FISHMONGERS' HALL AND FISH STREET HILL.
The First Fishmongers' Hall—William Walworth—The Wealth and Power of the Old
Fishmongers—Their Quarrels—Their Records—The present Hall—Walworth's
Dagger—Walworth's Pall—Fish Street Hill—The Churchyard of St Leonard
Goldsmith and Monument Yard.
HERE Fishmongers' Hall, that handsome Anglo-Greek building at the west side of the foot of London Bridge, still stands
this rich semi-marine Company have had a stronghold ever
since the reign of Edward III. It was in this convenient
spot, also, that that most warlike and eminent of Fishmongers,
Sir William Walworth, himself resided during the reign of
Richard II., the monarch whose crown he saved by a single
blow of his prompt sword.
Mr. Herbert, who took great pains about this question,
says that there were originally five tenements on the site of
Fishmongers' Hall. The frontage towards Thames Street was
120 feet, and the depth to the river about 200 feet. The
plot of ground stood in Upper Thames Street, between the
Water Gate and Old Swan Lane, and lay in three parishes.
It was parted into six great slips by five stairs to the Thames,
as seen in " The Exact Survey of the Ruins of London after
the Fire of 1666." The stairs were—Water Gate (originally
called Oyster Hill, and afterwards the Gully Hole), the site of
the old water works, Churchyard Alley, Fleur de Luce Alley,
Black Raven Alley, and Ebgate (Old Swan Lane),
and after the Fire, Wheatsheaf Alley.
Henry III., in order to increase his queen's
customs at Queenhithe (Thames Street), prohibited
any fish being landed from fishing-vessels except
at that port. This led to a great London fishmarket being established in Old Fish Street (near
Doctors' Commons), and Knightrider Street soon
became famous, as Stow tells us, for fish dinners.
The stalls soon grew into houses, and this is why
St. Nicholas Coleabbey contained the tombs of so
many celebrated Fishmongers.
Edward I., finding the old restrictions work badly,
restored the Fishmongers to their ancient liberty,
and in the next reign they removed to Bridge
Street, thenceforward called New Fish Street.
Here the Fishmongers could correspond with Billingsgate, and their other colonies at Fish Wharf,
Oyster Gate, and Eastcheap. "The topping men,"
says Stow, "lived in Bridge Street." The Stock
Market was also an early fish-market; in 1545 there
were 25 fishmongers there, and only 18 butchers.
After the change of market all the great Fishmonger mayors and aldermen were buried at St.
Magnus' and St. Botolph's, while the Stock Fishmongers took a fancy to the cool vaults of St.
Michael's, Crooked Lane.
Herrings, says Herbert, are mentioned soon after
the Conquest, and in the 31st of Edward III. they
had become fish of such importance, that a special
Act of Parliament was passed relating to them.
Whales accidentally stranded on our inhospitable
coasts in that reign were instantly salted down and
sent to the king for his consumption. As for
porpoises, they were favourites with English cooks
till after Elizabeth's reign.
Edward I. seems to have been a fish-loving king,
for he fixed a tariff of prices. The edict limits the
best soles to 3d. a dozen; the best turbot to 6d.;
the best mackerel, in Lent, to id. each; the
best pickled herrings to twenty the penny; fresh
oysters to 2d. per gallon; a quarter of a hundred
of the best eels to 2d.; and other fish in proportion. "Congers, lampreys, and sea-hogs" are enumerated.
The same King Edward, the born plague of fishmongers and Scotchmen, forbade all partnerships
with foreign fishmongers, and all storing fish in
cellars to retail afterwards at exorbitant rates.
No fishmonger was to buy before the king's purveyors, and no fish (unless salted) was to be kept
in London beyond the second day. The City had
limited the profit of the London fishmonger to a
penny in the shilling; moreover, no one was to
sell fish except in the open market-place, and no
one was permitted to water fish more than twice,
under pain of fines and the market-place stocks.
