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Peter Martinelli, businessman to whom Smithfield ‘was like family’

Hailed as the traders’ hero, Peter Martinelli overcame a fear of public speaking to champion their cause

14 July, 2017 — By Emily Finch

Peter Martinelli

WHEN Peter Martinelli saw his beloved Smithfield Market threatened, he cast aside his hatred of public speaking and became one of the first butchers in recent memory to take a seat on the City of London’s ruling body.

The Court of Common Council, dominated by lawyers, bankers and businessmen, wanted to double the rent of meat traders and effectively move them out, but Mr Martinelli wasn’t having any of it.

After being elected to the City’s ruling body in 1993, he looked to extend butchers’ influence by playing the Square Mile’s archaic electoral system, which gave “sub-letters” a vote in choosing members of its Court of Common Council.

Traders leased buildings and divided them into smaller areas, creating more votes for favourable candidates. Butchers ended up with around 10 seats to represent their interests. Traders at the largest wholesale meat market in the country hailed Mr Martinelli as a hero.

Mr Martinelli, who remained on the ruling body until 2013, died on April 27 in Tenerife after a short illness. He was 87.

Mr Martinelli in his younger days

“He didn’t find it easy, public speaking. He found it very personal. It would prey on his mind before and afterwards.

“But Smithfield was like a member of his family to him. He treated it very much like that,” said his son, Paul Martinelli.

Born in Paddington to Italian parents – his father Petro held a street party to celebrate the birth – he was evacuated to Lancaster during the war. He later joined the RAF and served on flying boats.

His business education came from helping his father at the family’s Fitzroy Café, at the corner of Warren Street and Fitzroy Street.

There, he came to meet some of the colourful characters of 1940s London, including murdered East End car dealer Stanley Setty, who Mr Martinelli described as “a very gentle man”.

After working at the café, he had a variety of careers, as saxophonist, journalist and photographer. But he found his true home in 1954 when he answered an advert for a cashier at Smithfield Market. A father-of-two with another baby on the way, he took a chance and never looked back.

Working his way up from cashier to offal salesman, he started his first business in 1965.

His business savvy mind saw him import meat from Botswana and South America.

The historic market

The successful PJ Martinelli Ltd, set up in 1988, will celebrate its 30th anniversary next year. He retired in 1998 but the company is still run by youngest son Paul.

As well as the City, he also took on the trade unions. In the late 1980s, unhappy with working practices imposed by the union, he led a dispute where he faced general secretary of the Transport and General Workers’ Union, Ron Todd.

Paul said of his dad: “He had an opinion and was always keen to defend an opinion.

“He didn’t suffer fools and sometimes he felt it was his job to let them know, sometimes when he shouldn’t have done. He thought he was 5ft 7in but he was only 5ft 4in.”

Always adapting, Mr Martinelli had a Twitter account, which he was using right up till his death, updating followers about his political views and the City of London elections.

He was awarded an MBE in 2011 for services to Smithfield Market.

A golfer, he was also a lifelong Millwall supporter.

He is survived by partner Lana, five children, Linda, Ann, Jane, Paul and Peter, numerous grandchildren and great-grand­­children.

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