ABOUT MEAT MARKET: AN ICONIC MELBOURNE VENUE
Victorians have long been among the world’s biggest meat eaters. In the 19th century North Melbourne and neighbouring Kensington were at the centre of the wholesale trade in our favourite foodstuff and the Metropolitan Meat Market a prime source.
Until 1874, meat wholesaling mostly took place at the City Meat Market on the site of the present Queen Victoria Market. In that year, a group of butchers founded their own Victoria Meat Market a few yards up Elizabeth Street. In no time demand outgrew space in their Victoria Meat Market and the company decided to move. They commissioned their architect, George Johnson, to design a grand market to open in 1880. The foundation stone next to the Courtney Street entrance shows this date but, as we can still see, the company - perhaps confusingly - also inscribed its own establishment date (1874) above the Blackwood Street entrance.
Also at the Courtney Street entrance, indoors and top right of the arch, is a portrait head of the market’s chief founder and one time mayor of Hotham, William Reynolds. In the cobblestones beneath the arch you can still see the grooves made by the iron shod wheels of delivery carts. Inside around the stalls are the names of company members, including a large set for Reynolds.
The busiest time in the great hall of the market was between 6 and 8 in the morning. A director recalled (in a 1982 interview) ‘the crescendo of sound inside the building. The rattle and clatter of the lorries on the cobbled floor, the cries of the lumpers calling the weights to the booking clerks, the bargaining between salesmen and customers and not infrequently a violent argument ending in a fight.’
The Meat Market operated until 1974 when the building was failing to serve the modern needs of the meat trade. Geared for the horse and cart, the building was having to accommodate petrol driven vehicles yet the close proximity of exhaust fumes to foodstuffs contravened health regulations. There was no further space for cars or refrigeration equipment, and eventually wholesale butchers began to move to other premises. By 1973 there were just six stallholders remaining and the once bustling market hall was rendered quiet with the advent of telephone orders.
The much loved Victorian building was purchased by the State of Victoria's then Arts Victoria body and opened as a craft centre in 1979 before officially being dedicated as the Meat Market Craft Centre in 1985. In 1998 the name was changed to the Metro Craft Centre and early use of the facility as a performing arts venue was established.
The building received a substantial renovation and commenced management by the City of Melbourne’s Arts Department from 2005. In 2015 a dedicated management team was appointed to Meat Market to facilitate and develop the venue as a space for arts and cultural events from theatre, dance and circus to markets, exhibitions, fashion and film shoots. With 25 arts businesses and individuals also operating from Meat Market, the venue continues to be an important hub for arts development and presentation in the thriving contemporary arts scene of Melbourne.