Around London In 11 Fish

By M@
Around London In 11 Fish
Close up of a model fish's eye

Billingsgate, jellied eels, traditional fish and chips... London has a long, close relationship with fish. The city's oldest surviving structure — some 7,000-year-old wooden timbers off the Vauxhall foreshore — may have been part of a fishing jetty. Fish are emblematic of the city. So it's about time we devoted an article to the scaly creatures. Here then are 11 places in London with fishy connections...

See also: Around London in 12 elephants - Around London in 12 dragons - Around London in 13 tigers - Around London in 11 swans - Around London in 11 horses - Around London in 12 rabbits and hares - Around London in 13 pigeons - Around London in 14 lions and lionesses

1. The Billingsgate fishes

A golden fish weather vane

Find a sentence containing the words "fish" and "London", and chances are it'll also feature the name "Billingsgate". For centuries, Billingsgate wharf to the east of London Bridge was fish central. The market moved out to Poplar in 1982, but its original home is still steeped in fishy tokens. Look out especially for the golden weather vanes — London's very own flying fish.

2. Fishy lamps

A fish-dolphine lamp standard

You'll find many other fish references along the Thames, of course. The most prominent are surely the Victorian lamp standards which can be found in rich duplicate all along the embankments. Officially, they're meant to be dolphins. But that's just stupid. The thing's got scales, segmented fins and a goddamn fish's head. If that's a dolphin, then it's also a red herring.

3. More fishy lamps

Fishy lamp posts

The Thames embankments don't have the sole rights to fishy lamps. The posts along Town Quay in Barking re-carp-itulate the theme, with these delicately wrought structures. Barking was a leading fishing port in the 19th century, before much of the trade (and my great-great-grandparents who were part of it) buggered off to Grimsby.

A fish at Barking

You'll find numerous other piscine interventions throughout the town, including this translucent danglefish beside the Roding.

4. A corridor of fish

Fishmongers Hall corridor with lots of fish on the walls. Not real fish because that would smell bad, but pictures of fish

If you ever get a chance to visit Fishmongers' Hall beside London Bridge, then do so. It is replete with maritime curiosities, including a chair made from Old London Bridge. It also contains London's fishiest corridor, lined with still-life paintings of an ichthyic theme.

5. The shopping forecast

Kingston fish

As shopping malls go, the Bentall Centre in Kingston is a bit of a champ. Witness its Crystal-Palace-like roof and record-breaking escalators. It also boasts this impressive floor pattern. The artwork depicts a mummy fish and a daddy fish training their little sprat to swim through a hoop, or something. Fish feature prominently on the arms of Kingston-upon-Thames, which is no doubt the inspiration here.

6. Leaping salmon

David Wynne sculpture

Staying in Kingston, the town is also home to this stack of salmon by sculptor David Wynne. Their placement outside Voluntary Services Overseas (VSO) is an intriguing one. It suggests that, like the salmon, volunteers can travel many hundreds of miles across the ocean, but always return home to spawn.

David Wynne is noted for his animal sculptures, including the Girl with Dolphin near Tower Bridge and Boy with Dolphin in Chelsea. He's also the guy who introduced the Beatles to the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Against that CV, his Kingston salmon are small fry.

7. Some actual, real life fish

A shark in London Aquarium, being watched by two adorable, though occasionally rather cheeky, children

Did you know that the House of Commons is just 380 metres away from a tank full of sharks? Do with that juxtaposition whatever your imagination will. You'll find the fearsome fish inside the Sea Life London Aquarium, inside County Hall. It contains some impressively large (3 metre long) sand tiger sharks, as well as nurse sharks, black tip reef sharks, a zebra shark and dogfish.

8. Old Father Thames and friends

A naked Father Thames cavorting with fish

A naked demigod stands guard over the Nine Elms riverbank. The tangerine deity tussles with a frutti di mare of dolphins, fishes, giant anemones, a playful water baby, a skulking octopus and other species never found in the Thames. The polychrome relief, designed by Stephen Duncan in 1988, is a monument to Father Thames, London's very own river god.

9. More naked cavorting with fish

A fountain of a boy mucking about with fish.

In pretty much any other context, a naked boy with a squirting fish between his legs would be considered an obscene image. But work it up into an ornamental fountain, and everyone's good. The dubious water feature can be found in Golders Hill Park.

10. What the Dickens?

Little Nell and fish

Another fishy fountain can be found in Hyde Park. It depicts the fashion, popular among Victorian and Edwardian ladies, of carrying a fully grown trout around in one's handbag.

I joke, of course. It's yet another sculpture of someone getting their kit off in the presence of fish (she's naked, which is more readily seen from the front). I'm beginning to think I've uncovered a hitherto unrecognised subculture here, and one I have no wish to google further.

According to some online sources, the sculpture is supposed to be of Little Nell from Dickens's Old Curiosity Shop. I've read that novel twice, and I don't recall any scenes of piscine nudity.

11. Punning fish shops

Oh my cod

We can't finish without a brief trawl through London's many punning fish shops. Waterloo's Fishcoteque, for example, or the Mafia-riffing Cod Father and Codfellas. Then there's Notting Hill's Chipping Forecast, and Covent Garden's (frankly trying too hard) Rock and Sole Plaice. For the sake of casting the net as wide as possible, however, I've gone for Oh My Cod! in Hornchurch.

All images by Matt "50 fathoms down" Brown.

Last Updated 18 January 2024

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