Worshipful Company of Fishmongers

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Worshipful Company of Fishmongers
All Worship Be To God Only
Arms of the Fishmongers' Company
Location: Fishmongers' Hall, London
Date of formation: 1272/1537
Company association: Fishmongers
Order of precedence: 4th
Master of company: Prime Warden
Motto: All Worship Be To God Only
Website: www.fishhall.org.uk

The Worshipful Company of Fishmongers is one of the 110 Livery Companies of the City of London, being a guild of the sellers of fish and seafood in the City. The Company ranks fourth in the order of precedence of the Livery Companies, making it one of the Great Twelve City Livery Companies.[1]


The Company has an unbroken existence of more than 700 years—although it probably existed earlier, it received its first Royal Charter in 1272. A predecessor guild was fined as adulterine in 1154. It took the name Stock Fishmongers' Company as the result of another Royal Charter of 1508. Then, in 1537, it combined with the Salt Fishmongers' Company to form the Company of the present name.[1]

The most famous fishmonger is Sir William Walworth, who, as Lord Mayor of the City of London in 1381, ended the Peasants' Revolt by stabbing the rebel Wat Tyler to death at Smithfield in the presence of King Richard II.[1]

In 1383, Lord Mayor John of Northampton persuaded the City's Common Council to declare that the fishmongers had no power to monopolise the trade in fish, and that was confirmed by Parliament. However, in a Royal Charter granted to the fishmongers by Richard II in 1399, all their privileges were restored. By the same Charter, they were to elect six Wardens, the number which continues to the present day.

Until the end of the 14th century the fishmongers had their own court of law, called Leyhalmode, at which disputes concerning fish and seafood trade were judged by the Wardens of the Company.

From 1555 to the present day, the Company has acted as the trustee of Gresham's School at Holt, Norfolk.

In the early 17th century, the Company was granted lands at Ballykelly and Banagher in northern Ireland, by the Crown. It remained a major landowner there until the 20th century, and the villages contain some of the most interesting buildings erected in Ulster by the Plantation companies.

In 1714, the Irish actor Thomas Doggett gave money to endow a boat race called Doggett’s Coat and Badge Race in honour of the new king, George I of Hanover. The race was originally to be rowed annually on 1 August on the River Thames, by up to six young watermen who were not to be out of their apprenticeship by more than twelve months. The prize for the champion oarsman is a fine red coat with a large silver badge on one arm, bearing the white horse of Hanover and the word 'liberty'. Since Doggett's death, the Fishmongers' Company has organised this event annually, and it is now believed to be the world's longest continually-running sporting event and also the world's longest boat race—4 miles, 5 furlongs (7,400 m).[1]

By the 18th century, references to fish were hard to find in the court minutes of the Fishmongers' Company, and the Company's main business had become managing its extensive property and administering its charities and trusts, such as Gresham's School and St. Peter's Hospital, an almshouse at Newington in Surrey.[2]


The Company is governed by a Prime Warden, five other Wardens and a Court of 28 livery members.

Early in its existence, the Company acquired a monopoly of the sale of fish in the City of London.[1] Today, this monopoly is no longer absolute, but under powers established by a Charter of James I in 1604, the staff of the Company (known as fishmeters) still inspect all fish imported to the City.[3] This applies especially to Billingsgate Fish Market, the largest such market in the United Kingdom.

The Company is intimately concerned with salmon and fresh water fishing as well as shellfish throughout the waters of the United Kingdom, and it supports research and publishes books on fish, such as Fish and Shellfish and The Fishmongers' Company Cook Book. Thus, the Company continues many of its original trade duties, unlike some of the other Livery Companies which have become entirely charitable or ceremonial institutions.

The Company is also a significant educational charity. As well as Gresham's School, it has also long-supported the City and Guilds of London Art School and the City and Guilds of London Institute.

Company members number nearly 300 and continues to include a good representation of working fishmongers. Liverymen of the Company are also members of the City's Common Hall and thus can vote in the election of the Lord Mayor of the City of London each year on Michaelmas Day (29 September) or on the closest weekday, and also in the election of the Sheriffs of the City of London on every Midsummer's Day. Voting is by show of hands, but if any liveryman demands a ballot, this is to be held two weeks later.

Hall [edit]

Fishmongers' Hall, at London Bridge.

The Company's hall in the City of London is called Fishmongers' Hall (sometimes shortened to Fish Hall); the earliest recorded hall was built in 1310. A new hall, on the present site, was bequeathed to the Company in 1434. Together with 43 other Company halls, this one was destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666 and a replacement hall designed by the architect Edward Jerman opened in 1671. Jerman's hall was taken down when the new London Bridge was constructed in 1827. The next hall, opened in 1834, was designed by Henry Roberts although his assistant Gilbert Scott made the drawings for the new building, and built by William Cubitt & Company.[4] After severe bomb damage during the Blitz, Fishmongers' Hall was restored by Austen Hall and reopened in 1951.