In the reign of Edward II. all the London fishmongers had their stalls in Bridge Street, a market
of a later date than Billingsgate and Old Fish
Street. In the reign of Richard II. the Stock Fishmongers formed a new company, and had a hall of
their own to the east of the Fishmongers'. The
two companies united in the reign of Henry VI.,
and held their meetings at Lord Fairhope's house
in Thames Street. The restless Stock Fishmongers
again seceded in the reign of Henry VII.; but in
the reign of Henry VIII. the two companies were
again finally fused together, and on this occasion
Lord Fairhope's hall saw cups of wine drained to
the happy union.
The great tenant of Fishmongers' Hall in the
reign of Edward III. was John Lovekyn, who was
several times Lord Mayor of London. At the
death of Lovekyn's wife the celebrated William
Walworth lived there, and carried on his honest
but unheroic business of stock fishmonger, a great
trade in Catholic times, when fish was in demand
for frequent fast-days. To Walworth succeeded
William Askham, one of his apprentices, and twice
Mayor of London. The building is then spoken
of as having a wharf, a loft, and a tower which
Walworth had built.
The Fishmongers must have been wealthy in the
reign of Edward III., when they contributed £40
towards the expenses of the French wars—only
one pound less than the Mercers, the grandest
Company; and two years later they again contributed the same sum. In the 50th Edward III.
the Fishmongers ranked the fourth Company, as at
present, and returned six members to the common
council, the greatest number any guild sent.
In spite of Walworth's "swashing blow" and
loyal service, the reign of Richard II. proved a
vexatious one to the Fishmongers. John de
Northampton, Mayor in 1380, obtained an Act of
Parliament to entirely throw open the trade, and
compelled the Fishmongers to admit that their occupation was no craft, and unworthy to be reckoned
among the mysteries. He also went further, for
in the year 1382 Parliament, indignant at the
frauds of Billingsgate, enacted that in future no
Fishmonger should be admitted Mayor of London.
This prohibition was removed next year, when the
Fishmongers pleaded their own cause in Parliament. During this discussion the Fishmongers
prayed for the 'king's protection from "corporal
hurt," and pleaded malice in their accusers. Upon
which John Moore, a Mercer, angrily charged
Walter Sybell, a spokesman of the Fishmongers,
with having let the rebels of Kent and Essex, Wat
Tyler's followers, into the City. This same Walter,
a violent and rash man, was, by-the-bye, afterwards
fined 500 marks for slandering Robert de Vere,
Earl of Oxford. Even in 1383 the anti-Fishmonger
agitation still continued, for we find John Cavendish,
a Fishmonger, challenging the Chancellor for taking
a bribe of £10 in the fore-named case. The
Chancellor freed himself by oath on the Sacrament, and Joha Cavendish, being found guilty, was
sentenced to pay the Chancellor 1,000 marks, and
was also sent to prison.
THE NEIGHBOURHOOD OF LONDON BRIDGE. From Hollar's View. (see page 4.)
Herbert says that the Fishmongers were amongst
the earliest of the metropolitan guilds. They were
one of those amerced in the reign of Henry II.;
and we have seen that charters were granted to
them not only by Edward II., Edward III., and
Richard II., but by Edward I. They were fined
500 marks as a guild, in the 18th of the latter
prince, for forestalling, contrary to the laws and
constitutions of the City, and it was soon afterwards found necessary to make fresh regulations
for them, which are to be found in the "Liber
Horn." These, amongst other things, ordain "that
no fishmonger shall buy fish beyond the bounds
appointed—namely, the chapel on London Bridge,
Baynard's Castle, and Jordan's Key'" This was to
prevent their going and meeting the boats before
their arrival at London. "No fish were to be
brought in any boat without first being landed at
the chapel on the bridge; fresh fish was only to
be sold after mass, and salt fish after prime."
