Placeholder Picture

The History of Billingsgate Market

Billingsgate old market

Old Billingsgate Market today

Today, Billingsgate fish market is located in Poplar, East London, where it relocated in 1982 from its original City of London site on Lower Thames Street.

When it was in the City, Billingsgate Market traded from a very impressive market building in Lower Thames Street, designed by City of London Architect and Surveyor Sir Horace Jones. His building still stands on the site today alongside the river Thames between the Custom House and London Bridge and is now a venue for a variety of events.

In the book, “London: The Illustrated History, a Museum of London” the authors Cathy Ross and John Clark write “At Billingsgate an 11th century document records the Royal duties payable on ships coming to port and goods being unloaded, not just on goods from overseas but of fish, on baskets of chickens and eggs, and on butter and cheese”.

Billingsgate became a general market for corn, coal, iron, wine, salt, pottery, fish, and miscellaneous goods. Nicolaus Pevsner, in his book on The Buildings of England, London 1: The City of London writes that “the first representation of a market building is an arcaded structure shown on a drawing of 1598”.

It wasn’t until the 1690s that an Act of Parliament declared it a free and open market for all sorts of fish. In the 1760s architect George Dance the Younger succeeded his father to become the City of London architect and in 1777 he designed a new market building for Billingsgate.

Another new market building followed in the 1850s designed by J. B. Bunning, the then City of London Architect whose market hall is illustrated below.

Billingsgate Market 1851

Billingsgate Market 1851 - Museum of London print

Italianate in style it quickly proved inadequate to cope with the increasing amount of trade and was replaced by Horace Jones’s hall in the 1870s who had experience of designing market buildings. In the 1860s it was he who designed Smithfield Market for the City of London.

In the 1880s Horace Jones was to design yet another market building for the City of London; Leadenhall Market. Interestingly all three of his market buildings still occupy their original sites today but only Smithfield continues as a trading market continuing to sell meat.

There are numerous websites with information about the history of Billingsgate market and there are films on YouTube of the old and new markets in action. This article is particularly interesting.

At the time of writing (June 2020), the City of London has plans to relocate Billingsgate, Smithfield, and New Spitalfields Markets to a new site at Barking Reach.

Anyone interested in visiting the market needs to get up early. It trades between 4.00 a.m. and 8.30 a.m. Tuesday to Saturday.