Our History

The Hall through History

The Worshipful Company of Fishmongers, more commonly known as the Fishmongers’ Company, is one of the Twelve Great Livery Companies of the City of London and is proud to celebrate nearly 750 years of history, heritage and tradition.


The Fishmongers’ Company was first incorporated by Royal Charter by Edward I in 1272, and our ordinances – containing full and detailed provisions for the regulation of the London fish trade – were formally approved in 1279.  The oldest surviving charter in the Company’s possession dates from 1547 and was granted by Edward VI.


Sir William Walworth, Fishmonger, MP and twice Lord Mayor of London, cemented his place in history during the Peasants’ Revolt.  He played a crucial role in raising the City guard as the mob advanced on London, and then stabbed the rebel leader Wat Tyler when he met with the boy-King Richard II at Smithfield.


As with most other guilds, there was a strong religious element to the mediaeval Fishmongers.  The Company and the membership actively supported several of London’s 200-odd religious fraternities, including the Guild of St Peter’s Cornhill, whose rules of 1402 provided that two of its four Wardens must be Fishmongers. As a reflection of their continued generosity, Fishmongers were colloquially known throughout the City as ‘petermen’, due to their devotion to St Peter, the Patron Saint of Fishermen.


Originally, the Fishmongers used multiple modest ‘halls’ near the two main markets of Old Fish Street and Fish Street Hill by old London Bridge.  However, from 1434 the Fishmongers had official ownership of a grander home between Thames Street and the river – the ‘Great Tenement of Thames Street’ which previously belonged to the prominent fishmonger merchants, Sir John Lovekyn, Sir William Walworth and William Askham successively – which they occupied permanently some 10 years later.  The two subsequent Halls were built essentially on the same site.


For centuries there were distinctions between the differing branches of the fish trade, with the earliest fishmongers being members of either the Salfishmongers’ Company or the Stockfishmongers’ Company.  In 1433 Henry VI stipulated that all fishmongers should trade under one body, and after some initial disagreements, the newly united Fishmongers’ Company was granted a coat of arms in October 1512.


Sir John Gresham, a Mercer, entrusted the Company with the administration of the grammar school which he had founded in 1555 in the manor house of his home town, Holt, in North Norfolk.  The Company subsequently took up an active role in the management and governorship of the School, and periodically sent deputations to visit the estate left by Gresham to endow it.  Supporting education has been a key Company aim for centuries and continues to be a primary focus of the Company’s grant making today.  Links with Gresham’s thus remain very close, and the Company continues to provide support for students through bursaries and scholarships.


The original Fishmongers’ Hall was the first of 54 Livery Halls lost to the flames during the Great Fire of London in 1666.  Following the devastation, the Company auctioned off its silver collection to fund the rebuilding and subsequent expansion of Fishmongers’ Hall, which was completed in 1671.


From the 17th century onwards, the Company actively supported those in most in need through the building and running almshouses. In 1718, during his two-year tenure as Prime Warden, James Hulbert was instrumental in a major expansion of one of the Company’s almshouses, St Peter’s Hospital, Newington, increasing the capacity to help another 20 individuals.  St Peter’s would be relocated to Wandsworth in the 1840s, and would continue to offer support and sanctuary until the 1920s, when it closed after 300 years of continuous care.


The Race for Doggett’s Coat and Badge was first held in 1715 and is one of the longest continually run sporting events in the world.  The Fishmongers’ Company took over the race’s management in 1722, following the death of  its founder, the actor Thomas Doggett.


When Parliament took the decision move London Bridge upstream in the early 19th century, the Company agreed to demolish the second Hall and auction off most of the contents – the consensus being that it was time to start afresh.  The design of the new Hall was announced as an architectural competition and work began on the winning design, by a young Henry Roberts, began in 1831. Completed in 1834, the third Hall remains a rare example of an English Greek Revival town building, free-standing and built following the advancements of the Industrial Revolution.


In the run-up to the 1908 London Olympics, the Company aided the development of the fledgling International Olympic Committee (IOC) by hosting a series of large dinners to aid the development of the organisation.  The IOC returned to the Hall prior to the 2012 London Olympics to present the Company with a bust of its founder, Baron Pierre de Coubertin, to acknowledge the role playing by the Fishmongers during this formative period.


Shortly after the outbreak of the First World War, Fishmongers’ Hall was converted into a Royal Red Cross Hospital and began taking patients in October 1914.  The Banqueting Hall was converted into a ten-man ward, and other rooms across the first floor became an operating theatre, X-ray department and anaesthetising room.


The Hall sustained fire damage during the Blitz in September 1940.  An incendiary bomb landed on the adjacent Seal House and the flames spread to the Hall, destroying the roof across the First Floor.  Heavy bombs dropped as part of the same raid also caused damage across the East and South elevations, blowing out the riverside wall of the Court Drawing Room.


To celebrate the recent coronation of Queen Elizabeth II and the completion of the restoration works to the Hall, the Company commissioned the Italian artist Pietro Annigoni to paint the now world-famous portrait of Her Majesty.


In June 2012, the Company was proud to take part in the Thames Diamond Jubilee Pageant on the River Thames, to celebrate 60 years since the ascension of Queen Elizabeth II to the throne.  As has been the case throughout the Company’s long existence, the riverside location proved a perfect setting to observe a historic occasion on the water.


Across this three-year period, a programme of restoration and redecoration was carried out across all of the ceremonial rooms of the First Floor of the Hall; a generational event. These works also represented an opportunity for the schemes of all of the major rooms to be designed as part of a single, unified vision, allowing the whole suite of rooms to work ‘as one’ for the first time since the 1890s.

Present Day

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