Eight years later—viz., in 1298—the Company displayed their great wealth by meeting the brave
king, Edward I., on his return from Scotland, with
very splendid retinue and costly trappings. We
have already (Vol. I., p. 305) noticed a great affray
which took place between the Fishmongers and
the Skinners, in the midst of Cheapside, in 1340,
which ended in the apprehension and execution, by
the mayor, of several of the ringleaders. These
quarrels were common amongst the great companies in early times; and in the above, and most
other instances, arose from disputed claims about
precedency, which were uniformly settled by the
Court of Aldermen. Stow's allusion to the ancient
amity between the Fishmongers and Goldsmiths,
which he charges the former with ignorance for not
knowing, but which he himself has not explained,
was the consequence of one of these decisions,
which were always accompanied by orders for them
to alternately take precedence, dine together, exchange livery hoods, and other methods calculated
to make them friends, as will be shown to have
been the case in both instances. The Fishmongers
and Goldsmiths have no commemoration of this
amity at present; but the Skinners (who were similarly reconciled after the above affray, of which a
notice will also be seen in the account of that Company), when members of their courts dine with each
other, drink as toasts the "Merchant Taylors and
Skinners," and "Skinners and Merchant Taylors."
When Alderman Wood, as prime warden of the
Company, was examined before the Commissioners
of Municipal Inquiry, he stated that till the year
1830 only eight liverymen were made a year, but
that year (for election purposes) 400 liverymen had
been elected, on signing a declaration foregoing
all rights to dine in hall. The fee for coming on
the livery was then £25, the purchase-money of
the freedom £105; and for translation from
another Company double that sum.
The Fishmongers' books do not extend far
enough back to give any account of their ancient
livery. For many years the Goldsmiths and Fishmongers, as proof of amity, exchanged each others'
Every year, on the festival of their patron saint,
St. Peter, all the brethren and "sustern" of the
fraternity went in their new livery to St. Peter's
Church, Cornhill, and there heard a solemn mass
in the worship of God and St. Peter, and offered at
offering-time whatever their devotion prompted
them. They kept three priests to celebrate obits,
which was one more than is mentioned in any other
Company. The ancient custom of electing wardens
is still retained by this Company. A sort of cap,
fronted with a metal plate, is placed successively
on the head of each new warden.
The second Fishmongers' Hall, though usually
ascribed to Sir Christopher Wren, was built by a
Mr. Jerman, who was also the architect of Drapers'
Hall and the second Royal Exchange. Old Fishmongers' Hall was a stately structure, particularly
the front towards the river, of which it commanded
a very fine view. The Thames Street front was a
mere cluster of houses; the entrance, however,
was pleasing. It was ornamented with sculptured
pilasters, sustaining an open pediment, which
had the Company's arms carved in bold relief.
The buildings environed a square court, handsomely paved. The dining-hall formed the south
side of the court, and was a spacious and lofty
apartment, having, besides the usual accompaniment of a screen of Grecian architecture, a capacious gallery running round the whole interior, and
a statue of Sir William Walworth, said by Walpole
to have been carved by an artist named Pierce.
The rooms for business lay on the west side of the
court, and those for courts and withdrawing at
entertainments on the east, which were ornamented
with many rich decorations, and paintings of a
great variety of fish, not easy to be described.
In Hollar's large four-sheet view of London,
1647, we perceive two courtyards, evidently formed
by running a dining-hall, or refectory—high-roofed
and turreted, like that of Westminster—across
the original quadrangle. This view also affords
a good representation of the Thames front, which
appears of an irregular form and unornamental,
but to have been at one time regular and handsome. It consists of two wings and a receding
centre, the latter having a balcony at the first floor,
double rows of windows, a lofty octagonal tower
or staircase rising above the roof, and crowned with
a sort of cupola; there was also a large arched
doorway leading to a small terrace on the Thames,
similar to the present house. The wings were
evidently, when perfect, uniform square towers,
harmonising with the centre; but only the western
one here remains in its original state, the eastern
one being modernised and roofed like a common
In De Hogenberg's earlier plan of London, Fishmongers' Hall appears as a square pile of masonry,
with embattled parapets, towers at the angles, a
central gateway, and steps leading from the river
to one of the side towers.
In no worse spot in all London could the Great
Fire have broken out than Pudding Lane. It
found there stores of oil, hemp, flax, pitch, tar,
cordage, hops, wines, brandies, and wharves for
coal and timber. Fishmongers' Hall was the first
great building consumed when, as Dryden says, in
two splendid lines,
"A key of fire ran all along the shore,
And frightened all the river with a blaze."
