The City of London’s oldest official market — the fish market at Billingsgate — is the subject of a new exhibition at the Guildhall Art Gallery.

Almost as old as the market, the exhibition shows off the book of rules written in 1311, written on vellum in Norman French, alongside a 1699 petition from fishermen protesting about salt and fruit ships occupying the fish market harbour.

Reading the notes, it’s curious that the market was licensed for the sale of fish on six days of the week – but on Sunday, only mackerel could be sold. That changed in 1846, when sales on Sundays were banned.

Something else that seemed worthy of futher investigation a plan of the 1830s market, with as many loos for women as for men, suggesting that a lot of women were working in the market at the time. The flourishing market is shown by nineteenth-century volumes recording the collection of tolls and detailing the licensing of porters and by a print of the market building designed by Sir Horace Jones.

There are also some photos on display from the market in the 20th century, before its move to docklands in 1982. The market, which is open to the public, will move again in a few years time, to Dagenham Dock.

The exhibition is a modest size, with three cabinets in the City Heritage Gallery, which is in the basement of the Guildhall Art Gallery, but it’s always good to see original documents on display.

The exhibition, Billingsgate Market at the Heritage Gallery, is at the Guildhall Art Gallery until 16th May 2024 and is free to visit.

It’s open daily from 10:30am to 4pm.


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One comment
  1. Chris Rogers says:

    Do they include anything on the planned expansion of the river front site that got part-way but was then abandoned in the 80s? I didn’t know about it until last year despite walking around the ‘extension’ more than once:

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