Clare Market lies hidden behind the western side of Lincoln's-inn, and can be reached either by the turning up from the Strand next to the new law courts, or through the archway in the western side of Lincoln's-inn. It is a market without a market-house; a collection of lanes, where every shop is tenanted by a butcher or greengrocer, and where the roadways are choked with costermongers' carts. To see Clare Market at its best, it is needful to go there on Saturday evening: then the narrow lanes are crowded, then the butchers' shops are ablaze with gas-lights flaring in the air, and the shouting of the salesman and costermonger is at its loudest. Nowhere in London is a poorer population to be found than that which is contained in the quadrangle formed by the Strand, Catherine- street, Long-acre, and Lincoln's-inn and the new law courts. The greater portion of those who are pushing through the crowd to make their purchases for to-morrow's dinner are women, and of them many have children in their arm. Ill-dressed, worn, untidy, and wretched, many of them look, but they joke with their acquaintances, and are keen hands at bargaining. Follow one, and look at the meat stall before which she steps. The shop is filled with strange pieces of coarse, dark-coloured, and unwholesome-looking meat. There is scarce a piece there whose form you recognise as familiar; no legs of mutton, no sirloins of beef, no chops or steaks, or ribs or shoulders. It is meat, and you take it on faith that it is meat of the ox or sheep; but beyond that you can say nothing. The slice of bacon on the next stall is more tempting, and many prefer a rasher of this for their Sunday's dinner to the coarse meat which neither their skill in cooking nor their appliances enable them to render tender and eatable, or satisfactory to the good man who is at present drinking himself to a point of stupidity at the public-house at the corner, and spending an amount which would make all the difference in cost between the odds and ends of coarse meat and a wholesome joint. It is a relief to turn from the butchers' shops to the costermongers' barrows. Here herrings or mackerel, as the season may be— bought, perhaps, -a few hours before at Billingsgate —are selling at marvellously low prices, while the vegetables, equally cheap, look fresh and excellent in quality.
Charles Dickens (Jr.), Dickens's Dictionary of London, 1879
see also George Sims in How the Poor Live - click here