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Lucinda Douglas-Menzies At Billingsgate Market

January 17, 2018
by the gentle author

Contributing Photographer Lucinda Douglas-Menzies took these photographs, published for the first time today, just before old Billingsgate Market closed for good on 17th January 1982 – thirty-six years ago – capturing the last flurry of activity at the ancient market which had been operating almost unchanged for centuries next to London Bridge.

“I was working as a photographer’s assistant at the time and, knowing that the market was about to close its doors, went one morning very early around 5:00am, shown round by my friend Julian Birch who bought fish for restaurants. I remember metal chests of drawers with water dripping through them containing live eels squirming in each drawer and the ice house with years and years of ice built up on the walls where giant fish were stored, their tails standing up, frozen stiff. The porters in their grubby white overalls and leather hats for carrying heavy cold boxes of fish on their heads, displayed quick wits and innate humour despite the harsh working conditions.” Lucinda Douglas-Menzies

‘I get mucking fuddled’

… a moment later

Porter with a box of crabs

The man on the left is ‘Big Greg’

The Boss

Looking towards Tower Bridge from Billingsgate

The Toll Office corridor at Billingsgate

The ice house at Billingsgate

Billingsgate Market, c. 1910

Billingsgate 1809 by Thomas Rowlandson & Augustus Pugin

Photographs copyright © Lucinda Douglas Menzies

Archive images courtesy Bishopsgate Institute

You may like to take a look at these other Billingsgate stories

The Last Fish Porters of Billingsgate Market

At the Fish Harvest Festival

Charlie Caisey, Fishmonger

Around Billingsgate Market

The Markets of Old London

Roy Reed at Billingsgate

Terry Bloomfield at Billingsgate

7 Responses leave one →
  1. Georgina Briody permalink
    January 17, 2018

    As a child I remember this area, the old cobbled road and the hustle and bustle of the Market and porters – so clear in my mind.

  2. Jamie Surman permalink
    January 17, 2018

    What a find! Very important social record of one of the last vestiges of ‘old London’. Only pity is there aren’t more pictures. Bravo as always for publishing the ones you have…

  3. Sarah Ainslie permalink
    January 17, 2018

    Lucinda’s photographs are wonderfully evocative and love the extraordinary ice house.

  4. Coralie Mattys permalink
    January 17, 2018

    Really great – thanks! I see there was at least one woman in a man’s world – Mrs E Flinn

    It would be interesting to see a “where are they now?” follow-up of any of the people whose names you know.


  5. January 17, 2018

    Wait a minute — That fish tail, on the left edge of the ice house photo looks like a movie prop.
    I keep squinting at the photo, trying to get a sense of the scale of the room.
    This is a wonderful series! — One can easily imagine the hubbub, the humor in the midst of the
    daily tedium, the sense of collegial tradition, and the dedication to “get r done”. I agree –
    a vital social record of a disappearing way of life.
    Our Washington Market here in Lower Manhattan has a somewhat similar history of being a vital, teeming early-hours market full of hucksters, vans and produce. My husband was taken there as a small boy by his grocer grandfather, and (decades later) we ended up buying a loft in one of the buildings; part of the so-called Urban Pioneer efforts in 1978. New York City had zero interest in the area and there wasn’t any political support for the transformation — but the residents banded together and made sure the area was eventually “landmarked”; officially designated (ahem) The Washington Market. Without the dedication of residents, so many of those remarkable buildings and cobbled streets would be gone by now, replaced by steel
    towers and parking lots. Preservation!

  6. January 18, 2018

    Wonderful photographs from Lucinda. I can smell the fish and hear the banter.

  7. John permalink
    February 10, 2018

    Some familiar old faces in these pics including one of Kenny West in first image “i get mucking fuddled” who used to have shops in Ridley Road, Shepherds Bush, Harlesden, and Queens Market.

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