Monday, 25 October 2010


On 5.50am on Tuesday I was walking down a near deserted King William Street towards Fishmongers’ Hall on the Thames Embankment for a visit at the invitation of Robin Holland-Martin, Prime Warden of the Fishmongers' Company, to Billingsgate fish market.

Ensuring that the quality of fish sold in London has been one of the responsibilities of the Fishmongers’ Company since the middle ages.  For more details see and 

A general view of the market hall. This, and the picture below, taken from the website for the Seafood Training School run at Billingsgate Market by the Fishmongers' Company and offering a wide range of interesting courses.

A view of the entrance to the market.  Canary Wharf on the left. 
The original site a few hundred yards downriver from the Fishmongers’ Hall closed in 1982 and a new market was built at the north end of the Isle of Dogs. I can recollect that at the time New Billingsgate was a novelty and added a distinct splash of colour to the wasteland that then existed round the West India Docks.  Today it is dwarfed by the huge developments in and around Canary Wharf and tangled up in the skein of the ever more complex track layouts of the Docklands Light Railway.

I can also remember the pervasive urban myth at the time of the move that the deep freeze storage in the basement of the old Billingsgate had created a crust of permafrost that kept the building firm on its foundations and that once turned off it would melt slowly into the Thames. Urban myths are usually far more exciting than the reality and the building, restored by Norman Foster, still stands.

Back to Billingsgate.  As we arrived the market was in full swing, it is open betwen 5.00 and 8.30. The Fishmongers maintain, at their own expense, a small team of inspectors to ensure the high quality of seafood sold at New Billingsgate

The Fishmongers’ inspectors took us round the main trading floor. This comprises a over fifty dealers with varying sized stands selling a huge variety of species.  We were initiated into a whole range of useful information.  How to spot a factory farmed turbot from a distance, the way that species of fish differed in detailed colour and texture depending where they are caught and the huge expansion of more exotic species, led by the ubiquitous tilapia, being introduced into the trade.

Afterwards it was back up river to Fishmongers' Hall by the commuter catamaran for a breakfast that, of course, included a good, fishy kedgeree.

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