At Fishmongers’ Hall | Spitalfields Life

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

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