The building on the river-side was reduced to a
shell. Even the hall itself, which was at the back,
with a high roof and turret, was entirely destroyed,
as well as two sets of stairs, and the houses round
the Old Swan and Black Raven Alley. After the
Fire, the building committee met at Bethlehem
Hospital. Sir William Davenant (Shakespeare's
supposed son), describing this part of London
before the Great Fire, says: "Here a palace, there
a wood-yard; here a garden, there a brewhouse;
here dwelt a lord, there a dyer; and between
both duomo commune." A strange, picturesque
spot, half Dutch, half Venetian, this part of the
river-side must have been before the Great Fire.
The present Fishmongers' Hall, at the northwest foot of London Bridge (says Timbs), was rebuilt by Roberts in 1830–33, and is the third of
the Company's halls nearly on this site. It is
raised upon a lofty basement cased with granite,
and contains fire-proof warehouses, which yield
a large rental. The river front has a balustraded
terrace, and a Grecian-Ionic hexastyle and pediment. The east or entrance front is enriched by
pilasters and columns, and the arms of the Company
and crest. The entrance-hall is separated from the
great staircase by a screen of polished Aberdeen
granite columns; and at the head of the stairs is
Pierce's statue of Sir William Walworth a Fishmonger, who carries a dagger. In his hand was
formerly a real dagger, said to be the identical
weapon with which he stabbed Wat Tyler; though,
in 1731, a publican of Islington pretended to
possess the actual poniard. Beneath the statue is
"Brave Walworth, Knight, Lord Mayor, yt slew
Rebellious Tyler in his alarmes;
The King, therefore, did give in liew
The dagger to the City armes,
In the 4th year of Richard II., Anno Domini 1381."
A common but erroneous belief was thus propagated; for the dagger was in the City arms long
before the time of Sir William Walworth, and was
intended to represent the sword of St. Paul, the
patron saint of the Corporation. The reputed
dagger of Walworth, which has lost its guard, is
preserved by the Company. The workmanship is
no doubt that of Walworth's period. The weapon
now in the hand of the statue (which is somewhat
picturesque, and within recollection was coloured
en costume) is modern.
Amongst celebrated Fishmongers and their
friends we must mention Isaac Pennington, the
turbulent Lord Mayor of the Civil War under
Charles I.; and Dogget, the comedian and Whig,
who bequeathed a sum of money for the purchase
of a "coat and badge," to be rowed for every 1st
of August from the "Swan" at London Bridge
to the "Swan" at Battersea, in remembrance of
George I.'s accession to the throne.
In Fishmongers' Hall there is an original drawing
of a portion of the pageant exhibited by the Fishmongers' Company on the 29th of October, 1616,
on the occasion of Sir John Leman, a member of
the Company, entering on the office of Lord Mayor
of the City of London, and the following portraits:
William III. and queen, by Murray; George II.
and queen, by Schakleton; Dukes of Kent and
Sussex, by Beechey; Earl St. Vincent (the admiral),
by Beechey; Queen Victoria, by Herbert Smith;
the Margrave of Anspach and Margravine, by G.
Rowney; the late Lord Chancellor Hatherley, by
"The Fishmongers," says Herbert, "have no
wardens' accounts or minutes of an earlier date
than 1592, their more ancient ones having been
either destroyed in the Fire of London or otherwise lost. The title-deeds of their various estates
commence as far back as 9 Edward III., and are
finely preserved, as are also their Book of Ordinances and some other ancient documents relating
to the Company. The minutes remaining—or, as
they are termed in this Company, 'court ledgers'—consist of eight folio volumes, separately dated."
The Fishmongers' greatest curiosity is their
pall, commonly although erroneously described as
"Walworth's pall;" it is in three pieces, like the
famous pall of the Merchant Taylors, and exactly
resembles in shape one belonging to the Saddlers'—namely, that of a cross. It consists of a centre
slip, about 12 feet long and 2½ feet wide, and two
shorter sides, each 8 feet 11 inches long by 1 foot
4 inches wide, and when laid over a corpse must
have totally enveloped the coffin, but without corner
falls, like our modern palls. In the style of ornament, workmanship, and materials, this is one of
the most superb works of its kind of ancient art,
and in this country, as a relic of the old Catholic
faith, has probably no parallel. The pattern of the
central part is a sprig, or running flower, which is
composed of gold network, bordered with red, and
the whole of which reposes on a smooth, solid
ground of cloth of gold. The end pieces and side
borders to this middle slip are worked in different
pictures and representations. The end pieces consist of a very rich and massy wrought picture, in gold
and silk, of the patron, St. Peter, in pontificalibus.
