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At Fishmongers’ Hall

November 12, 2015
by the gentle author

This palatial building of Portland stone tucked under the west side of the foot of London Bridge is Fishmongers’ Hall. Many a time I have passed by on an errand to the Borough to buy fresh fish and cast my eyes upon it, so – as one for whom the worship of fish is almost a religion – I was delighted to enter this temple to the wonders of the deep last week.

The Fishmongers’ Company were already long-established on this site when they received their first Royal Charter in 1272 from Edward I, the fish-loving king, and their earliest hall on this site was recorded in 1301. A monopoly on fish trading brought great wealth to the Company, and in the fourteenth century three fishmongers were successive Lord Mayors of London, John Lovekyn, Sir William Walworth and William Askham. Subsequently, they secured Fishmongers’ Wharf in 1444 and retained its sole usage for unloading their catch until 1666, prior to the development of Billingsgate Market which traded on the east side of London Bridge until 1982.

This most-recent Fishmongers Hall was constructed as part of the new London Bridge in the eighteen-thirties, designed by Henry Roberts but constructed from drawings by George Gilbert Scott. The tone is partly that of a stately home and partly that of a lofty public institution, yet salmon pink walls in the vestibule and mosaics gleaming like fish scales conjure an atmosphere unique to the Fishmongers’ Company, heightened by an astonishing collection of historic paintings, sculptures and artefacts which evoke all things fishy.

A lavishly embroidered funeral pall created by nuns around 1500, portraying Christ handing the keys of Heaven to St Peter the fisherman and embellished with mermen and mermaids, testifies to a former age of credulity, while a sturdy chair fabricated with timber from old London Bridge and with a seat containing a stone from the same source reminds us of the detail of history in this spot. The combination of architectural opulence and multiple fish references suggests that the Hall itself might be understood as a fishmonger’s distinctive vision of Heaven, where St Peter awaits the newly-departed at the head of a gilded staircase.

At every turn in this building, you are reminded of fish, the ocean and the ancient trade established more than seven centuries in this place, which fills your mind with thoughts of fishmongery and makes it startling to peer out from the prevailing silence in the Fishmongers’ Hall upon the clamour of the modern city with the Shard looming overhead.

Crest of the Fishmongers’ Company

Wonders of the Deep, 1 by Arnold Von Hacken

Wonders of the Deep, 2 by Arnold Von Hacken

Wonders of the Deep, 3 by Arnold Von Hacken

Arnold Von Hacken’s eight paintings of Wonders of the Deep

Wonders of the Deep, 4 by Arnold Von Hacken

Wonders of the Deep, 5 by Arnold Von Hacken

This stained glass of the earlier Fishmongers’ Crest dates from the before the Fire of London

Wonders of the Deep, 6 by Arnold Von Hacken

Wonders of the Deep, 7  by Arnold Von Hacken

Wonders of the Deep, 8 by Arnold Von Hacken

Chair made from the timber of old London Bridge with a seat including a piece of stone from the bridge and a back showing designs of subsequent bridges

Turtle shell painted with the crest of the Fishmongers’ Company

Figure of St Peter the Fisherman from the Fishmongers’ barge

Queen Victoria presides over the Great Hall

Fishmongers’ crest in the Great Hall

Fishmongers’ crest from a steel muniment box

Fishmongers’ funeral pall embroidered by nuns c. 1500

Christ hands the keys of Heaven to St Peter, the Fisherman

Merman from the pall

Mermaid from the pall

Fishmongers’ Hall, Fishmongers’ Wharf

Interior of Billingsgate Market at 6am by George Elgar Hicks

Fishmongers’ Hall, London Bridge

Paintings reproduced courtesy of Fishmongers’ Hall

You may also like to take a look at

At Drapers’ Hall

At Goldsmiths’ Hall

At Vintners’ Hall

At Stationers’ Hall

18 Responses leave one →
  1. David Tarrant permalink
    November 12, 2015

    Thank you GA for showing us the interior of Fishmonger’s Hall. I particularly enjoyed the painting of the interior of Billingsgate Market at 6am.

    As ever, your photography is stunning.

  2. November 12, 2015

    Wonderful place, thanks for sharing the great photos, Valerie

  3. Barbara Elsmore permalink
    November 12, 2015

    Thank you for the verbal and pictorial tour of this magnificent building with its wonderful colourful interiors and beautiful artefacts and paintings. A real treat.

  4. Annie G permalink
    November 12, 2015

    Dear GA, thank you so much for this, another in the enchanting and intriguing series on the guild halls of London. They are such mysteries to those who pass by. I have often wondered what it would be like inside Fishmongers Hall as I have crossed the bridge and looked up at the windows. It is such a beautiful building and I am delighted that it still retains its wharf and stairs.

