The Worshipful Company of Fishmongers, which ranks fourth in precedence of the twelve great Livery Companies of the City of London, is amongst the oldest with an unbroken heritage of more than 700 years. The Fishmongers of London were in existence long before Edward I granted them their first charter in 1272 for control of fish sales, markets and quality. Later charters incorporated the Company and the rules for its governance and regulation of the trade. Unlike many livery companies it still continues its original trade duties, having strong links with the fishing industry. We were impressed by the continuing charitable work with conservation, youth and education being the main objects.
There have been several halls, the present hall designed and built in 1831-35, is the only survivor of a programme of town planning for the area around London Bridge. The design of today’s building, in ‘English Greek Revival’ followed a competition won by Henry Roberts (1803-76) is free-standing and largely unaltered. A young George Gilbert Scott, working in Roberts’ office, prepared the working drawings. Built by Cubitts, Roberts then supervised the fixtures and furnishings for Cubitts’ interior decoration work which was completed in 1840. Kept from the previous building was part of the 1741 handsome marble chimneypiece now in the Court Room. Since completion there have been various alterations reflecting changes in taste and function, including the installation of electricity in 1898. During World War II bombs fell all around and it caught fire, suffering great damage, however most of the original structure survived and most of the records and treasures had been moved to safety. Post-war restoration took fourteen years and was completed by H. Austen Hall.
The Chelsea Society group was taken round by the curator who gave us an excellent tour. Among the first of the treasures that we saw was a 1684 carved wooden statue of Sir William Walworth, the famous Fishmonger who in 1381, as Lord Mayor of London, ended the Peasants’ Revolt by stabbing Wat Tyler in the presence of Richard II. The dagger he used was also on show. Wonderful to see – for real – was Pietro Annigoni’s well-known first portrait of Her Majesty The Queen, and also his less successful one of The Duke of Edinburgh. We were treated to some lively anecdotes about that sitting and Annigoni by the late Julian Barrow who was in our group. Julian had studied under him in Florence.
We saw the many grand and elegant rooms, with among other outstanding items a collection of 17th- and 18th-century silver, an embroidered 15th-century funeral pall, portraits by George Romney and river scenes by Samuel Scott. Sometimes among the paintings were delightful carved and painted wooden ornaments from barges, ceremonial and workaday and charming silver and gilt fish and shell wall sconces. The last and most imposing room was the Banqueting Hall with its high curved ceiling, glittering with gold and its commanding portraits of royalty and past Prime Wardens, shimmering chandeliers and historic coats of arms.