Sound-worlds of old Billingsgate

A contribution to the Marine Lives Thames soundscape project in the form of a new site section. Here, historical resources are compiled to address how the old Billingsgate fish market might have sounded, and how people in the past thought it sounded.

The Case of the Free Fishmongers in and about the City of London, 1699


Printed petition: The Case of the Free Fishmongers in and about the City of London, as to the Bill brought in Parliament by some Fishermen concerning Billingsgate Market, &c. 1699. Source: British Library, shelfmark Cup.645.b.11.(13*.).


They are Members of an Antient Company within the same City, and are not Ingrossers, for by the Statute of the 5th. and 6th. Edward VI. they may Buy or Sell again by Retale.

They are at Great Charges, and run Great Hazards in sending out Vessels to Sea, for Catching and bringing Fish to London for Furnishing the Court, the Nobility, and City; and Cause great Quantities of Fish to be brought on Horseback to London, otherwise the Markets here could not be Supplied by reason of the uncertainty of the Wind and Weather.

The Buying of the Fish at remote Market, and bringing the same to London, is a very great Incouragement to the Breeding of Seamen: Moreover, when the Fish is here, the Fishmongers are under Rules and Orders to make shew of their Fish openly, that the Quantities may be seen, and that the same may be distributed in all Markets and places for lessening the Prises, and are punishable if they offer any Unsiable, Unseasonable or Corrupt Fish to be Sold.

The Promoters of this Bill are under no Regulation, but frequently keep their Boats below at Gravesend, and Feed the Markets by little and little as they please, and by their Unlawful Engines, have near Ruined the Fishing-Ground where they have used to Fish.

Note, As to the Salt-Fish-Trade, if the Fishmongers did not buy Quantities of Fish, and keep as a Store, the City and Country could not be supplied with Fish in the Winter-time, nor the Ships furnished to set out to Sea.

The Fishmongers of London dwell in Publick Streets and Markets, and have borne all Offices, and paid all Publick Taxes and Charges to the Government.

The Statute made the 5th. and 6th. of Edward VI, against Regrators and Ingrossers, which hath ever since the making thereof been found beneficial for the Kingdom, being the Experience and Conclusion of all the former Statutes made in such behalf, will by this Bill be made of none Effect, there being no words left to explain or continue the same.

The Bill suggests, That the Fishmongers will not permit the Fishwomen to buy Fish of the Fishermen: Whereas the Truth is, there are sort of Women, who are termed Grosiers, who take upon them to forestall and ingross the Fish brought to Billingsgate-Market, which they sell again in the same Market to Retailers; who many of them likewise sell the same again in the said Market: So that no Citizen or Fishmonger can buy any Fish in the Market but from them, at the second, and sometimes at the third Hand; by which the Price is much inhansed.

That the great Promoters of the New Bill, formerly were content to bring to Market what Fish they caught themselves, but of late have set up a new way of Dealing, and buy Fish caught of others. And though they have in several preceding Parliaments, attempted to get Bills passed to serve their Ends, yet hitherto have done it without Success: And it is hoped they will meet with no better now; for that they intend a Private and Unjust Gain, and no Publick Good; and for that the Innovation now attempted will be Injurious to the Kingdom in general, especially to the City of London, and unto the Fishmongers, who humbly take leave to say, That they have during the whole War, by their Industry and Skill, and at their great Hazard, by keeping Vessels of their own imployed in the Fishery, supplyed the City of London and Kingdom with all sorts of Fish, as well for the Home Consumption, as the Use of His Majesties Ships, and those of the Subjects of this Realm; and now that Peace is restored, they therefore hope they shall not be the marked and distinguished Sufferers.

If this Bill pass, The Fishmongers, who are Freemen of the City of London, are very much Prejudiced in their Trade and Imployment, and certain lewd and disorderly Women, called Fish-women, who live out of the City, obtain this Priviledge by a Law, who are under no Inspection, Rule or Government, as the Fishmongers are obliged to observe.

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