  5. Don Gillett permalink
    November 12, 2015

    Dear Gentle Author,

    Thanks for this charming and informative article on a building which we’ve all seen without necessarily knowing what it is. Super photos too.
    I’ve always had trouble finding genuinely fresh fish in London. (My latest find was a stall at the Sunday Marylebone farmers market, selling fish straight from Hastings.) Quite some time ago you mentioned the E5 bakery near London Fields; since then, bread-wise, my cup of happiness has overflowed: If you could guide us to a good fish vendor or two in forthcoming articles, that would be very kind.

    Best wishes

    Don.

  6. richard permalink
    November 12, 2015

    Lovely to see these grand interiors. I wouldn’t mind being a cleaner here!

  7. Roger Carr permalink
    November 12, 2015

    Yes, wonderful photographs. The Guild Halls of London . . . another book ?

  8. Juliet O'Neill permalink
    November 12, 2015

    This article transported me back to my school days in Beccles, Suffolk, as the three-fish symbol appeared on the badge/motto of both my primary and secondary schools, thanks to Sir John Leman.
    A Beccles man, he moved to London in the 1580s and became a Liveryman of the Worshipful Company of Fishmongers then, in 1616, Lord Mayor. In his Will he provided for a Free School in Beccles and the school, a beautiful Grade 1 listed building, still stands. In my day it was the Leman House PNEU School; it now house the Beccles & District Museum. The High School in Beccles, which I also attended, still bears his name.
    Perhaps, GA, Sir John merits an article all to himself ?!
    I have always assumed that Leman St. was named after him ?

  9. Sonia Murray permalink
    November 12, 2015

    Thank you for this article – it was an absolute delight to see the interior and learn the history of this beautiful building. It’s so fortunate that it wasn’t destroyed in the bombing. I love the contrast of old and new in the view from the window of the Shard. Is Fisherman’s Hall ever open to the public? I’d like to see it in person.

    Thanks again, Gentle Author! It’s always a pleasure to start the day with your articles!

  10. Debra Matheney permalink
    November 12, 2015

    Love these visits to guild halls. The stained glass so beautiful. Thank you for taking us places we would not otherwise see.

  11. Ellen in NEW England permalink
    November 12, 2015

    Those wonders of the deep paintings get weirder and weirder! A delicious array. I like seeing the carved and painted arms and crests of long-gone members of the companies – there is nothing like that here in the US of A. We left all the hereditary titles and badges behind, and all we inherit now is name, maybe a little money, a few square feet of land. And a lot of stories. It all serves us well. But there is romance and history in those carved things.

  12. November 12, 2015

    I love seeing inside these wonderful buildings. Thank you!

  13. Donald Carlton Burns permalink
    November 13, 2015

    There is a remarkable story not told here: The king was paying a visit to the fish market and was sat upon by a would-be assassin and the fishmonger, spotting the action, pulled his dagger and killed the attacker, thus saving the king’s life. Today that dagger is in a glass case within Fishmonger’s Hall. A very important event in the life of the fishmongers then and now…and to his majesty’s life as well.

    DCB

  14. Annie permalink
    November 14, 2015

    Well done on your beautiful pictures of the hall !
    Donald I am afraid you have confused some of your stories. The dagger at FH was allegedly used by William Walworth to stab Wat Tyler during the Peasants Revolt 1381. He was Lord Mayor at the time and a prominent figure of the fishmongers company .
    Juliet -John Leman is portrayed in a fabulous pageant scroll dating from 1616 , you are correct , he too is a famous Fishmonger Mayor !
    There is some debate as to whether the Funeral Pall was created by Nuns. The embroidery was of such high quality it is believed it was produced by professional embroiderers and the detail on the faces so exquisite – the work of one man.
    The photographs of the paintings are wonderful too !

  15. Carolyn Badcock - nee Hooper permalink
    November 15, 2015

    It always leaves me in raptures…….to be “taken” into these magnificent pieces of English history via your superb photography.

    Thanks as always, gentle author.

  16. December 16, 2015

    Sat here in a bleak and dreary office at work, and have been immensely cheered up and enlightened by this article. What an interesting city we are lucky enough to live in.

    Thank you!

  17. Anne Hasted permalink
    June 7, 2016

    Thankyou ANNIE for bringing up the dagger , the performance of THE RED DAGGER [by Heathcote Williams] was brilliantly read [ and by heart ] recently at Housemans in Kings cross.

  18. Shawdian permalink
    November 13, 2016

    Beautiful

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