The rule can be enforced thanks to the market’s own set of bylaws passed in Parliament, which date back to before the Victorian era and have been updated to reflect the pandemic.
Traders revealed the market had its own “police force”, the Beadles, who until the 1930s used to have powers of arrest and put offenders in the cells under the market. The cells are now used for storing cheese.
Zakk Debaize, who has worked at The French Comté cheesemongers for six years, said he was unsure whether the measure would deter potential shoppers from coming into the market.
He told the Standard: “It’s a question I ask myself every day. But for onlookers it will make it safer. We’ve been wearing masks since July and people should do it out of respect anyway. There hasn’t been any shenanigans yet but we will see.”
He added: “The market has been going ok despite it all. Things are starting to pick up.”
Kate Howell, director of development at the central London venue, said: “I think we just have to be responsible.”
Ms Howell told the PA news agency: “We’re open as an essential retailer but we want to keep it safe for everybody.”
Market organisers have encouraged mask-wearing and distancing throughout the pandemic, but with rising infection rates in the capital and the third national lockdown in England, they felt they had to go further.
Ms Howell explained: “Whilst we’ve done everything we can to politely encourage people to wear masks and keep to social distancing and keep the space safe, now is the time to really show our intent.”
She went on: “We’ve got to a stage where we feel as responsible landlords that, actually given we do have these bylaws, in our reckoning that we’re able to say, ‘We’re going to make this mandatory’.”
Pre-lockdown, the market welcomed thousands of visitors each day, and Ms Howell joined other industry voices in describing the hospitality sector as “really hard hit by this whole period”.
“It’s perhaps been the less than clear messaging at times that has had a huge impact on trade,” she added.
Her comments come after the Government’s top medic suggested there could be times when there is “logic” for wearing a mask outdoors.
On the Today programme, he said: “If people, for example, are crowded together in a queue outdoors, if they’re really huddled together round a market stall or something – that is a risk with this virus – and in that situation, there might be some logic to people thinking about wearing masks.”
Reporting by PA