- Billingsgate Market at 4am
After a long night shift, we left work and went straight to Billingsgate market. Sophie who used to go there with her dad, really wanted to show me the place as I ‘needed to go with a real East Londoner’ she said.
3.45am we arrived. Not fresh but very happy. We caught the attention of the 98 stands and 30 shops as we were the only two women on site (very nice feeling actually). Very man world, cold, noisy and fishy.
The market was known as before the name settled into its present form. The origin of the name (Blynesgate and Byllynsgate) is unclear and could refer to a watergate at the south side of the City where goods were landed – perhaps owned by a man named ‘Biling’ – or it may have originated with Belin (400BC) an ancient King of the period.
Billingsgate was originally a general market for corn, coal, iron, wine, salt, pottery, fish and miscellaneous goods and have become associated exclusively with the fish trade in the sixteenth century.
As the amount of fish handled increased, a purpose-built market became essential. In 1850 the first Billingsgate Market building was constructed on Lower Thames Street but it was demolished in 1873 to make way for the building which still stands in Lower Thames Street today. It was opened in 1876 and is now a listed building. In 1982 the Market relocated to Docklands.
Billingsgate is the United Kingdom’s largest inland fish market. 25,000 tons of fish are sold each year. It is served by almost every port in the United Kingdom. Most of the fish is transported by road directly from the coast and arrives at the market in the early hours of the morning
13 acres, where fishmongers, fish-and-chip shop proprietors, delicatessens, restaurant and cafe owners, world renowned chefs and Sophie and I come to find the best bargain. Fresh, frozen and jelly fish and a few exotic species like blue crabs from the Indian Ocean, sharks and yellowtails…
Sophie managed to buy 5 prawns (hard work as they are normally sold by boxes) and at 5am as the crowd became mixed, we were not the center of the attention anymore, a bit disappointed but ready for a real East London fisherman breakfast: the haddock breakfast.
I was hoping for a glass of white wine with my fish but we had a tea like the traders around. No choice anyway, and let’s stop being a sophisticated French girl. Tea pairs very well with smoked haddock, it’s known.
We listened to the figure of Billingsgate who trades there for more than 30 years, has his picture on the walls all around in the caf’ and was very proud of telling us the Billingsgate’s gossips.
Sated, tired and charmed by the place and the people we left our new friends after an improvised photo shoot in the café promising ourselves to come back very soon.
Billingsgate Seafood Training School : 020 7517 3548/9