Billingsgate Market

A few weeks ago some classmates and I went on a field trip to Billingsgate Market.  It’s one of those London things I’ve always wanted to do.

My alarm woke me at 4:45am and I shuffled off to the tube station – I didn’t even know the tube ran that early. Being summer though the dawn had already broken, it was warm outside, and made me want to get up at that time every day.

I bumped into a few of my classmates at Canary Wharf and we wandered through the deserted concrete jungle to the market, in sharp juxtaposition to the high finance surrounds.


We met with the chief inspector Chris Leftwich, who told us about the history of the market and gave us the grand tour. Although the market is now outside the City it is still owned by the City of London. It is an open market, meaning anyone can shop there – it’s not just a wholesale market and members of the public do shop there.

The market floor. Market porters wheel heavy loads down the aisles, shouting “mind your backs” – and something ruder if you don’t move out of the way sharpish!

Chief inspector Chris Leftwich showing us around the market. The inspectors have the power to remove anything from sale if it has gone off. This is a quality standard rather than a health one – fish are susceptible to different pathogens to humans so eating off fish won’t harm you, it just changes the taste and texture of the fish. This makes sense when I think of the Surströmming (rotten herring) I ate in Sweden, and other cultures around the world of eating fermented/rotten fish.

Fish on display. The market used to sell just whole fish but a lot of fish is sold as fillets now. Tuna is sold cut into pieces and vacuum packed – it is too expensive to sell whole.

I love razor clams with their lolling tongues.

Live eels – the market used to only sell jellied eels but over the years its clientèle has evolved and so have the products on offer. A lot of products are either flown in or flown out to buyers around the world.

A female lobster with roe. Chris said he wished the fishers would return these to the sea in order to preserve stocks. But at the moment there are no regulations requiring this.

On the way around we bought some fish to take with us for a post-Billingsgate lunch. I’ll save that for my next post but for now I’ll leave you with this:

Billingsgate language – can you translate?