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This article is about the ward of the City of London. For the former island off Massachusetts, see Billingsgate Island.

Coordinates: 51°30′34″N 0°05′01″W / 51.5095°N 0.0837°W / 51.5095; -0.0837

Ward of Billingsgate
Ward of Billingsgate is located in Greater London
Ward of Billingsgate
Ward of Billingsgate
 Ward of Billingsgate shown within Greater London
OS grid reference TQ332806
Sui generis City of London
Administrative area Greater London
Region London
Country England
Sovereign state United Kingdom
Post town LONDON
Postcode district EC3
Dialling code 020
Police City of London
Fire London
Ambulance London
EU Parliament London
UK Parliament Cities of London and Westminster
London Assembly City and East
List of places

Billingsgate is a small ward in the south-east of the City of London, lying on the north bank of the River Thames between London Bridge and Tower Bridge.

It is bounded to the south by the Thames, to the west by Lovat Lane and Rood Lane, to the north by Fenchurch Street and Dunster Court, and in the east by Mark Lane and St. Dunstan's Hill.


Billingsgate, as a water-gate to the city of Trinovantum (the name given to London in medieval British legend), is mentioned the Historia Regum Britanniae (History of the Kings of Britain), written circa 1136 by Geoffrey of Monmouth. This work describes how Belinus, a legendary king of Britain said to have held the throne from about 390 BCE, built a water-gate to the City of London with a tower above it:

In the town of Trinovantum Belinus caused to be constructed a gateway of extraordinary workmanship, which in his time the citizens called Billingsgate, from his own name. ... Finally, when his last day dawned and carried him away from this life, his body was cremated and the ash enclosed in a golden urn. This urn the citizens placed with extraordinary skill on the very top of the tower in Trinovantum which I have described.[1]

Originally it was known as Blynesgate and Byllynsgate,[2] and may indeed have originated with a water-gate on the Thames, where goods were landed, becoming Billingsgate Wharf, part of the London docks close to Lower Thames Street.

John Stow records that Billingsgate Market was a general market for corn, coal, iron, wine, salt, pottery, fish and miscellaneous goods until the 16th century, when neighbouring streets became a specialist fish market.[3] By the 16th century, most merchant vessels had become too large to pass London Bridge, and Billingsgate, with its deeply recessed harbour, replaced Queenhithe as the most important landing-place in the City.

Until boundary changes in 2003, the ward included Pudding Lane,[4] where in 1666 the Great Fire of London began.[5] A sign was erected upon the house in which it began:

Here, by the permission of Heaven, hell broke loose upon this protestant city, from the malicious hearts of barbarous Papists, by the hand of their agent Hubert, who confessed, and on the ruins of this place declared the fact, for which he was hanged, viz. That here began the dreadful fire, which is described and perpetuated on and by the neighbouring pillar, erected Anno 1680, in the mayoralty of Sir Patience Ward, knight.[5]

The wards of Billingsgate and Bridge in 1720.
This view by Arnold Vanhaecken shows Billingsgate in 1736. It captures the everyday market bustle, full of fishwives, sailors, porters, thieves, quack-medicine men and casual strollers.
Legal Quays between Billingsgate Dock and the Tower of London in John Rocque's plan of 1746. Behind Legal Quays lays Thames Street, with its warehouses, sugar refineries and cooperages.
1757 print by Louis Philippe Boitard, a view of the Legal Quays, between Billingsgate Dock and the Tower. Boitard's engraving, 'Imports from France', provided a satirical look at Londoners' passion for French luxury goods and manners. Although Boitard deliberately exaggerated the number of both people and shipping, he also provided the most accurate picture of the Legal Quays at work. Boitard recorded treadwheel cranes, beamscales, Customs' Officers gauging barrels and porters handling cargoes. Smuggling, theft and pilferage of cargoes were rife on both the busy open wharves and in the crowded warehouses.

After the Great Fire of London, arcaded shops and stalls lined the west side of the harbour and at its head lay an open market-square known as Roomland.

Fish market[edit]

Billingsgate Fish Market was formally established by an act of parliament in 1699 to be "a free and open market for all sorts of fish whatsoever".[6] Oranges, lemons, and Spanish onions were also landed there, alongside the other main commodities, coal and salt. In 1849, the fish market was moved off the streets into its own riverside building, which was subsequently demolished (c. 1873) and replaced by an arcaded market hall (designed by City architect Horace Jones, built by John Mowlem) in 1875.[3]

In 1982, the fish market was relocated to a new building close to Canary Wharf in east London. The original riverside market building was then refurbished (by architect Richard Rogers) to provide office accommodation.

The raucous cries of the fish vendors gave rise to "billingsgate" as a synonym for profanity or offensive language.[7]

The ward contains the Customs House and the Watermen's Hall, built in 1780 and the only surviving Georgian guild hall. Centennium House in Lower Thames Street has Roman baths within their basement foundations.


The ward contains two churches: St Mary-at-Hill[8] and St Margaret Pattens,[9] but another, St. George's Botolph Lane, was demolished in 1904.[10]


Billingsgate is one of 25 wards in the City of London, each electing an alderman to the Court of Aldermen and commoners (the City equivalent of a councillor) to the Court of Common Council of the City of London Corporation. Only electors who are Freemen of the City of London are eligible to stand.

In popular culture[edit]

Lord Blackadder, the titular hero of Blackadder II, resided in Billingsgate.

In chapter 3 of Thackeray's Vanity Fair, Mr. Sedley has "brought home the best turbot in Billingsgate."

Billingsgate is also referenced in the song "Sister Suffragette" in the 1964 version of Mary Poppins.


  1. ^ Historia Regum Britanniae [iii.II]
  2. ^ Spelling was not standardised until much later (Borer)
  3. ^ a b History of Billingsgate accessed 21 May 2007
  4. ^ Derived the name from the butchers in Eastcheap "having their scalding house for hogs there; and their puddings with other filth being conveyed thence down to their dung boats in the Thames" (Stow).
  5. ^ a b 'Book 2, Ch. 7: Billingsgate Ward', A New History of London: Including Westminster and Southwark (1773), pp. 551-53 accessed: 21 May 2007
  6. ^ Billie Cohen (January 2005). "Lox, Stock and Barrel". National Geographic Magazine. 
  7. ^ Word of the Day Archive - Monday June 12, 2006 accessed 21 May 2007
  8. ^ Built by Wren, but gutted in 1941(Whinney)
  9. ^ So called after the templates that were used by the clogmakers of the district(Reynolds)
  10. ^ As the resident population of the area declined(Huelin).

External links[edit]


  • The City of London-a history Borer,M.I.C. : New York,D.McKay Co, 1978 ISBN 0-09-461880-1
  • Vanished churches of the City of London Huelin, G.: London, Guildhall Library Publishing 1996ISBN 0900422424
  • The Churches of the City of London Reynolds,H London, Bodley Head, 1922*
  • A Survey of London, Vol I Stow,J p427 : Originally,1598: this edn-London, A.Fullarton & Co,1890
  • Wren Whinney,M London Thames & Hudson, 1971 ISBN 0-500-20112-9