He is seated on a superb throne, his head crowned
with the sacred tiara. One hand holds the keys;
the other is in the position of giving the benediction. On each side of the saint is a kneeling
angel, censing him with one hand, and holding a
sort of golden vase with the other. Each of these
end pieces is perfectly similar; and the materials,
which are beautifully worked, are of gold and silk.
The angels' wings, according to the old custom in
such representations, are composed of peacocks'
feathers, in all their natural vivid colours. The
outer robes are gold, raised with crimson; their
under-vests white, shaded with sky-blue. The
faces are finely worked in satin, after nature;
and they have long yellow hair. St. Peter's vest,
or under-robe, is crimson, raised with gold; the
inside of the hanging sleeve of his outer robe, or
coat, azure, powdered with gold stars. A golden
nimbus, or rather glory, encircles his head; and
in his lap is placed an open book, having the
following inscription in old English black-letter on
a silver ground: "Credo in Deum Patrem, Omnipotentem," at the one end piece; and at the other
similarly, "Credo in Deum Patrem, omnium." The
pictures of the side pieces are divided into three
compartments. The centre is Christ delivering the
keys to Peter, the latter of whom is kneeling, and
habited as in the end pieces, but with only a glory
encircling the head, and no crown (he not being
crowned Prince of the Apostles). The Saviour is
habited agreeably to the usual representations of
him as regards costume. His robe is crimson,
raised with gold; the inner vesture purple, and
very rich. Around the head is a superb circular
glory, jewelled and coronetted. He graciously
stoops to deliver the two golden keys of heaven
and hell with one hand; while with the other
he poises the golden orb of sovereignty, surmounted with the cross. A label proceeding
from the mouth has inscribed, in black-letter
and on a silver ground, as before: "Tibi dabo
Claves Regum Cœo'm." Both figures stand in
a beautiful arched recess, within Gothic-pinnacled
buildings and ornaments. On each side of this
middle picture (which is the same on both sides)
the decorations are made up of the Fishmongers'
arms, richly and properly emblazoned. The supporters (merman and mermaid) are worked in their
natural colours. The merman wears gold armour.
The mermaid's body is of white silk thread, beautifully worked; her long tresses of golden thread.
A superb jewel hangs by a gold chain from her
neck. Her mirror reflects a head like that of
Christ or St. Peter, The entire pall has a fringe
two inches deep of gold and purple silk threads,
and is lined inside with black silk. The weight of
the whole, owing to the quantity of gold and silver
worked into it, is very considerable; and it is in
the finest preservation.
THE SECOND FISHMONGERS'S HALL (sec page 4).
The Saddlers' Company also still have a valuable
pall, though not so costly. It is of crimson velvet.
The centre is of yellow silk, forming an elegant
sprig pattern. On one side of the pall there is
embroidered in raised work of gold thread, in the
old English character, the words, "In te Domine
speravi;" and on the other side, worked in like
manner, the words, "Ne me confunde in aeternam." The head and foot of the pall have embroidered on them the arms of the Company, and
four kneeling angels surrounding the letters I.H.S.
encircled by a glory. The whole is bordered with
a broad gold fringe.
LONDON BRIDGE, 1756. (From an Old View, taken shortly before the Demolition of the Houses.)
"A curious relic of the old shows," says Mr.
