Billingsgate fish market in London, a peculiar story

The Billingsgate market initially sold a bit of everything and only from 1500 began selling mainly fish. In 1699 a parliamentary act passed that decided that the market could sell any type of fish, or almost. In fact one type of fish was forbidden, it was the eels that could then only be sold by Dutch merchants in recognition for having helped London after the Great Fire.

At the beginning there were two markets: Billingsgate and Queenhithe, both dedicated to fish, being in fact close to the piers used by fishing boats. While Queenhithe was more important at the start, Billingsgate overtook it because its dock was in a better position for boats.

The name is said to come from some merchant called Beling or Biling. As London grew, the fish trade also grew and it was decided to build a new market on purpose.

This market opened in 1850, before then the market was only composed of wooden buildings and not very stable. Within 20 years the new market was already insufficient for the needs of the city and was therefore enlarged by the architect Horace Jones (also responsible for the Leadenhall and Tower Bridge market).

The building still exists today on Lower Thames Street, you can recognize it from the weather vanes and other decorations with small fish. The market was important for the London economy of the past, when the port and fishing were still important.

George Orwell worked in this market in the 1930s. The market was also famous for its foul language and the many swear words used by those who worked there.

Obviously, being in the City of London where every square metre is worth a fortune the market couldn’t stay there forever. In fact, it closed in 1982. 

The new Billingsgate market opened on the Isle of Dogs in 1982, in the middle of the courtyard is a copy of the original market bell.

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