The hall contains many treasures, including the dagger with which Lord Mayor Walworth killed Wat Tyler in 1381, Pietro Annigoni's first portrait of Her Majesty The Queen, a collection of 17th- and 18th-century silver, an embroidered 15th-century funeral pall, two portraits by George Romney, and river scenes by Samuel Scott. The hall is located in Bridge Ward on London Bridge.

Gresham's School[edit]

Since 1555, the Company has acted as the trustee of Gresham's School in Holt, Norfolk, in accordance with the wishes of Lord Mayor Sir John Gresham (1492-1556). Among other things, the Company provides more than half of the school's governors, including the chairman of the governing body, which meets at Fishmongers' Hall.

In 1729, the Fishmongers' Company presented the school with "...a valuable and useful library, not only of the best editions of the Classics and Lexicographers, but also with some books of Antiquities, Chronology, and Geography, together with a suitable pair of globes".[5]

In May 1926, in accepting membership of the Company by right of patrimony, the future King George VI said: "I hope that it may be possible for me, at some future date, to prove my interest by personally visiting Gresham's School, of which I have frequently heard such excellent accounts".[6]

List of Prime Wardens[edit]

Notable liverymen of the Guild and Company[edit]


The arms of the Company are blazoned:

Arms: Azure three Dolphins naiant embowed in pale argent finned toothed and crowned or between two pairs of Stockfish in saltire argent over the mouth of each Fish a Crown or on a Chief gules three pairs of Keys of St Peter in saltire

Crest: Upon a Helm on a Wreath argent and sable, two Cubit arms the dexter vested or cuffed azure the sinister vested azure cuffed or the Hands argent holding an Imperial Crown proper

Supporters: On the dexter side a Merman armed and holding in his right hand a Falchion and with his left sustaining the Helm and Timbre, and on the sinister side a Mermaid holding in her left hand a Mirror and supporting the Arms with her right hand, all proper

Motto: Al Worship Be To God Only (shared with Gresham's School)

Note: In heraldry, naiant means swimming to the viewer's left, while embowed means curved like a bow. For the meaning of azure, argent, sable, and or, see Tincture.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e John Timbs (1865), "Curiosities of the Fishmongers' Hall", Walks and talks about London, Lockwood 
  2. ^ Earle, Peter, The Making of the English Middle Class, p. 258 (University of California Press, 1989) at escholarship.org
  3. ^ BBC: Inside Billingsgate
  4. ^ "William Cubitt & Co". Scottish Architects. Retrieved 4 June 2012. 
  5. ^ Monroe, Paul, ed. A Cyclopedia of Education (London, Macmillan, 1926), online edition of archive.org
  6. ^ Duke of York and Fishmongers: Admitted To Freedom Of The Company in The Times, Friday, May 21, 1926; p. 13; Issue 44277; col D
  7. ^ Knapman, D. - 'Conversation Sharp - The Biography of a London Gentleman, Richard Sharp (1759–1835), in Letters, Prose and Verse'. [Private Publication, 2004) British Library.
  8. ^ Matthew Wood in 'Chronological List of Aldermen -1801–1912 | Aldermen of the City of London pp. 141–156', [1] accessed Oct 13, 2012
  9. ^ William Cubitt in 'Chronological List of Aldermen -1801–1912 | Aldermen of the City of London pp. 141–156', [2] accessed Oct 13, 2012
  10. ^ William Lawrence in 'Chronological List of Aldermen -1801–1912 | Aldermen of the City of London pp. 141–156', [3] accessed Oct 13, 2012
  11. ^ Thomas Dakin in 'Chronological List of Aldermen -1801–1912 | Aldermen of the City of London pp. 141–156', [4] accessed Oct 13, 2012
  12. ^ Andrew Lusk in 'Chronological List of Aldermen -1801–1912 | Aldermen of the City of London pp. 141–156', [5] accessed Oct 13, 2012
  13. ^ James Clarke Lawrence in 'Chronological List of Aldermen -1801–1912 | Aldermen of the City of London pp. 141–156', [6] accessed Oct 13, 2012
  14. ^ "The Fishmongers´ company" The Times (London). Friday, 21 March 1902. (36721), p. 7.
  15. ^ ‘CAREW POLE, Col. Sir John (Gawen)’, in Who Was Who (London: A. & C. Black, 1920–2008; online edition (subscription site) by Oxford University Press, December 2007, accessed 20 April 2012
  16. ^ 'ANTRIM, 14th Earl of, (Alexander Randal Mark McDonnell)' in Who's Who 2012 (London: A. & C. Black)
  17. ^ Livery Companies Database, accessed 5 November 2011

External links[edit]