Herbert, "is kept by the Fishmongers. It is the
original drawing for the mayoralty procession of
their member, Sir John Leman, in 1616, and which,
from containing allusions in it to the story of Walworth and Wat Tyler, has been called, in the most
modern accounts of London, 'The Procession of
Sir William Walworth in 1380.' The representation occupies a roll of strong paper several feet in
length, filled with characters and objects six or
seven inches high, well drawn, and all properly
coloured, emblazoned, and gilt. The pageants
have inscriptions over them in the handwriting of
the time, from which we learn that it was the
custom to suspend them from the roof of the hall
when done with, for future solemnities. Several
of the Companies still possess remains of their old
shows, in particular the Grocers. The scenes
were painted like those of the theatres, in distemper, and the animals, or 'beasts which drew
the pageants,' were fabricated so like what are
used there, that there seems little doubt that
the latter specimens, at least, were the work of
theatrical artists. Those who had no pageants
(which were confined to the twelve) have many of
them other articles which were used in their processions. We saw in the old pageant-chamber at
Brewers' Hall the fittings-up of their state barge,
with various other relics; and in a corner of the
room stood silk banners and streamers, covered
with dust and dropping from their staves—a melancholy memento of former splendour."
Fish Street Hill was formerly called New Fish
Street. The Black Prince once lived there, according to Stow. "Above Crooked Lane end, upon
Fish Street Hill," he says, "is one great house,
for the most part built of stone, which pertained
some time to Edward the Black Prince, son of
Edward III., who was in his lifetime lodged there.
It is now altered to a common hostelry, having the
'Black Bell' for a sign." Here, too, was the scene
of Jack Cade's utmost fury, when he let slip the
dogs of war, and, according to Shakespeare, shouted
out his cruel commands of "Up Fish Street!
Down St. Magnus' corner! Kill and knock down!
Throw them into Thames!"
The churchyard of St. Leonard marks the site
of a church of no interest destroyed by the Great
Fire. Many of the Doggets were buried there.
In Ben Jonson's time King's Head Court, near
the Monument, was a tavern, celebrated for its
wine, and much resorted to by roysterers. He
mentions it in that wretched play of his paralytic
old age, The Magnetic Lady; and "Fish Street
dinners" are especially noted as luxurious things
in one of the Roxburghe ballads.
Any spot in London that can be connected with
the name of Goldsmich becomes at once ennobled.
It was in Monument Yard that the poor poet, on his
return from his foreign tour, served as shopman to
a chemist. "He went among the London apothecaries," says Mr. Forster," and asked them to let
him spread plaisters for them, pound in their mortars, run with their medicines; but they asked him
for a character, and he had none to give. 'His
threadbare coat,' says the 'Percy Memoir,' 'his
uncouth figure, and Hibernian dialect, caused him
to meet with repeated refusals.' At last a chemist
of the name of Jacob took compassion upon him;
and the late Conversation Sharp used to point out
a shop at the corner of Monument Yard, on Fish
Street Hill, shown to him in his youth as this benevolent Mr. Jacob's." Of his struggles at this
time Goldsmith himself tells us, in his "Vicar ef
Wakefield." "Upon my arrival in town, sir," he
says, in his delightful novel, "my first care was
to deliver your letter of recommendation to our
cousin, who was himself in little better circumstances than I. My first scheme, you know, sir,
was to be usher at an academy, and I asked his
advice on the affair. Our cousin received the proposal with a true sardonic grin. 'Ay,' cried he, 'this
is indeed a very pretty career that has been chalked
out for you. I have been an usher at a boardingschool myself; and may I die by an anodyne
necklace, but I had rather be under-turnkey in
Newgate. I was up early and late; I was browbeat by the master, hated for my ugly face by the
mistress, worried by the boys within, and never
permitted to stir out to receive civility abroad.
But are you sure you are fit for a school? Let me
examine you a little. Have you been bred apprentice to the business?' 'No.' 'Then you
won't do for a school. Can you dress the boys'
hair?' 'No.' 'Then you won't do for a school.
Have you had the smallpox?' 'No.' 'Then you
won't do for a school. Can you lie three in a
bed?' 'No.' 'Then you will never do for a
school. Have you got a good stomach?' 'Yes.'
'Then you will by no means do for a school.'"
It was from his rough training here that Goldsmith was afterwards enabled to start as a humble
physician, taking care to hide the holes in the front
of his coat with his hat when he paid his visits.