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At Fishmongers’ Hall

November 23, 2018
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.

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

11 Responses leave one →
  1. November 23, 2018

    Wonderful. Thankl you.

  2. November 23, 2018

    Thank you GA for a wonderful tour around this amazing building, having passed it many times I’ve never been inside until now! Your photographs are superb and I particularly like your homage to the Escherian stairwell!
    So many works of beauty for us all to see…..but the one that captured my heart was that exquisite silver candle sconce.

  3. Helen Breen permalink
    November 23, 2018

    Greetings from Boston,

    GA, thank you for the great tour of Fishmongers Hall on the Thames. What a beautiful building, much in the vein of the Drapers’, Goldsmiths,’ Vinters’, and Stationers’ Hall that you described in earlier pieces. Obviously, these organizations thrived in their day and are still well maintained today. What impresses me most is the lighting and chandeliers in all of these palatial establishments.

    And the Arnold von Hacken “fishscapes” were lovely …

  4. Helen permalink
    November 23, 2018

    I was lucky enough to visit recently, what treasures they have, the pall is an amazing survival. And the oars and coats from Doggett’s race. I love the lantern light fitting in the halllway in the picture, but the new one which replaces it is very fishy indeed. There is so much hidden history in London

  5. Barbara permalink
    November 23, 2018

    What an amazing place – didn’t even know it existed!

  6. Linda Granfield permalink
    November 23, 2018

    Yes, walked by but never went inside, until now.
    And I agree–the candle sconce is spectacular!

  7. Anne Scott permalink
    November 23, 2018

    Such a beautiful building! I enjoyed the tour. The fish sconce is a treat to see.

  8. Jennifer Newbold permalink
    November 23, 2018

    When I think of fishing and London it is always Billingsgate Market that comes to mind, thanks to your photographs. This is something entirely more exalted (although without the market the Hall would have no raison d’etre)!

    I always enjoy your posts with photos of the Guild Halls; they are places that I otherwise would never get to see. Thank you for sharing them with us.

  9. Gary Arber permalink
    November 23, 2018

    I find it hard to equate such opulence with the fishmonger with his smelly apron in the high street.

  10. Debra Matheney permalink
    November 23, 2018

    Thank you. I loved the stained glass in particular.

  11. Jill Wilson permalink
    November 24, 2018

    While I can’t share your enthusiasm for fish, I absolutely share your enthusiasm for Fishmongers Hall. In the eighties I designed an exhibition at Selfridges all about the Livery Companies of London and so was lucky enough to visit lots of the Halls and I remember being blown away by all the lovely fishy detailing in the Fishmongers Hall…there seemed to be dolphins wherever you looked! And those fish paintings are completely wonderful.

    For future Livery Hall visits I particularly recommend the Merchant Taylors Hall which is a delightful oasis in the middle of Threadneedle Street, or the Ironmongers Hall which is a charming mock Tudor building surrounded by the brutalism of the Barbican. The Salters Hall is an interesting modern hall built after their old hall was destroyed in the war.

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