iconic former Smithfield Markets. Designed by Stanton Williams and Asif Khan, working together with conservation architects Julian Harrap, the project is recasting the late Victorian General Market and 1960s Poultry Market to provide a world class 21st Century museum experience. The copper roof of the Poultry Market is a key architectural feature of the build and its restoration has been funded by the City of London Corporation.

Designed in the early 1960s by TP Bennet & Son architects, with structural engineering by Ove Arup & Partners, the Poultry Market's dome roof measures 70m by 40m internally and was the largest single-span concrete roof in Europe at the time of its construction. Julian Harrap Architects (JHA), leading the restoration effort on the roof of the Grade II listed site in collaboration with Stanton Williams, Arup and FBM Architects, have successfully addressed the challenges posed by the deteriorating copper roof and concrete structure.

The four-year-long restoration effort involved a comprehensive assessment of damages and the implementation of modern technologies to enhance the roof's thermal performance. Noteworthy improvements include the replacement of the original 0.5mm copper sheets with more durable 0.7mm ones, and the installation of high-performance, double-glazed rooflights to meet rigorous museum requirements.

The ceremony will also include the re-insertion of an original penny coin, and a newspaper article on the first women in the construction industry, discovered under the old crown when it was removed. Additionally, the team will add a coin from 1963, (the year the first copper roof was originally completed,) a newly minted coin commemorating the coronation of King Charles III in 2023, and a photograph of the project crew, alongside a recent 2023 newspaper.

Policy Chairman at the City of London Corporation, Chris Hayward said:

"Cultural institutions like the Museum of London are not just buildings; they are the heartbeat of our city. This significant restoration project reflects our commitment to preserving the soul of the City of London, ensuring that future generations can connect with the rich history embodied in these walls."

Sharon Ament, Director, Museum of London, said:

“As we draw towards the end of the year, it’s fantastic to mark another key moment in the transformation of these remarkable buildings, and celebrate the amazing skill and craftsmanship involved their restoration. It’s a truly unique project that will pay homage to the heritage and history of these buildings whilst creating a world-class, sustainable and contemporary new museum for London.”    

Paul Williams, Principal Director, Stanton Williams, said:

"Insulated to meet the energy requirements of a 21st century museum, the Poultry Market's new hand-laid copper roof is part of our efforts to future-proof this unique London site, so obviously woven into the fabric of the City and so rich in human history. Chris Johnson's journey is a testament to that richness. By returning to the roof of the Poultry Market after 60 years, he reminds us of the remarkable craftsmanship that is invested in trades such as coppersmithing, which remain so vital to projects such as the new London Museum, aimed at preserving our collective memory and built fabric".

Julian Harrap of Julian Harrap Architects said:

" One of our greatest rewards is to work on buildings designed by the great architects and engineers of the past, a category to which the Poultry Market undoubtedly belongs. We were excited to be part of this exceptional project, designing methodologies of intervention and repair which support and the cultural artifacts we were entrusted with while aiding their transition to a new role within the modern City's fabric.” 

Smithfield Market, covering almost ten acres in the heart of the City of London, was originally designed by City Architect Sir Horace Jones, and was built in the latter half of the nineteenth century. It was once the country’s most important meat and poultry market. The new London Museum development is one of the largest cultural infrastructure projects in Europe. It will save the historic Smithfield site for generations to come, enabling the museum to welcome more visitors and share more of its 7 million strong collections than ever before. Both the General Market building, which dates back to the Victorian era, and the 1960s Poultry Market building are being carefully restored to ensure that their history and character are celebrated as part of the new museum. The project will preserve over 70% of the existing fabric and, by applying the principles of the circular economy, it will diver 95% of waste to landfill.