2nd Prize 12-15 Years Category

Short-Story Competition 2020

Cierran Biles

(Royal Greenwich Trust School, London)

First Time to Market

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I decided to choose to write my story about a young lad who is on his first-ever journey to Smithfield’s meat market in London after reading the Meat Trades’ Journal, it seemed to be an exciting and informative place to be. I was also intrigued by the different ways they kept the meat fresh and sold all kinds of meat. It inspired me to research how they kept the meat fresh upon arrival to England.   

First Time to Market

It was a sunny day in Romney, and my first ever trip to London. I felt very nervous as I had never left the countryside before. My name is Jacob and I am 13 years of age. I have lived in the countryside my whole life and I am quite short for my age. It was 6 in the morning and we (my  father and I) were about to start walking the long journey from Kent to London with 100 marsh sheep to sell. We walked through many little hamlets and villages; the sun was shining as bright as a gemstone. Although I have never seen one in person, I have been told they are fairly bright though. It was hot  and tiring but the excitement was keeping me going. We stopped by a small stream to allow the sheep to rest and drink. I dangled my feet in the stream and daydreamed about what London was going to be like. I thought that it would be a paradise.  By noon we had reached the outer villages of London: you could smell the difference in the air, it  smelt of smoke and the people were rushing around like there was no tomorrow. This  also made me believe that London wasn’t as much of a paradise I thought it would be.

The sheep were getting nervous as the streets started to narrow but we somehow managed to steer them. Then I saw it ‑ Tower Bridge. My eyes lit up as I looked up at it and its image helped me to block out the noise. I was amazed at how big the bridge was and how it was able to sustain all the weight of the people and carriages crossing it. My dad looked down at me and asked if I  was ready to cross the river. I looked at the river: it was big and scary. With a small smile on my face I nodded. As we walked down the middle of the bridge, we noticed that the carriages had been stopped by the bridge master. Some people walking across with children stopped and watched as we moved the sheep over the bridge, and in no time we had crossed. I looked over my shoulder again after seeing the splendour of the bridge which had now started to raise the road to allow a ship to pass through. It was a magnificent sight.

Not long after the crossing we reached Smithfield market. The first thing that hit me was the smell. It was an awful odour of animal waste and blood; it made me feel a little sick. It was worse than the smell of the plants and the dead sheep rotting in the marshes. Once I got over the smell, I noticed the number of people rushing round, shouting, carrying large lumps of meat. Dad told me to wait while he went to see the man who was buying our sheep.

I watched the men carrying the meat and wondered how they managed. Some of them not much older than me were carrying half a cow on their shoulders! One of the younger boys saw me watching and came over and started to talk to me. He told me that the meat came into Smithfield from all over the world from places that I had never heard of like Argentina and New Zealand. I was very surprised at how they got meat there without it going rancid. Well, I thought that was a story for another day, but it wasn’t as he told me that the meat came across the sea sometimes taking months. I could not understand how the meat had not rotted on the voyage. I asked how it was possible for the meat to still be fresh to eat after such a long time at sea. The boy told me that it was stored in ice and some ships had now been built with rooms that could keep the meat cold. He also told me how the ships came in at all times of the day, so the working hours were long and hard, and the men who worked on the ships were not paid that much. I felt that was very unfair for those who may die at sea just to supply us with food. I turned to ask him if he liked the work and he was gone. Looking around I could not see him, instead, I saw Dad coming back with a smile on his face, so I think he managed to get a good price for  the sheep.

I was amazed at how much Dad had sold the sheep for. A whole £90 ‑ the average price I think is around £80. Dad asked why I was talking to myself. I said I was talking to a young boy who worked here. Dad gave me a strange look as if he was listening to some nonsense and said. “I have been watching you for the last few minutes. You were not with anyone but just talking to yourself. Come, let’s go and get some food: you must be hungry and tired.”

We went to a pie stall just  outside the market. Dad did not mention anything more about what he had seen, but said that he had done well, and we could get the train back to Kent. This made my eyes light up with excitement as I had only ever seen a train.

We walked to the train station which was full of thick smoky steam. Two trains were waiting for people to get on. Although it was barely visible, I could just about tell that the train was green. Dad and I found the 3rd-class-carriages and boarded the train. Sitting down, dad picked up a newspaper that had been left on a seat. It was then that I saw the photograph in the newspaper and said to Dad that that was the boy I was talking to at the market. Dad turned to the page and read the article. It reported that the young lad had been killed in an accident caused by frozen meat falling onto his head and crushing his skull open at the market the day before.

Had I seen a ghost? All the way home I could not stop thinking of the young boy, how  dangerous London was and how lucky I was to live in the country. I fell asleep on the train and dreamed of the far-off places that the meat at the market had come from. Before I knew it, we were at our train station.

It was one of the best days of my life.