Billingsgate Fish Market
Billingsgate Fish Market is the United Kingdom's largest inland fish market. It operates from Poplar on the Isle of Dogs. Before 1982, it operated from its original site in the City of London.
The market's name originates from the ward in the southeast of the City where the original riverside market began. Originally a general market, a 1699 Act of Parliament made Billingsgate 'a free and open market for all sorts of fish whatsoever'.
The first Billingsgate Market building was constructed on Lower Thames Street in 1850. However it proved inadequate and was demolished in 1873 to make way for the current building. That building, known as Old Billingsgate Market, was designed by the city architect Sir Horace Jones. Built by John Mowlem, it opened for trading in 1876.
Billingsgate was a closed, tight-knit but friendly community of fish salesmen, porters, customers and associated trades. It was well known to Londoners for the continual smell of fish and the colourful language of porters. In the trade, it was renowned for its dependability and the unrivalled variety of its wares.
During the 20th century, the market began to suffer from road congestion, which worsened after the transition from horse-drawn to motorised vehicles. The area around Lower Thames Street frequently became a chaotic mixture of porters, market vehicles and through traffic.
Temporary measures were established to divert non-market traffic away from the building during trading. Billingsgate's Lorry Park, adjacent to the west wall of the market, was acquired in 1940 to relieve parking pressures in Lower Thames Street.
The Lorry Park became a focus of activity where porters 'shored in' or 'barrowed' fish to merchants' stands or customers' vans. Porters transported large loads using traditional wooden barrows or, later, two-wheeled trolleys. Smaller loads could be balanced on porters' heads, often with the aid of a traditional flat-topped bobbin hat. Casual labourers turned up daily to work as 'scats' or 'pusher uppers', helping to move the heavily laden market barrows.
The upgrading of Lower Thames Street to a fast dual carriageway finally made trade at Billingsgate impossible. In 1982, the market was relocated to the new 13-acre building complex in east London.
Architect Lord Richard Rogers refurbished the old Billingsgate building to provide office accommodation. By the end of the 20th century, it was used as a hospitality and events venue.
An average of 25,000 tonnes of fish and fish products are sold through merchants each year at New Billingsgate Fish Market. Approximately 40% of that tonnage comprises fish imported from abroad. The market's annual turnover at the beginning of the 21st century was around 200 million.
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